Addressing a culture of silence is a top priority at the University of King’s College, its president said, after the final instalment of an independent reviewers’ report. “We now understand that justice requires truth. And King’s hadn’t really grappled with the truth of its history relative to Wayne Hankey,” William Lahey, president of King’s, told University Affairs.
The report, first released in March and subsequently updated in May with additional information, is known as the Rubin Report. It concluded that King’s “is responsible for its role in the harm” that late professor Wayne Hankey caused when he engaged “in a pattern of predatory and abusive behaviour towards some young men” over more than 30 years, effectively protecting him from professional consequences or legal action.
“King’s response to becoming aware of Dr. Hankey’s inappropriate behaviour, or suggestions of it, was lacking,” lawyers Janice Rubin and Elizabeth Bingham wrote in the report. The lawyers go on to state “that this is our conclusion even when the university’s behaviour is judged by the standards of 30 or 40 years ago.”
Wayne Hankey, a professor in the Halifax university’s foundation year program (cross-appointed to the classics department at Dalhousie University) and a defrocked Anglican priest, taught at King’s from the early 1970s until his retirement in 2017. He also resided on campus from 1972 to 1978 and again from 1981 to 1991, as a residence don. In 2021, the professor was charged with sexual assault, gross indecency and indecent assault. Dr. Hankey pleaded not guilty to all the charges, but died in 2022, before a trial could take place.
The charges involved three men and included details about incidents which they allege took place between 1977 and 1988. Many of the allegations came to light years after the fact, but the report said there was also evidence that the university was “lackadaisical” in its record-keeping, and at least one record of a university committee looking into Dr. Hankey’s behaviour was destroyed. The report also looked further into the culture that supported and propped up Dr. Hankey’s behaviour, speaking with students who called his teaching style “aggressive” and “demeaning,” and noted that he would often make people cry in his class.
Ms. Rubin and Ms. Bingham interviewed 81 people over 110 hours, releasing an interim report in May of 2022, after Dr. Hankey’s death. The charges against him were dismissed upon his passing, but the lawyers continued their research, releasing their final report in May of this year. The pair concluded the allegations were “more likely than not to have occurred.”
“Dr. Hankey was such a larger-than-life part of our institutional history and our university community for so many years, it had a very significant adverse effect on our culture,” says Mr. Lahey. “Nothing was said for years about it. I think that has a corrosive impact on a community’s ability to have standards and hold anyone to those standards.”
University leadership committed to following the recommendations laid out in the Rubin report, which started with a public apology in March, when Mr. Lahey addressed those directly victimized by Dr. Hankey as well as the media. “We failed to protect you, we failed to believe you and we are sorry,” he said in his statement.
The university is also committed to changing the culture of silence at the school, Mr. Lahey said. It increased its emphasis on the topics of consent and respect with all incoming students during their fall orientation. All incoming students are given an online training module on consent (students living in residence had to show proof that they completed it.) Additional peer-facilitated discussions on bystander intervention and campus supports took place on Welcome Day, which King’s leadership said was attended by more than three-quarters of incoming students. King’s also has a sexual health and safety officer available to work with both faculty and students, and it has integrated a new training program on sexual violence that’s given to all faculty at the initial meeting of their academic programs. Since the final report this spring, more than 90 per cent of all faculty have now received the training, along with members of the board of governors.
Vice-president Sarah Clift also led discussions with faculty, which resulted in a document entitled Statement of Principles: Cultivating Healthy Boundaries & Guidelines for Healthy Relationships with Students, which addresses appropriate boundaries between faculty and students. The document was endorsed at a faculty meeting in May, and faculty have committed to reviewing how it is being implemented every two years.
For current and future students, however, there are lingering concerns. Terra Carter, external vice-president of the King’s student union, said while the university has started moving in the right direction, students aren’t seeing as much transparency as they’d wish. “We would have liked it if King’s released the names of the individuals who knew about Hankey’s crimes and told students if they are still involved in the school, especially with first-year students. This situation has demonstrated that the university is willing to prioritize the reputation of their well-respected faculty over the well-being of their students.” Additionally, Mx. Carter said the school gave students less than a day’s notice that Mr. Lahey would make his public apology, which they say didn’t give students enough time to formulate questions and comments.
Mr. Lahey stands by the decision not to name specific individuals publicly. Referencing a line in the final Rubin Report where the authors say that “no one (at the school) seemed willing to take (Dr. Hankey) on,” Mr. Lahey said that it “seems clear that Ms. Rubin saw the failure to be those of King’s, and not of specific individuals. It is telling that Ms. Rubin herself did not name those she thought personally responsible.” He added that focus on specific individuals could detract attention from a collective commitment to change. However, he did tell University Affairs that none of the people referenced in the report, even without naming them explicitly, are currently employed by King’s.
Outside of campus, there are also two active civil cases against the university, among other named defendants. Liam O’Reilly, lawyer for complainant Glenn Johnson, who was not among the criminal complainants, said “King’s unequivocal apology to the survivors is a concrete step towards acknowledging the suffering and harm of the victims,” but that it’s simply a first step. Mr. O’Reilly noted that other survivors could come forward with the release of the report, which is why his client’s civil case is continuing. Regarding the civil cases, Mr. Lahey said King’s has committed to paying out “appropriate financial compensation,” though the exact amounts are still to be determined.
The university must also grapple with the reputational cost of the Hankey legacy. This is something Mr. Lahey believes can only come with time and earning back trust. “There was a widespread view, particularly among our students, that things were happening and they weren’t being addressed. There was a collective cone of silence,” he said, referring to the years, and even decades, before the Rubin Report was undertaken. Whatever reputational cost the university may be paying externally now, he said, the school has years of internal damage to repair.
However, Mr. Lahey strongly believes the long-term harm to the university’s reputation would have been much worse if the university had not acted at the time the criminal charges were laid. “The feedback I have received indicates that we might be repairing some aspects of our reputation in the population that kind of matters most, which is our current students and those who have gone to King’s and graduated from King’s.”