Release of the Paula Butler Review Executive Summary
If you are a manager of staff whose work is not computer-based, please print this email and display it in a common work area for them to review.
In December 2015, barrister and solicitor Paula Butler, of Butler Workplace Solutions, an independent expert in workplace harassment, was retained by the university to review UBC’s response to concerns of sexual harassment and sexual assault raised by UBC students regarding a fellow student.
Today, UBC has released the executive summary report. The report determines that there was no breach of UBC’s policies, including Policy 3 Discrimination and Harassment, the Student Code of Conduct, and Rules for the President’s UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan Non-Academic Misconduct Committees.
This post is a continuation of my earlier post, An Inquiry into Inquiries, and is generated by UBC’s recent release of the Butler report
on the investigation into the mishandling of complaints of sexual
assault. In the earlier piece, I expressed concern that the Butler
inquiry would have little to offer the women who brought forth
complaints of sexual assault by a student, and it is an unhappy fact
that this gloomy prediction proved to be correct.
Ms Butler found no evidence of any wrongdoing by the University, and
no breaches of any existing UBC policy. She found also that university
staff involved all acted in good faith. A summary of her report may be
it makes a few findings of delay, human error, and lack of clarity in
procedures, declares all university actors acted in good faith, and
that’s about it. The report offers even less to those who might want to
conduct an intelligent debate on the subject of the investigation: none
of the evidence is available to those us who might want to make up our
own minds on the subject. Indeed, the report offers so little of
substance that it’s hard to even write about it.
The women whose lives were affected by the events in question receive
scant attention from Ms Butler. They are offered a scant paragraph,
which acknowledges that they felt silenced, but the report goes no
further than that, and assigns no responsibility for any suffering that
might have been inflicted. The origin of the investigation was the fact
that six women made complaints of assault, and that they received little
or no remedy from the university — while it may be reassuring for the
community to hear that no policy was violated and that the university
acted in good faith, it seems less than satisfactory from the
perspective of victims of sexual assault, whose suffering presumably
goes further than simply being “silenced,” and who might reasonably
expect some kind of redress. I can find no public record of Ms Butler’s
mandate, but it seems clear enough from reading the report that the
effects of UBC processes on complainants was not a primary focus.
It is not surprising, therefore, that one of the complainants
proposes to pursue the matter before the human rights tribunal. The
marginalization of the complainants in Ms Butler’s report strongly
suggests that an outside complaint is the only way to exert pressure on
the university to take responsibility for events occurring under its
The report does not appear in isolation. It comes in a context where
the university is experiencing a major public outcry around general questions of transparency and accountability, sparked by events around the resignation of the former President Dr Arvind Gupta, as well as the misappropriation of funds in the Faculty of Dentistry, a breach of academic freedom, and a decision to ignore a petition for disinvestment in fossil fuels which seems to place duty to donors above duty to the community.
In this context, the Butler report reads like yet another UBC
media release (and there have been many) that declares no evidence of
any problems, which absolves the University administration of any
responsibility, and which sidelines the concerns of the persons whose
lives were affected by the incidents in question. The common theme in
all these matters is an institutional approach which seems to focus
on the corporate aspects of the university’s administration more than it
does the interests of the community, whether faculty, staff, or
The AMS Society and the UBC faculty have both independently called
for an external review of the Board of Governors, and one is led
therefore to ask what sort of review might actually have some teeth, and
address the interests of the community rather than protect the image of
the university. Would the Board (or the Government) agree to a review
which gives a third party access to Board deliberations and committee
meeting minutes, which seems to be what is wanted? If it did, what sort
of limits could the Board reasonably be expected to set? Who should
conduct such a review, and what confidence do we have that any finding
would be implemented? What are the elements that the community would
require? And what recourse would there be if the Board and Government
I do not know the answer to these questions. But those of us — and I
am one — who wish to see an inquiry into the Board and the Board
Secretariat, might be well advised to move away from general calls for
transparency to thinking in more specificity about what an inquiry might
look like, about who might conduct it, and how it might be generated.