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Queen's University
 

Brandon

What is the appropriate discipline for professors who sexually harass, or have undisclosed dual relationships with, students ?

Facts

In 1994, Liu, a political science professor was dismissed by Brandon University after an internal investigation revealed that he had sexually harassed two female students in another program (English as a Second Language) by making "personal and inappropriate comments to the complainants on such subjects as virginity, safe sex practices, alluring cosmetics, perfume and clothing, seeking prospective wives for his two sons, and problems in his own marital relationship" (Brandon, p. 4).   In the grievance hearing, the Brandon University Faculty Association agreed that Liu had sexually harassed the students, but argued that he did not merit such a harsh disciplinary action. The Arbitrator agreed, based on a series of mitigating factors, among which was the fact that the professor suffered from a personality disorder ("histrionic narcissism") which may have influenced his inappropriate conduct and prevented him from understanding the consequences.  The arbitrator ordered that the professor be suspended for one year without pay.  A series of conditions were placed upon the professor's reinstatement, including the requirement that he send letters of apology to the two students, that he continue in therapy, and that his therapist provide quarterly progress reports to the employer. Furthermore, any further gross professional misconduct would result in immediate dismissal.  (Brandon University Faculty Association v Brandon University. Grievance Arbitration, David Marr, Chair, March 31, 1995)

Questions

  1. In this instance, was automatic dismissal too harsh a penalty ?
  2. Is the professor's personality disorder a factor that should be considered in imposing disciplinary action ?

Answers

  1. Yes.
  2. Yes

Reasoning

  1. The arbitrator listed the following mitigating factors that should have been taken into consideration before disciplining professor Liu: A) Dr. Liu's long and distinguished service over a period of 23 years at Brandon University and an unblemished teaching record; 2) an absence of any evidence of prior conduct of sexual harassment; 3) Dr. Liu's age (54); 4) evidence of Dr. Liu's awareness of the stress, fear and discomfort to which he subjected the complainants; 6) evidence of Dr. Liu's remorsefulness for the injury he had inflicted upon the complainants, as well as his family; 7) evidence of Dr. Liu's motivation to continue in therapy for as long as it would take for him to control his behaviour; and 8) expert opinion that Dr. Liu was strongly motivated not to repeat the conduct that caused this disciplinary action.
  2. The arbitrator suggested that in other cases, personality disorders have been considered to be mental disabilities.  If professor Liu's personality disorder was a mental disability, then his employer had a duty to accommodate him to the point of undue hardship, especially when he had made such progress in therapy.

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