The vice president of the University of Toronto has added her voice to a large number of academics who allege that a former president of the University of Texas had sexual relations with his students and sexually harassed them for years before, during and after his tenure in Toronto .
The allegations, detailed in a podcast published Tuesday by Al Jazeera, prompted Trinity College to announce an external investigation. U of T pledged to end sexual violence and harassment; the president pledged that the university “do everything in its power” to protect community members.
On the podcast, Vice President Alexandra Gillespie recorded an incident in which Andy Orchard, a professor of English and medieval studies at T University from 2000 to 2013, whose portrait is still in Trinity, allegedly confronted her in a sexual manner. .
“I remember it in fragments,” he said. “He seemed very drunk to me and he cornered me on a staircase. And since he wouldn’t let me go, it felt like a threat.
“I remember him saying, ‘I’m going to destroy you.’ “
The Star reached out to Orchard, who did not respond by the deadline. Orchard’s attorneys sent a five-page letter to Al Jazeera contesting the allegations, but did not allow any of that to appear in the report.
Gillespie said she did not report the incident because she was too scared, as Orchard, who was rector and vice chancellor of Trinity College, was a powerful figure.
“It made me feel very degraded, undervalued and just plain confused,” she said on the podcast. “There’s this knee-jerk reaction that you have to please him to keep you safe and also to be the right kind of woman, the woman who can take a joke.”
The Al Jazeera report includes half a dozen allegations of sexual harassment and impropriety of Orchard, who taught at the prestigious University of Cambridge in the UK before the University of Texas and is now a professor at Oxford.
Female teachers and students alleged that Orchard often got drunk in meetings and had various sexual relationships with young women in which there was a clear imbalance of power.
Gillespie, who is an internationally renowned humanities researcher and director of the University of Toronto Mississauga, where she is also chair of the department of English and theater, said she felt it was important to speak up.
“I finally got to a position where if I spoke up, if I said ‘no,’ there could be no retaliation,” he said on the podcast. “I no longer want to be an accessory to this harmful silence.”
“That’s what happens when you promote people who have previously been marginalized to positions of power. You give them the ability to talk about their experiences and then change the cultures that made those negative experiences possible. “
The Star contacted Gillespie, who declined to comment. “I think I said what I wanted, and I feel capable, of saying on the podcast.”
In an email to Trinity College members Wednesday, Chancellor Mayo Moran said: “The material that has been released raises very serious issues that are deeply concerning.”
While Moran declined to comment on the specific case due to “privacy and related considerations,” he announced that the university will hire an outside expert to examine any “Trinity-specific issues” that need to be addressed.
In a separate statement, University of Texas President Meric Gertler said the experiences described in the Al Jazeera report “are deeply distressing and disturbing to all of us.”
Noting that a new policy on sexual violence and harassment was introduced following Orchard’s alleged sexual misconduct, Gertler said this policy is now under review and will include comments from survivors.
“While we have worked hard to strengthen our policies, we recognize that there is more to do, given the particular dynamics at play in higher education settings,” he said. “I want to assure members of our community, especially survivors, that I give this issue the highest priority.”
The Al Jazeera report also alleges that Orchard participated in a public sex act during a conference dinner and had an affair with a young woman during his time at the U of T. In a separate incident, a group of graduate students complained when Orchard made advances toward a student in a pub, but they were told the only consequence was a letter in his personal file, according to the report.
Trinity College Against Sexual Assault and Harassment, a student-run organization focused on preventing and advocating for sexual assault, issued its own statement asking the school to investigate the claims made against Orchard.
The group requested public statements from Trinity College and the university condemning Orchard’s conduct and demanded that his portrait be removed from the university dining room.
Moran said in the statement to the school community that the portrait would be removed from the display pending a review by the university.
The portrait was still prominently displayed Wednesday afternoon when a Star photographer visited the university.
“We were aware of some of his conduct and the allegations against him since last year, and we had presented him to the administration,” said Micah Kalisch, president of the group. “We didn’t get much of a response.
Kalisch said the school’s response has been lackluster and she hopes the revision of the sexual violence policy will include important updates, such as a no-tolerance policy in student-staff relationships.
“I am very cautiously optimistic and I say this because the university has shown a pattern of neglect … and constantly silences the survivors,” he said.
In June, T University students in the music faculty submitted an open letter to the school calling for action against “ongoing misogyny” and sexual harassment at the university and noted frequent mishandling of sexual violence on campus.