EDITORIAL – Handling of TRU investigation requires delicate balance
An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
TWO SENIOR ADMINISTRATORS at Thompson Rivers University are accused of inappropriate behaviour including sexism, racism and bullying. The allegations came to the attention of the TRU board of governors early this year, after which a sub-committee was established to investigate.
They only became public a week ago when the gist of the original, anonymous complaint appeared in the media, and the investigation won’t wrap up until the new year.
Meanwhile, the various players are engaged in a somewhat public debate over how the investigation should be handled. There are concerns over the existence of non-disparagement agreements and non-disclosure agreements, and over who should be involved in the investigation.
Two other key issues of process appear unresolved. One is the status of the two administrators — the faculty association wants them suspended until the rest of the investigation plays out.
The proposed suspension raises an issue of fairness. We have a fundamental principle in this country that accused people are innocent until proven guilty. That implies that the two administrators shouldn’t face consequences unless it’s proven they did something wrong.
In the eyes of some, they’re already guilty, but while it’s essential to treat complaints like these with respect and sensitivity, it’s also important not to make premature judgments.
The other issue involves the anonymity of complainants.
Another key principle is that an accused has the right to know the identities of his or her accusers. But the kinds of assertions made in this case are traumatic for everyone involved, and the usual rules don’t necessarily apply or, at least, they have to be adjusted.
As well as the stress, those who come forward often fear for their jobs, and they need assurance of protection whether such fears are real or suspected.
Working through the process requires the striking of a delicate balance to ensure fairness for all. Respecting anonymity needs to be accepted as a given, and proceed from there.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at email@example.com.
I agree that there is a delicate balance point. However, in the case of a faculty member accused of serious misconduct, they would be suspended with pay while their case was being investigated. Considering that complaints were submitted last Feb. and we are only finding out now, with nothing much having been done to resolve it, there is a sense that TRU has not taken it seriously enough and has dragged their feet. As far as anonymity of complaints goes, it’s important to realise that people currently working in admin. fear losing their jobs if they come forward. It may also be hard for these people to speak freely while the two individuals in question are still working at TRU. I think if TRU want to do a proper investigation they need to gather as much information as they can and also maintain an arms length distance at all stages of the process, including the final recommendation.