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Thompson Rivers University admin sexually harassed women, made racist comments: report

B.C. university has been investigating 55 allegations against 2 administrators since Feb. 2021
Thompson Rivers University campus. (Sean Brady/Kamloops This Week)

-Kamloops This Week

Thompson Rivers University has completed its investigation into complaints against a pair of senior administrators, one of whom is no longer at the school.

TRU vice-president of finance and administration Matt Milovick and former associate vice-president of people and culture Larry Phillips were the subjects of complaints filed in February 2021 by current and former employees at the university.

At a press conference at TRU on Tuesday (Jan. 17), it was revealed that a sub-committee of the university board received the report from two independent investigators on Dec. 21, 2022. The 500-page-plus report examined 55 allegations from eight complainants. Twenty-two allegations were brought against one of the administrators, while 33 allegations were brought against the other administrator.

The investigation has cleared one administrator, while noting 10 allegations from four complainants levelled against the other administrator were substantiated. Seven of those substantiated allegations centred around inappropriate comments amounting to sexual harassment against women in the workplace or in social settings. One other allegation was deemed harassment targeting a particular age group, another involved a comment derogatory to Indigenous people, and another was personal harassment.

In all, 45 of 55 allegations were not substantiated by investigators. These included four instances when investigators made no finding because the matter had been previously reviewed, the allegations (in two instances) were too general to be investigated or the parties could not provide information to allow the allegation to be investigated.

In addition to interviewing the two administrators and the eight complainants, investigators spoke with 34 witnesses and reviewed hundreds of documents, including TRU policies, emails, media reports, social media posts, text messages, TRU audit reports and minutes of various meetings.

Due to Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy legislation, the university said it cannot identify which of the administrators had all allegations cleared and which of the administrators had 10 allegations against him substantiated. Nor would the university disclose what discipline, if any, was levied against the administrator who had allegations against him substantiated.

Phillips departed the university in December 2021, but TRU has not said why he left. Milovick remains employed at the school.

While the investigation dealt with 55 allegations from eight complainants, there were more current and former employees who made allegations. Some of those complainants’ allegations were not considered by the investigators. KTW interviewed many of the complainants over a period of several months in 2021.

The investigation was originally scheduled to be wrapped up by March 31, 2022. That date was scrapped, however, after TRU said additional witnesses needed to be interviewed before the report could be completed.

“There is a lot of hurt in TRU’s community right now,” university president Brett Fairbairn said. “I think of those complainants who investigators determined suffered from improper conduct. This should not happen. On behalf of TRU, I apologize to them for what they have experienced, and I commit TRU to improve in the future.”

Fairbairn said the events will serve as a catalyst for change at TRU, noting the university has developed safe, trauma-informed avenues for employees to report concerns. Additionally, he said, initiatives are underway that will create safe spaces for employees to talk about workplace culture and discuss ways to improve it.

“TRU continually evaluates its policies, protocols and internal practices,” Fairbairn said. “I want TRU to be a place that is inclusive of everyone. I am firmly committed to working towards a culture that supports individuals across the full spectrum of our workforce.”

Marilyn McLean, chair of the TRU board and the sub-committee, said the investigation was thorough, trauma-informed, respectful of fair process and fully met the expectations of the board’s sub-committee. She noted the investigators reviewed complaints against a substantive legal framework guided by human rights tribunals, courts and relevant statutes.

“It has taken several months — much greater time than anyone anticipated — to reach this end,” McLean said. “And we know it’s been extremely hard for many people, whether directly or indirectly involved. This investigation was an extraordinary accommodation of the concerns and interests of these complainants, designed to ensure they had a safe environment in which to share their stories. The board fully accepts the findings.”

Nathan Matthew, TRU’s chancellor and a member of the board’s sub-committee, said the allegations in the complaints have been properly investigated.

“The complainants were given every opportunity to share their concerns,” he said, noting that publicity in the media of anti-Indigenous or racist comments at TRU caused hurt in Indigenous communities. He noted, however, that only one allegation of this kind of behaviour has been substantiated against one individual.

“Eliminating racism is a cornerstone of TRU’s commitment to reconciliation,” Matthew said. “I know Indigenous people are resilient and will carry on in our social and cultural development using education as a catalyst for positive change.”

In total, the report cost TRU about $1 million in legal fees.

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