CANADA

A professor’s long ordeal

VICTOR DWYER November 29 1993
CANADA

A professor’s long ordeal

VICTOR DWYER November 29 1993

A professor’s long ordeal

For Heinz Joachim Klatt, a psychology professor at King’s College of the University of Western Ontario in London, the thorny issues surrounding sexual harassment and freedom of expression are not merely theoretical. For 14 months ending in June, 1992, Klatt was the focus of an investigation that he now describes as “an inquisition in its purest form”—and that has since prompted college officials to begin rewriting their sexual harassment policy. Klatt’s ordeal began in April, 1991, when two women approached officials at the college’s sexual harassment office and claimed that the 54-year-old teacher had violated a section of the policy that prohibits “sexually-oriented remarks ... which might reasonably be perceived to create a negative psychological environment” in the classroom. Their charge: that Klatt had repeatedly referred to a third student as “Lucky Lucy” and had used the words “perky,” “bodacious” and “exuberant” to describe women’s breasts in a lecture on child development.

Employing an unusual clause in the college’s sexual harassment policy, Klatt’s accusers insisted that there be no attempt to resolve the matter informally. As a result, after two months of investigation by sexual harassment officers, the matter went straight to King’s College principal Philip Mueller with a recommendation that “formal administrative action” be taken. Mueller appointed an outside adjudicator, Douglas Letson, president of St. Jerome’s College at the University of Waterloo, who in turn conducted a four-month investigation that included closed-door interviews with students, faculty and staff.

Klatt, meanwhile, spent much of the summer of 1991 trying to locate students to speak on his behalf, and ultimately received letters of support from

24 of the 60 students in the class. One was from the woman that Klatt had dubbed “Lucky Lucy.” She wrote that “at no point did I feel [the nickname] was offensive or sexual in nature,” and praised Klatt’s abilities as a professor. Others asserted that Klatt had not used any of the offending words.

In October, 1991, Letson delivered his report on the professor’s case. On the basis of that report, Mueller exonerated him the following June—more than a year after Klatt had first been accused. Klatt was reimbursed for legal fees and granted a year’s paid leave in return for what he now describes as “12 months of intense anxiety.” For his part, Mueller concedes that “we made mistakes”—by denying Klatt the right to face his accusers, and taking too long between the decision that he was innocent and informing him of it. But for Klatt, who calls the entire ordeal “a classic witch hunt, plain and simple,” those words are too little, too late.

VICTOR DWYER