Dentistry investigation should be done externally, Dalhousie senate told

WATCH: After a two-hour meeting, the only decision made Monday was to put off making any decisions. Marieke Walsh reports.

HALIFAX – Members of Dalhousie University’s senate argued Monday that the disciplinary process facing male dentistry students alleged to have posted sexually violent comments on Facebook about their female classmates should be conducted outside the faculty of dentistry.

Philosophy professor Letitia Meynell, a member of the senate, presented a motion calling on the academic governing body to take over the investigation of whether the 13 men in the Facebook group violated academic and professional standards.

“There’s a real question of perception in the general public and whether it (the faculty investigation) will be enough to restore confidence,” she said during the meeting.

Meynell’s motion wasn’t considered because the meeting ran out of time. A majority of the senate voted against extending the meeting for 15 minutes.

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Steven Baur, a professor of music and another member of the senate, said he will call for a special meeting to consider the motion.

Baur also said he has lost confidence in the ability of the academic standards committee at the faculty to handle the complaints against the 13 male students.

He also questioned how university president Richard Florizone would be able to receive a thorough review of facts in the case, including whether only 13 male students were involved.

“I’m uncomfortable the disciplinary proceedings are happening within the faculty of dentistry and I’m upset we didn’t get to discuss more thoroughly today means by which the senate can oversee the disciplinary process,” he said after the meeting ended.

READ MORE: Female dentistry students feel forced into Dalhousie’s restorative justice process

Florizone said an independent task force and a restorative justice process will look into what happened.

He also said he welcomed the senate’s input on the disciplinary process, but didn’t indicate if he would support a motion to move it out of the faculty of dentistry.

He repeatedly told the senate meeting that the university had to follow a process, warning that to do otherwise risked legal consequences in the future.

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“We won’t rush to judgment,” he said. “We’ll follow a just process … and we won’t sweep this under the rug.”

READ MORE: Restorative justice: Will it work in the Dalhousie Facebook scandal?

The senate meeting took place hours after the university’s dentistry students resumed classes after the holiday break. Students wearing blue scrubs refused to comment as they went in.

Dalhousie University delayed classes by a week as it dealt with the ongoing controversy. The male dentistry students alleged to be part of the Facebook group have been ordered to attend classes remotely.

The university also delayed the reopening of a dental clinic at the school and stripped the 13 male students of their clinical privileges there.

Patients going to the clinic Monday had mixed feelings about the incident, with some saying the male students should be expelled while others said they should be allowed to finish their studies.

“They should get rid of them,” said Winston Teal as he took his granddaughter in for her appointment, adding that he was pleased the members of the Facebook group were not practising in the clinic.

Steve Olsen, who has been going to the clinic for 30 years, said the public and the school have reacted too harshly, and that all of the students should be allowed to carry on with their studies.

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“It’s too big a deal, as far as I’m concerned,” he said as he headed into his appointment. “I think they’ve already been beaten up good enough.”

The university has launched an independent investigation that will explore the environment, training and policies at the dentistry school to determine if they contributed to a tolerance for misogyny and sexist conduct.

Meynell raised questions during the senate meeting about whether the task force plans to investigate how the university responded to the posts and who exactly was involved.

Florizone said he would consult with the task force’s chair and get back to Meynell with answers to her questions.

Reports of the offensive posts and the university’s initial response prompted rallies and calls for the expulsion of the 13 students.

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