The Thompson Rivers University Faculty Association and former and current staff are reacting following stories by KTW and CBC Kamloops about an investigation underway into the alleged conduct of two top administrators.
TRU vice-president of finance and administration Matt Milovick and associate vice-president of people and culture Larry Phillips are under investigation by TRU’s board of governors after an anonymous complaint was sent to the board in February of this year, alleging discriminatory conduct, discriminatory statements and/or harassment.
The complaint, which involves up to 13 current and former university employees, alleges incidents of sexual harassment of female servers, misogynistic references to women and disparagement of Indigenous people at TRU and in the community, among other purported incidents. None of the allegations in the complaint have been proven as the university’s investigation into the matter continues.
Former TRU employee Bronwen Scott, who previously worked in public relations and research at the university, told KTW she left TRU as a result of a mishandled harassment complaint she made in October of 2008 against a supervisor. She said she was disappointed, but not surprised, after hearing news of the current investigation and said TRU has been “confrontational” with its employees for many years.
“The whole culture there, it’s just toxic,” Scott said, noting she understands why the accusers wish to remain anonymous. “Because look what happened to me.”
Many other current and former university staff continue to weigh in on the investigation online.
Thompson Rivers University Faculty Association (TRUFA) president Tara Lyster said the allegations are “shocking” and “extremely serious.” She said the feeling on campus following publication of the KTW and CBC stories is one of “shock,” adding people don’t know what to say. She said the faculty association is committed to creating a fair and respectful workplace.
“These allegations are just intolerable behaviour,” Lyster told KTW.
She said TRUFA is concerned Milovick and Phillips remain at work, noting if a faculty member faced similar misconduct allegations, they would be placed on leave immediately, until the investigation was concluded.
“It’s hard to have a fair, trauma-informed investigation against allegations when two of the people are still working and one of those people runs the department that faculty would actually go to with concerns like this,” Lyster said. “The fact faculty would be put on leave, TRUFA would like to see that happen [for Milovick and Phillips.]”
As far as she knows at this point, Lyster said, no faculty are involved in the investigation. However, she said TRUFA will participate if asked. She said it is concerning that people are afraid, to the point of requiring anonymity to speak. She said she issued a statement to faculty on Nov. 24, asking faculty to participate, if asked, and to reach out.
“It might be bigger than we know,” she said. “We’re also calling on TRU to immediately ban or waive all non-disclosures on context of discrimination or harassment and for all people who may have been involved over the years. Because it [a non-disparagement agreement] silences people. It’s silencing and it’s perpetuating this behaviour to happen because people are silenced.”
Lois Rugg, president of CUPE 4879, the union local that represents TRU support staff, wrote to union members, condemning alleged racist, sexist, transphobic or homophobic discriminatory speech. The union is encouraging its CUPE members who may require assistance or support to reach out to the organization.
“As a union, CUPE has zero tolerance for this type of behaviour. We will be calling on TRU to ensure that a proper investigation will be done quickly and that due process is followed,” Rugg wrote. “We will be making further statements in the coming hours and days to follow.”