Professor was under investigation for sexual harassment before his death

Documents detail sexual harassment complaint against Andrew Bretz

Watson Hall on Bader Lane houses the bulk of professors in the department.
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This article discusses sexual harassment and may be triggering for some readers. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal.

Former English Professor Andrew Bretz, who passed away on Aug. 21, 2018 at the age of 42, was under investigation for sexual harassment by the University in the months leading up to his death. 

In a series of interviews, a former student detailed her experience of alleged sexual harassment by Bretz in February, 2018 that sparked the University’s investigation. She told The Journal she was one of about 5 other students who allegedly experienced sexual misconduct by Bretz.

In an email statement, Mark Erdman, manager of community relations and issues, said the University could not comment on the details of any particular case.

*** 

Toward the end of the 2018 academic year, Abigail*, whose name has been protected, wrote a letter to Jill Atkinson, associate dean of teaching and learning in the Arts and Science faculty.

“While I love English literature, am genuinely interested in the course material, and believe that I have the ability to succeed, Professor Bretz has created a classroom environment that I do not feel safe in. He has repeatedly and deliberately sought out inappropriate interactions and blatantly disregarded my obvious discomfort.”

Abigail was writing a letter to apply for Aegrotat standing, an academic appeal that allows students to earn a final grade based on their coursework, not an exam. It requires approval from the course’s professor.

Bretz taught at the University of Guelph before starting at Queen’s in the fall of 2017 as an adjunct professor in the English Department. He was teaching a third-year course at Queen’s when Abigail became his student.

Abigail said that, from the beginning, Bretz strongly emphasized that students should visit him during his office hours, and on Feb. 13, 2018, she did. She said she didn’t feel prepared to take a test the following day and wanted an extension.

Abigail said Bretz refused her request for more time, asking her instead to read a poem—printed out on his desk—aloud to him, something she indicated she didn’t want to do.

“I had no choice because that’s your professor, right, and you want to do well in the course. You want him to like you. I read it aloud and it’s fairly explicit,” she said. “I went through it and he made me do it again and makes me repeat it and makes me repeat the explicit bits, over and over, and I just don’t want to.”

Abigail said Bretz didn’t grant her request for an extension after reading him the poem.

“What can you do but read it for him?” she wrote about the poem in her appeal letter. “When that poem leads to your professor asking if you know what “wanting to f—k someone you know you’re not supposed to f—k” is like, what can you say?”

*** 

Later in the 2018 winter semester, Abigail was talking to a friend at an English department social, when she learned they had experienced a similar but allegedly more severe interaction with Bretz. Abigail said her friend also knew another female student who had an inappropriate experience with Bretz.

“We’re like, well, that’s three of us, and that’s just in my social circle alone. There’s got to be more. We didn’t know what to do, but we knew we had to say something.”

Abigail said that before the end of the semester, about 10 female students started attending a support group for experiences specifically involving Bretz.

“I can’t stress how many people had specific problems with [Bretz]. It was enough that we could make a support group and fill a room,” she said.

Abigail said she and one other person filed reports with the University about their interactions with Bretz, but believes there could have been more reports.

***

On June 15, 2018, Abigail received a letter from Jada McNaughton, the senior labour relations advisor in Queen’s Faculty Relations Office informing her the University had received her report about Bretz.

According to the letter, Barbara Crow, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, had initiated an investigation into Abigail’s allegations against Bretz. She had contracted Cory Boyd of Rubin Thomlinson LLP, a Toronto-based law firm that specializes in workplace and institutional investigations.

“The investigation will be conducted in accordance with the [Policy on Sexual Violence Involving Queen’s University Students], with the provisions of relevant collective agreements and will adhere to procedural requirements of fairness and due process,” McNaughton’s letter read.

Boyd reached out to Abigail on June 18, and the two met only once. Abigail was accompanied by a student caseworker from Queen’s Legal Aid (QLA).

“When I did end up meeting with the law firm, they said you’re allowed to bring one support person and that could be a friend or a counsellor,” Abigail said. “I said I’m bringing a lawyer. They said okay, but she’s not allowed to talk. I didn’t fight it.”

Abigail said the University didn’t inform her about the outcome of the investigation, as was required under the sexual violence policy in its 2018 form. She was eventually granted Aegrotat standing for English 321.

Bretz was scheduled to teach again in the fall of 2018.

 


 

Editors’ note

 

The Queen’s Journal recognizes the impact this story may have on survivors of sexual harassment and violence at Queen’s University, along with any students who interacted with this professor over the course of his tenure. We did not make the decision to pursue this story lightly. Our readers should know that we use every journalistic and legal resource at our disposal to verify and give a platform to the voices of students who have experienced instances of harassment and assault at the University. We do so with the agency of the survivors in mind. This sometimes includes giving them anonymity to protect their personal security and comfort.

Sexual violence remains a pervasive issue at our University that student leaders and administrators alike continue to seek to ameliorate. We appreciate every survivor who comes forward to share their stories with us. They help to bring light to this systemic problem. 

We acknowledge that not all survivors feel comfortable sharing their stories and experiences. That does not mean they go unnoticed or invalidated. At The Journal, we will continue to strive to support survivors and those impacted by sexual violence, whether directly or peripherally, to the fullest extent possible. As a small team of student journalists, we appreciate any information and assistance our community provides to us. 

Any students affected by this issue can access the Peer Support Centre in JDUC room 034 and Barb Lotan, the University’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator, at bjl7@queensu.ca.

—Meredith Wilson-Smith and Iain Sherriff-Scott

journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca

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