Ollivier Dyens has failed you

Content warning: mental illness, eating disorders, sexual assault

Ollivier Dyens was appointed as McGill’s Deputy Provost for Student Life and Learning (DPSLL) in September 2013 for a five-year term, ending in July 2018. The DPSLL plays a crucial role in university affairs, from enrolment to athletics, with the broad mandate of improving the “quality of student life.” However, multiple facets of student life have been detrimentally impacted by Dyens’ actions, particularly for students affected by mental illness and sexual violence. Leading up to his possible reappointment, McGill’s Advisory Committee is accepting comments on Dyens’ leadership by members of the university community. Students must seize this opportunity to emphasize the ways in which Dyens has continuously failed them.

During his term as DPSLL, Dyens has supervised portfolios vital to the well-being of students, particularly through Student Services, which includes Counselling and Psychiatric Services and the Office for Students with Disabilities. Between 2011 and 2016, McGill saw a 35 per cent increase in students seeking mental health services. However, over $2.5 million has been cut from Student Services’ overhead finances in the past seven years. The Stepped Care program was introduced in 2016 in response to these cuts, often pushing students in need of one-on-one therapy towards resources like online self-help literature, deemed “unlikely to be highly valuable on their own” by former McGill Mental Health Director Norman Hoffman. While Dyens claimed that Stepped Care eliminated wait list times for over 100 students, it did so by making one-on-one counselling less accessible. Students have reported being turned away from counselling for being “too high functioning” to warrant help. The most recent reforms to campus mental health services prevent students from seeing a psychiatrist unless the student has a referral from a general practitioner or a McGill counselor. Mental health care remains even less accessible for trans students, who continue to face barriers due to inadequate staff training, and for students experiencing eating disorders, whose services were recently scaled down.

Dyens also supervises Athletics and Recreation, a department notorious for its culture of sexual violence and misconduct. Between 2011 and 2013, three McGill R*dmen team members were charged with and investigated for the sexual assault of a Concordia student. Despite being arrested in 2012, the players continued to play for the McGill team in the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Reports indicate that both their coach and Dyens himself were notified of the investigation and arrest, but Dyens refused to take action, stating that alleged sexual assault neither warrants disciplinary measures nor violates the McGill Code of Rights and Responsibilities if it takes place outside of campus and “the McGill context.” Pressured by public outcry that threatened to damage McGill’s reputation, Dyens promised to implement a better system of protection and accountability without compromising the security and well-being of assault survivors. However, earlier this year, Dyens once again publicly absolved himself of any responsibility to McGill students who have experienced assault by another student. In 2015, Kathryn Leci (now a McGill graduate) was physically assaulted by another student, Conrad Gaysford. Gaysford was found guilty of the crime in 2016, but completed his classes and graduated on time, as no disciplinary action was taken against him at McGill. Seemingly having learned nothing—nor having made significant improvements—since the 2011 incident, Dyens once again cited the lack of a “McGill context,” sparking anger from many on campus.

In short, Dyens has clearly failed to fulfil his mandate of “ensuring the best student experience.” The McGill community must express its opposition during the reappointment period—Dyens must be held accountable for the harm done by himself and the offices he supervises. Students wishing to leave comments or forward this editorial should contact advisories@mcgill.ca.