The Simon Fraser University School for the Contemporary Arts is alleged to have an unresolved history of rampant sexual harassment, but that didn’t stop Premier Gordon Campbell from announcing that $50 million will be invested in the school. Campbell made the announcement to the public at the Segal School of Business in downtown Vancouver on Nov. 13th. There was not a hint of the fact that the School for the Contemporary Arts — a center which houses departments of Visual Arts, Film, Acting, Music, and Dance — has in the past been nicknamed the “School for Sexual Harassment.”

The SFU School for the Contemporary Arts is alleged to be sitting on a festering history of allowing male professors to use their classes to recruit female students into sexual relationships. One woman who dropped out due to chronic sexual harassment says, “There were only three professors in my department, they were all men, and they were all trying to get laid.” Two of them were directly “hitting on me”, she says. The third had sex with one of her class mates; that was the year his common law wife gave birth.

The various departments in the School for the Contemporary Arts boasted an “interdisciplinary” approach and, indeed, even the sexual relations proved to be interdisciplinary. A Visual Arts professor was having sexual relations with a Dance student, for example. That was at the same time that he was hitting on a Visual Arts student.

Most examples of blatant sexual harassment at the School are from the mid 1980’s, although it is believed that sexual harassment began in the 1970’s when the School opened.  The possibility that sexual harassment is still occurring can’t be entirely ruled out, says the drop-out, considering that the SFU administration has consistently sent the message that they will cover for sexual harassers in the School for the Contemporary Arts. Administrators appear to have given good references to alleged offenders who sought other teaching positions. One moved to Emily Carr College of Art and Design. One moved to the University of British Columbia. One moved to an educational institution in California. One particularly “compulsive” sexual harasser left behind at SFU was promoted to a department head in the School for the Contemporary Arts.

In more ways than one, male professors mining their classrooms for sex partners taught that women weren’t worthy of respect. These professors tended to have wives or common law spouses and children, says the drop-out, and the message transmitted was clear: when a man is in a committed relationship with a woman, it’s cool and hip to be deceptive.

The sexual harassment at the School also involved an element of fraud says the drop-out. Each applicant to the School for the Contemporary Arts was expected to attend an interview, ostensibly so that their potential as artists could be assessed, but there were indications that potential as a sex partner was being assessed. The drop-out was interviewed by a studio professor and an administrator on the Burnaby campus. They were sitting side by side, both facing her, she recalls, and when the adminstrator was jotting down notes, the professor sexually harassed her. “He gazed at my body, up and down. He was leering at me and then he tried to lock eyes with me.” She didn’t confront him, partly because she was shy, partly because she “couldn’t believe what was happening”, and partly because she desperately wanted to get accepted into the program. “I figured I could just avoid this letch if I got accepted,” she says. “But when I got in, I found out they were all like that!”

In fact, when the eventual drop-out arrived at her first Drawing class, the professor, whom she had never seen before, engaged in similar behavior. “It happened the instant I walked in the door,” she says. “I was just six feet in the door, it was as though he knew I was coming.” She had the impression that the other professor had discussed her with him in advance. This would prove to be a mere introduction to sexual harassment which would escalate, become more brazen, until she dropped out. There would be further indications as well that these professors were sharing information about potential conquests and being competitive in getting students into bed.

Some female students who had sex with male professors paid a high price. A Dance student reportedly relocated to Toronto in an attempt to get over a professor, a department head, with whom she had gotten involved only to discover that he had no intention of divorcing his wife. A Film student had two children with a professor when he disappeared to a job in California, leaving her on welfare. There were others too.

There was not a hint of these women in the press release in which Premier Campbell and Advanced Education Minister Murray Coell announced the $50 million grant. Coell stated, “SFU has a 30-year history of teaching excellence in the contemporary arts. . . .”

Even for students who resisted having sex with professors, the consequences of the chronic sexual harassment could be devastating. One woman dropped out of university due to the sexual harassment and now lives in poverty on the Downtown Eastside. That’s the neighborhood that Premier Gordon Campbell claimed the $50 million dollars in funding to the School for the Contemporary Arts would “revitalize”.

“It doesn’t feel revitalizing,” says the drop-out. But she’s accustomed to media campaigns which gloss over SFU’s history. In recent years, she has watched SFU launch a major media campaign to celebrate it’s 40th anniversary. She has watched SFU launch a new multi-million dollar Segal School of Business, just a couple of blocks from the Downtown SFU studio where some of the sexual harassment occurred. She has watched SFU launch a new campus in Surrey.

This week, she is watching President Michael Stevenson as he visits New Delhi with the B.C. Premier to sign an educational exchange agreement between SFU and the Public Health Foundation of India. “He goes half way around the world to promote education but he doesn’t care that the woman down the street couldn’t get one”, says the drop-out.

Now the drop-out is bracing herself for SFU’s funding raising campaign to bring an additional $30 million into the School for the Contemporary Arts. She believes it would be unseemly for a corporation to fund SFU while President Stevenson continues the long tradition of evading acknowledgment that the School for the Contemporary Arts functioned as a site for the recruitment of sex partners for male professors. Any corporation funding SFU at this time risks attaching their brand name to a long festering sexual harassment scandal, not unlike the residential school sexual abuse scandal which festered for decades. “If I were running a corporation,” says the drop-out, “I’d be running the other way.”

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