News  Professor in El-Orabi case appeals harassment ruling

Graduate student who left McGill receives no financial compensation

Gary Dunphy, the McGill professor charged with issuing death threats to a graduate student, has appealed the decision rendered by the McGill Committee on Student Grievances. Earlier this year, the Committee ruled against the Natural Resource Sciences professor. The committee decision qualified Dunphy’s behaviour as constituting “harassment” and “threat of physical violence” toward his student, Amr El-Orabi.

The case began on November 19, 2012. When El-Orabi was departing the professor’s office upon announcing that he was leaving his lab, Dunphy yelled at him to “get the fuck out of the country.” And in response to El-Orabi asking if there was anything else the professor would like, Dunphy replied, “Yes, your death.” El-Orabi captured the exchange on tape.

The Senate Committee on Student Grievances, which arises out of University regulations, received a grievance from the graduate student against his supervisor on February 14. In his grievance, El-Orabi outlined three violations to his rights as described in the Charter of Students’ Rights: “death threat,” “religious, cultural and personal offences,” and “intrusion of his privacy.”

The Committee, with its nine voting members – four students and five professors – has final authority within University jurisdiction, and is “empowered to order such final or interim actions as it sees fit” for appropriate redress. However, Professor Frank Mucciardi, an academic member on the Committee, clarified that “the Committee cannot impose any kind of decision, it makes recommendations higher up and it is up to them to implement the decision.”

In September, the Committee wrapped up its investigation. While the decision was in favour of El-Orabi for the most part, his application for redress – or financial compensation – toward the money he invested in an interrupted education at McGill was denied. Moreover, the Committee found no violation of El-Orabi’s rights under section 2.1 of the Charter of Students’ Rights, which ensures that the right to equal treatment by the University “not be impaired by discrimination.” This is despite the fact that the recording clearly establishes Dunphy saying, “You have nothing new to offer […] your race is not that unique.”

In order to appeal the Committee decision, Dunphy had to notify the Secretary of Senate of his intention to do so within 14 days of receiving official notice of the decision. The Code of Student Grievance Procedures outlines that an appeal procedure can be sought only: “(1) Where new evidence which was not available to a party at the time of the original hearing has been discovered; or (2) Where a breach of natural justice has occurred,” and where the decision taken by the Committee could have been “substantially affected by any of the above circumstances.” If the Appeal Committee determines that the decision of the Senate Committee on Student Grievances was reasonable, the original decision is final and “implemented without delay.”

In September, several authorities at McGill responded to reporters from The Daily by saying they had to keep the information confidential “given the ongoing investigation,” despite the fact that the decision was already reached in August.

Additionally, McGill told El-Orabi he was not to divulge the nature of the decision and the possible sanctions against the professor “to avoid breaching a clause of confidentiality.” McGill cited section 1.4 of the Code of Student Grievance Procedures, a section that states that all documents submitted to the Committee must remain confidential. Nowhere in that section was there a mention about a non-divulgence of the decision.

Doug Sweet, McGill’s Director of Internal Communications, later informed The Daily that it was University regulation for McGill not to reveal the results of the process; however, “the parties themselves can, in the sense that the regulations do not spell out that they can’t.” Although the Secretariat encourages parties to maintain confidentiality, “there is no power to compel compliance in that regard.” In the decision El-Orabi agreed to share with The Daily, the Committee found that Dunphy’s verbal comments “constitute harassment of Mr. El-Orabi,” explicitly violating El-Orabi’s student rights under Article 3, which states, “every student has a right to the safeguard of his or her dignity and a right to be protected by the University against vexatious conduct by a representative of the University acting in an official manner.”

Regarding Dunphy’s mention of El-Orabi’s death in the context of an abrasive conversation, the Committee ruled that the comments “were legitimately interpreted by Mr. El-Orabi as a credible threat of physical violence.” Dunphy therefore violated El-Orabi’s rights under Articles 7 and 8, and “made Mr. El-Orabi fearful for his physical safety and his life ultimately leading to his departure from McGill and from Canada.”

The Committee also discussed possible actions of redress for the “psychological damage that Mr. El-Orabi may have suffered;” however, El-Orabi was informed that financial compensation was outside the purview of the Committee and was therefore not considered.

Finally, the Committee recommended that the Department of Natural Resource Sciences, the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies “move to ensure that Prof. Dunphy’s other graduate students, and any postgraduate researchers in his labs, be protected from harassment of this sort” because of his “bizarre and sometimes confrontational style.” One of the actions proposed by the committee included “insistence on co-supervision of all researchers and on the presence of a third party during all conversations.”

When asked to evaluate the process for filing a grievance complaint at McGill in retrospective, El-Orabi stated that he has heard of various similar incidents going unreported because “students are afraid to complain as they might jeopardize everything they are working for. I felt the same thing.”

Before El-Orabi decided to make his case public, and before filing a grievance complaint, he was in touch with various professors at McGill and with the Ombudsperson for Students, Spencer Boudreau. At that time, he said, there were a lot of signs that something was not right. “I quickly realized that nothing would happen, I wouldn’t have had my grievances heard if I would not have gone public.”

In fact, from January until March, nothing much was done by the University, according to El-Orabi. An unofficial investigation was opened when El-Orabi first talked with McGill personnel, and further closed without any prior notice to him. Prior to the closing, there was no contact from McGill, according to El-Orabi. “They didn’t tell me what they were doing and suddenly the case was closed […] somehow the actions are confidential and I can’t even get a written documentation.”

Since April 11, however – the date that the first news article and audio clip were released by Global News – El-Orabi stated, “the University has been consistent in contacting me.”

According to the last annual report on the “Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Discrimination Prohibited by Law,” the number of overall harassment complaints has decreased in the past six years, from 43 in 2010-11, to 24 in 2011-12. Complaints based on discrimination, however, have increased in proportion to other complaints, rising from 2 per cent in 2006-07 to 21 per cent last year.

Amira Elghawaby, Human Rights Coordinator at the National Council of Canadian Muslims, told The Daily, “Especially now with the context in Quebec, and the Charter of Values, we hope that students won’t be further marginalized on campus.”

The Council had contacted El-Orabi to provide counsel and support throughout the grievance process, and is seeking to work with the University to change their policies to prevent Islamophobic harassment in the future.

Close to a year has gone by since El-Orabi left McGill to return to Egypt, and he does not consider going back to McGill an option. “For the University to say that they have found alternatives for me, in order for [me] to finish this degree, is a lie.”

As a former student of anatomy and cell biology, El-Orabi does not see the possibility of a future career in his field in Egypt, and therefore changed his career path. “I started to look into different things and [to] re-evaluate what I wanted to do.” He ended up switching into aviation and recently graduated from the Egyptian Aviation Academy.

Dunphy is still offering two classes this semester, BIOL 350: Insect Biology and Control, and AEBI 120: General Biology. “Every year I like to do that. Students seems to like to have that class offered,” he said during a call with The Daily in September. He did not comment on the case itself at the time, and again for this story.

When The Daily reached Alan Watson, Dunphy’s advisor during the case, he declined to comment.