Students at McGill’s Macdonald campus are reacting with shock to the allegations of an Egyptian student who says he fled McGill last year after months of harassment and a death threat from his Master’s supervisor.
The story, first reported by Global News, pits Amr El-Orabi, a former Master’s student at McGill in Natural Resource Sciences, against Gary Dunphy, a professor at McGill who teaches mostly at Macdonald campus. El-Orabi left McGill last November before completing his degree.
Beginning last May, Dunphy allegedly insulted the student’s religion and once questioned his sexuality over the course of several months. During their final encounter, which El-Orabi recorded, Professor Dunphy allegedly said he wanted his student dead.
“Is there anything else that you want from me now?” El-Orabi said as he left the professor’s office.
“Yes, your death,” Dunphy replied.
This prompted El-Orabi to leave McGill and return to Egypt a week later. In February, he filed an official grievance with the University, which has yet to be resolved.
Some students have called for Dunphy to be fired.
“I think that he shouldn’t be teaching here,” said Evan Henry, the student senator for Macdonald campus. “Islamophobia shouldn’t be tolerated, let alone death threats.”
“In my ideal world, he would be fired,” said Shaina Agbayani, one of SSMU’s two equity commissioners.
Agbayani also called on McGill to “recognize that hostility towards any student, even if it’s not a serious threat, is not an appropriate thing to happen at McGill.”
Dunphy has declined The Daily’s requests for comment, saying that McGill has asked him not to speak about the case until the official grievance process is complete.
Students at Macdonald campus – where much of the alleged harassment took place – have expressed shock at the charges brought against Dunphy. The small, rural satellite campus is home to a tight-knit community of students and teachers who rarely deal with major disputes or discord.
The Macdonald Campus Students’ Society (MCSS) is currently reviewing its own investigation into the matter and is expected to make the results public shortly.
“Mac campus is known for having smaller, more intimate classes,” said Irene Dambriunas, a U3 Environment student at Macdonald.
“You get to know your professors – they’re really easy to approach and easy to talk to. So in that way it was shocking that [Dunphy] would talk to a student like that – really shocking.”
Student opinion on Dunphy’s persona is divided, with some describing a caring, if eccentric, teacher, and others calling him a sardonic loose cannon.
“This case disturbs me regarding the reaction from the greater McGill community downtown,” Zachary Goldberg, a U2 Environment student, told The Daily by email. “I have taken the professor’s biology class and he was very professional and treated everyone fairly to my knowledge. The class was very diverse. I was friends with fellow students who were arab [sic], and I remember one of them expressed to me that they liked him in conversation.”
Dana Holtby, who has since graduated, took a biology class with Dunphy in second year.
“He was extremely helpful and understanding to me as an Arts student in a science class,” Holtby said. “He reassured me after a difficult midterm and even seemed sympathetic to the allophones in our class. When I expressed concern about an error I made on the [midterm] he assured me that I would be able to make it up on the examinations to come, and that he was sympathetic to mistakes as he knew that for many students in the class English was not the first language.”
Henry, who took a biology course with Dunphy in the fall of 2010, remembers the professor in a less flattering light.
“I remember he had a very dry sense of humour,” Henry said. “This one time when I went to his office hours, he talked to me about how he likes suing people. He talked to me about that for a while.”
“‘I like to be in a lawsuit about once a year,’” Henry remembers him saying. “[It was] probably tongue in cheek, but I don’t think he was lying at all about liking to be in lawsuits.”
Henry says he learned about El-Orabi’s case when people shared it with him on Facebook. Since then, he and his fellow student Senators have been discussing the case in a private Facebook thread.
Asked what the Senators have been saying about the case, Henry said, simply, “That it’s horrendous.”
The McGill administration sent an email to students last Friday that referred to the incident without mentioning either Dunphy or El-Orabi by name.
“McGill takes allegations of harassment and threats very seriously,” the email read. “The University has carefully addressed the matter […] We have no grounds, however, to conclude that anyone in the McGill community is in any way at risk in connection with this matter.”
In response, Agbayani said the McGill Media Relations Office (MRO), who sent the email, made her “really angry that McGill didn’t want to do anything to be held accountable for this.”