Two weeks after being asked to evaluate complaints about Melody Torcolacci’s teaching of HLTH 102 — in which, students alleged, she taught anti-vaccination viewpoints — Provost Alan Harrison has released the results of his information-gathering.
Torcolacci came under fire after fourth-year student Michael Green tweeted slides from her lecture on vaccination, presented to students in HLTH 102: “Physical Determinants of Health”. The slides were reposted in a Storify made by alumna Isabelle Duchaine, and were picked up by national media.
Students also came forward to state that they’d made complaints about Torcolacci’s teaching of various courses in the past, with one complaint dating back to 2011 and involving members of the faculty and administration.
Over the past academic year, Torcolacci also taught HLTH 200, KNPE 203, KNPE 335, KNPE 345, PACT 100, PACT 300 and PACT 335. The 2011 complaint regarded her teaching of HLTH 230.
In a statement published in the Queen’s Gazette, Harrison wrote that he’d reviewed the slides in question and comments made to the University, and met with Torcolacci, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science Susan Mumm and School of Kinesiology and Health Studies (SKHS) director Jean Côté.
In the statement, Harrison said he couldn’t “state unequivocally” that Torcolacci’s “sole intention” was to present anti-vaccination viewpoints.
During the course of his evaluation, Harrison wrote, Torcolacci first requested a leave of absence from teaching HLTH 102, and then from the University, through the end of the term. SKHS granted both requests.
He added that Torcolacci and SKHS have agreed a different professor will teach HLTH 102 in the 2015-16 academic year, and that before the year starts she will work with Côté and others to ensure her courses are presented in a way that is intellectually rigorous and scientifically objective.
Harrison told the Journal that he has no reason to think Torcolacci’s other courses are “in need of care and attention”.
“But in the circumstances, I think [SKHS] will be wishing to reassure themselves that is the case, and then if they feel there’s something they can help her with, they’ll help her,” he said.
He added that SKHS is already undergoing a program review as part of the Queen’s University Quality Assurance Processes (QUQAPs), which takes place every seven years. The review began last fall.
“By the time the fall rolls around, some of the results of that review will also be available to the school and they’ll be reviewing that,” he said.
Harrison said the review looks at the structure of the program, rather than looking at or addressing student complaints, but the administration intends to look at mechanisms for student feedback.
“What we’re proposing to do at the University level is take a look at the ways in which students can register concerns, and then see whether we feel that that’s appropriate, or whether there may be some gaps in our processes and then how we might address those gaps,” he said.
“But I’m not approaching this with the presumption that there’s a problem. I’m approaching it with the presumption that, given all that’s happened, it’s an appropriate time to actually look at this in a comprehensive way with the other deans.”
He added that this review will likely be done over the summer, and any conclusions formed would be available in the fall.
Harrison said he felt the public response to the HLTH 102 issue was “way over the top”.
“I think it became a personal attack on Melody Torcolacci, and I just think that’s inappropriate,” he said.
“If their purpose here is to effect change, they could have registered their concerns in a much kinder and gentler way, because I’ve met with Melody and she was just severely shaken up by this.”
All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to email@example.com.