MONCTON, N.B. — A small, faith-based university in New Brunswick has fired one of its professors after an independent investigation found he allegedly made inappropriate or sexually oriented statements to students in 2020 and 2021.
Moncton-based Crandall University hired a law firm in April after the university learned of anonymous social media posts accusing an unnamed school employee or employees of inappropriate behaviour.
After the law firm presented its findings to the university's board of governors last week, faculty member John G. Stackhouse was dismissed on Wednesday. Stackhouse did not respond Thursday to requests for comment.
“Paramount at Crandall University is the safety and security of its students," the university said in a statement. "We cannot and will not tolerate behaviour from its administration, faculty or staff that in any way violates the university’s mission and identity.”
The allegations against Stackhouse involve spoken or written statements made over a nine-month period.
In a summary of findings, the law firm Pink Larkin said lead investigator Joel Michaud focused on allegations at Crandall of sexual harassment, inappropriate behaviour and other issues. While the report does not name Stackhouse, referring instead to the "subject faculty member," the university's statement makes clear the faculty member in question is Stackhouse.
Michaud's investigation included dozens of confidential interviews with students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members, in addition to a review of documents, correspondence, emails and social media posts, the summary says.
"In many cases, the reported experiences were extremely painful ... (and) in some instances worsening the anxiety which already afflicted them, and none were motivated by animosity toward Crandall," the summary says. One person described the professor as "having an incredible reputation for being brash and a bully.”
Michaud said he did not think the professor set out to harass or bully students.
"However ... irrespective of his intention, his demeanour in class, and particularly his interactions with certain female students, created an unwelcoming environment and, in some cases, anxiety," the summary says.
"The faculty member ought to have known that his antics and his sense of humour were unwelcomed and unappreciated."
In the classroom, Stackhouse allegedly made gender-based comments, sexist remarks and comments about people's looks, the summary says. In Michaud's opinion, the behaviour constituted sexual harassment and bordered on abuse of authority.
As well, a review of about 100 pages of emails found that Stackhouse engaged in "inappropriate banter” with a female student for seven months, the report says. It quotes a response from Stackhouse acknowledging the emails were "inappropriate, unhealthy and unbecoming of a professor .... It cannot be defended. It was inappropriate. It was something of an aberration from a long career."
Michaud concluded the emails represented "a classic case of grooming."
"He was in a position of responsibility as a professor and also as an employer of (the student) and, in the view of the investigator, engaged in behaviour that constitutes sexual harassment," the summary says.
The liberal arts university, founded in 1949 by the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada, has more than 1,400 students whose education is "firmly rooted in the Christian faith."
In a letter to the university community, the chairman of the school's board of governors, Douglas Schofield, expressed the institution's "deepest regret" to all of its students, particularly those made to feel "threatened, diminished or victimized by the words or actions of a faculty member."
Sheila Cummings, the former chair of the board of governors who oversaw the investigation, issued a statement saying the investigation and the firing "conclude this incident."
"But clearly all of us at Crandall must work very hard to ensure that we maintain this very special university community at the highest standards," she added.
"As the report to the board recommends, our next step will be to focus on strengthening our harassment policies with input from our students and other members of our university community."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2023.
— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax
The Canadian Press