Dr. Shaheen Shariff, James McGill Professor and Director of iMPACTS, was interviewed by the Chronicle Herald about Halifax professor Wayne Hankey, a retired classics and philosophy professor who taught at both University of King’s College and Dalhousie University. Hankey has been charged with sexual assault and indecent assault for separate allegations from two different men. The alleged sexual assault dates back to 1982 and the charge of indecent assault relates to multiple incidents between 1977 and 1979.
As an education law researcher who studies sexual violence at universities, Dr. Shariff explained that sexual violence is often the result of power imbalances between professors and students, and that universities may hesitate to address allegations such as those against Hankey and other high-profile professors. Dr. Shariff also explained that this is because universities are bound by provincial privacy laws that protect their employees. (This specific statement was not included in the article.) “But there is never an excuse for allowing someone to continue to perpetrate sexual violence. Especially against students who are in a vulnerable position,” said Dr. Shariff.
Dr. Shariff explained that universities should have policies that address intimate relationships between professors and students and, subsequently, these power imbalances. The goal of such policies is to limit sexual violence and sexual harassment. “These policies have to be clear and consistent, including penalties for breaching the policy,” said Dr. Shariff.
“When students have been subjected to sexual advances by people in positions of power, you can imagine how much it poisons their learning environment,” said Dr. Shariff. “It poisons their ability to feel safe, their feelings of wellbeing... It really creates a chilled environment.”