Facing a barrage of protests from students, professors, and the licensing agency for dentists in the province of Ontario, Dalhousie University has suspended 13 dentistry students for what has been described as misogynistic comments allegedly posted on the social media site, Facebook. The announcement was made by University President, Richard Florizone on Monday Jan 5, as some students returned to classes after the holidays, however the dentistry classes do not resume until Jan 12.
The 13 dentistry students all belonged to a controversial Facebook group known as the Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen, and the president of the University has stated the while the suspensions remain, the students are not allowed to participate in clinical activities, nor will the fourth year students be slowed to graduate, until consideration is completed by the standards committee. It is also possible that the students may not be allowed to attend lectures while being under suspension.
The scandal has rocked Dalhousie University, and although the decisions were made on Dec 22, the announcement was delayed until returning students has access to counselling, as there were reports that some of the individuals involved had become at-risk of harming themselves. The posts are alleged to include violent and degrading sexual references that were associated with some female classmates, and mentions of drugging of women were also cited in a poll.
In a statement released by the dean of the Dentistry faculty, Dr. Thomas Boran, and Dalhousie University president Florizone, they state that although the committee has the authority to institute remedial action and to recommend dismissal when or where it may be deemed as warranted, the suspended students will be individually assessed to ensure that they have complied with standards of professionalism, as required by the academic program or else they will not be allowed to graduate. Florizone has also said that the fate of the students will be decided over the next few days, as well as the decision as to whether the exams for the fourth year students, that were scheduled to be held in December will be rescheduled.
The scandal at the University which resulted in the suspension of 13 dentistry students may also have some deeper reaching consequences, as researchers in bioethics and faculty members have called for an investigation into sexual violence on campus. Some of the professors state that sexual violence against women may be a recurring problem at Universities across the country. Dalhousie University is being charged with examining the damage caused by the posts on Facebook, while addressing the underlying causes.
The Royal College of Dental Surgeons, which is responsible for the licensing of new dentists, expresses the view that there should be no tolerance for sexist violent behavior or attitudes as displayed in the posts in the Facebook page. The College watchdog association has demanded the identities of the 13 students and the Facebook page has since been deleted. The University has not yet complied with request and state that the issue is still ongoing. Irwin Fefergrad, who is the registrar of the Royal College says that all dental students graduating from Dalhousies can expect a thorough grilling to prove that they were not involved with this incident if the list of names is not provided.
While the controversy over the suspension of the 13 dentistry students at the University of Dalhousie continues, the parallel issues of free speech, especially on social media sites, has not gone unnoticed and some legal experts are questioning the authorities of the Universities to act in what may essentially be criminal activities.
By Dale Davidson