UPDATED: President MacLatchy releases statement on the results of Lindsay Shepherd fact-finding report

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On Dec. 18, 2017 Deborah MacLatchy, president of Wilfrid Laurier University, released a statement surrounding the completed independent fact-finding report.

The report was conducted as a result of a controversial situation on campus regarding teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd. For a detailed timeline on the incident, click here.

“I believe it is time for some clarity around the events of the past few weeks here at Wilfrid Laurier University, stemming from the very regrettable meeting that followed the showing of a TVO clip by a teaching assistant (TA) during a tutorial,” the statement began.

On Nov. 23, it was announced that Laurier had hired Rob Centa, a partner at Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP, to conduct the fact-finding procedure.

Centa’s role was to acquire the necessary facts surrounding the incident and then compile a report for MacLatchy based on the concerns raised by a student(s) and the subsequent meeting which took place.

According to the fact-finding report, there was no formal complaint found regarding the incident.

“There were numerous errors in judgement made in the handling of the meeting with Ms. Lindsay Shepherd, the TA of the tutorial in question. In fact, the meeting never should have happened at all. No formal complaint, nor informal concern relative to a Laurier policy, was registered about the screening of the video. This was confirmed in the fact-finding report,” the statement read.

Earlier last week, Shepherd and her lawyer, Howard Levitt, a Toronto-based employment lawyer who is working on Shepherd’s case pro-bono, asked Centa to resign from the position.

According to Levitt, Centa has published numerous tweets, before he took on Laurier’s fact-finder appointment, which allegedly suggest he is a supporter of diversity, potentially, over freedom of speech.

“He’s taking public positions that are essentially similar to that of the people who are interrogating her and that are in favour, essentially, of limits on civil liberties and favour of forced speech,” Levitt said.

As a result, Levitt sent a note to Centa asking him to resign from his position; however, Levitt said that Centa refused to step down from the position.

“[His response] was entirely disingenuous. He said he hasn’t taken a position a public position on this particularly case … he claimed he’d keep an open mind but of course, that’s subjective,” Levitt said.

With Centa’s refusal to step down, Levitt then decided to send a note to MacLatchy.

“I asked her to fire him and … she’s done what she’s always done which is ignore me. Which is incredibly discourteous to Miss Shepherd,” he said.

According to Levitt, he has not received further information from Laurier or MacLatchy until this afternoon when MacLatchy publicly released her statement.

Levitt intends on meeting with Shepherd later this week to discuss the contents of MacLatchy’s statement after they both have digested the newly released information. It is currently unknown as to whether or not Shepherd intends on taking further action.

“My response to what MacLatchy wrote: I suspect [it] has everything to do with public pressure and donor pressure and alumni pressure and little to do with anything else,” Levitt said.

In his own opinion, outside of his representation of Shepherd, Levitt feels there is more to be said than what was included in MacLatchy’s statement.

“It talks about the need to enhance TA training and training and support for TA’s which, implicitly, I find critical.”

In fact, Centa did not interview Shepherd within his fact-finding procedure. However, he did allegedly speak to the three individuals present in the meeting with Shepherd.

“Given that they didn’t interview her … what new information do they have to make the statements that MacLatchy even made if they were only talking to one side in the argument? That leads me to believe this was merely a public relations memo, which doesn’t go nearly far enough,” Levitt said.

While Levitt personally feels that the three individuals should face further consequences, MacLatchy suggests in her statement that further action may be taken internally.

“It has been made clear to those who were involved in the meeting with Ms. Shepherd that their conduct does not meet the high standards I set for staff and faculty,” MacLatchy said in the statement.

“But know that the university has, and is, taking action to rectify the situation and send a clear signal that this cannot and will not happen again.”

However, the details surrounding said action being taken in regards to the three individuals present in the meeting will be unknown to the public due to confidentiality reasons.

“I think that their conduct was reprehensible and I don’t see that reflected in the report,” Levitt said.

Furthermore, a group of students at Laurier, called the Trans Justice Collective, have been rallying in seek of an apology to trans people from MacLatchy due to the increase in transphobia present on campus since the situation was publicized.

MacLatchy reiterated in her most recent statement that the Laurier has taken steps to create supports for students from the LGBTQ+ community.

“It bears repeating in the current context that Laurier’s support for our lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer and two-spirited (LGBTQ2S) campus community and transgender people in particular is unwavering. In light of recent events, we have created and communicated additional supports for LGBTQ2S students, faculty and staff, and added measures to improve campus safety,” the statement read.

“Today, we turn the page on a very unfortunate incident. We are here to make sure it does not happen again. We are here to put an end to the ongoing politicization of this issue,” read the final portion of MacLatchy’s statement.

In correspondence with the controversy surrounding freedom of expression on campus, MacLatchy has assembled a task force to delve into the topic of free speech and provide recommendations.

Individuals who will be participating on the task force are said to be announced in the near future.

The Cord reached out to the WLU Rainbow Centre but they were able to comment at the time of publishing.

Dec. 20 update

Prior to the public release of MacLatchy’s statement, 20 faculty members from Laurier’s communications department submitted an open letter to Medium.

The letter discusses the incident surrounding Shepherd and the way in which the events ensuing Shepherd’s tutorial have been depicted within the media.

Although the letter recognizes that Nathan Rambukkana, Shepherd’s supervising professor, did indeed mishandle the meeting which took place consecutively after her tutorial, it also emphasizes the right to academic freedom, which Rambukanna has in regards to the curriculum for his class.

As a result, the letter explains that Rambukkana therefore has the right to discuss the methods and ways in which the course material is taught.

Read the letter in full here.

Furthermore, according to an article published by Christie Blatchford for National Post, the number of seats which will exist within the task force created by MacLatchy to delve into topics surrounding freedom of expression has been announced. According to National Post, seven of the 13 seats will belong to members of Laurier’s Faculty Association (WLUFA).

Five seats are guaranteed to the 23 WLUFA faculty and/or librarian members who are nominated.

Another two seats will be appointed by the task force chair. In an earlier statement by Kanwar Brar, president of Students’ Union, and Natalie Gleba, president of Graduate Students’ Association, confirmed that they would both be appointed a seat on the task force to represent undergraduate and graduate students at Laurier.

Read their combined statement here.

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