In late 2014, over a dozen senior dental students in Dalhousie university were reported for unprofessional conduct. They posted very distasteful and degrading comments about women I on their Facebook accounts. The posts brought forward a general sexually in appropriate set of comments. The conduct was definitely unprofessional and posted in the Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen Facebook page. The poor conduct of the students brought forwards a series of concerns to the faculty:
- Is it our obligation to investigate the conduct of the male students who formed a friendship through comradery in their dental class?
- The students were academically doing well in the program. Is it our mandate to get involved?
- There are no documented guidelines for ethical and professional conduct that address this sort of behaviour. Does this excuse our involvement?
- The 13 members of this social media group represent a large portion of our class. Suspending them will decrease funding available to the program.
- How do we investigate this problem and then, what is a fair punishment?
- Apparently, another male professor had shown videos of swimsuit models in class to wake up the male students. After a complaint to the dean, a short email apology was sent to all females in the class. Is this adequate?
- What are our social responsibilities as educators? What is our responsibility to the public? Are these students a threat to the well being of the public? Are the students poor representatives of our profession?
- The students are young adults that have made very poor choices, how do we help them realize this and how do we ensure they do not repeat such behaviour in the future?
- As young adults, the students should be responsible for their conduct. Should their names be made public? Should their names be released to all the faculty?
- How does the unethical conduct reflect upon the faculty and university?
As a female, it is hard for me to believe that such behaviour is still observed in our current society. This is even more disturbing as it reflected the behaviour of 13 young adults. I believe the faculty needs to see this incident as a way to educate everyone about the unprofessional conduct of the students. It should realize that the students’ actions will carry out in their professional careers and reflects poorly on our profession. These men will be in charge of hiring female employees and will work in an industry where over 90% of the support staff are females. The faculty must also strive to exhibit a ‘role model’ like behaviour for their students. The idea of a gentleman club must be discussed with students as to determine if this is appropriate. I think the faculty itself has a lot of internal work to do in order to educate and teach staff professional respect for ‘the other sex’. Instructors should not display bikini shots of models to wake up the male students. Faculty is obviously not trained with respect to sexual harassment principles.
As to what to do. First, I think the faculty itself should be trained with respect to sexual harassment principles and being a role model for students. Posters and information about harassment should be posted all over the school setting and students should be offered a confidential source to discuss their concerns. All classes should have an educational session with respect to professional and ethical conduct as well as sexual harassment. The courses must be offered by professionally trained individuals and not just a recently trained staff member. As for the men involved, I am not sure what the right thing to do is here. They are young adults that must be punished for their poor conduct and lack of respect for women. The privacy of the women was not respected as well. There should be a course in ethical conduct and standards completed. Students must prepare a report about ‘why they are being asked to take the ethical course’. Do they understand what they have done? Having them graduate late will not teach them a lesson. Having them fail a year, will not teach them anything. We need to confront the problem and educate the students to seek reformed behaviour. Finally, there should be a university appointed board to regularly assess the status of this faculty in order to ensure maintenance and adherence to the sexual harassment standards and ethical behaviour.
As a note: my field of work does have a license driven code of ethics and conduct. It is regulated by our College. It can be found on the College’s website as well as our association’s member- services site. The association also has a member services officer who offers support and advice as needed if ethical and professional issues arise.