PRINCIPAL of the Edna Manley College for the Visual and Performing Arts Nicholeen DeGrasse-Johnson was yesterday raked over the coals at a meeting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC), for her handling of reports of sexual harassment by a senior lecturer at the institution, two years prior to the most recent claims which made headlines last month. The institution has been embroiled in controversy over the matter since it came to light and was raised at yesterday’s meeting with the education ministry, where the head of the college had also been invited to appear to answer questions.
Government MP Leslie Campbell pressed DeGrasse-Johnson after she told the committee that reports had been made to her in 2017 by another staff member about students complaining of misconduct of a sexual nature by the senior lecturer in question.
She said he was warned that action would be taken against him if there were any further complaints.
“Immediately, I asked her (the faculty member) if the students had put it in writing and she didn’t have anything [so] I told her that for us to go anywhere with it they would have to put it in writing,” DeGrasse-Johnson told the PAAC, yesterday. She said only one written statement was secured by the faculty member who has brought the complaint to her attention.
Campbell asked DeGrasse-Johnson whether she had insisted on the statements, to which she said the lecturer came back to her a few weeks later, but only with the single written report. “I read it, we were to meet with the gentleman, (but) he was off the island,” she said, noting that it was during the summer period.
“The fact is that you did not have the procedure instituted to have him brought before the disciplinary panel and so in furtherance of that, he was then empowered to go and to attack other students. This is what has triggered the reports we have in 2019. The fact is nothing was done in furtherance of your obligation under the code (of conduct),” Campbell charged.
But DeGrasse-Johnson said she disagreed. “Not true, Sir. I spoke with the vice-principal of academic affairs at that point and nothing came in before that, and so because of the delicacy of the matter, when the lecturer returned to college we had a conversation with him. At that point I spoke to him and he denied it [but was warned] if it happened again we would move forward. I didn’t get anything again until this year and we moved forward,” she explained.
“So you couldn’t get the statements from the others to corroborate the one that was taken? What you did was assume that the statement from the one (person), was not true,” the committee member insisted.
DeGrasse-Johnson looked on unresponsively when asked by another Government member, Norman Dunn, whether she would agree that the fact that she did not follow through on the 2017 reports was a gross dereliction of duty.
The principal is expected to reappear before the committee at its next meeting, to answer more questions. At least one alleged victim in a newspaper report said she was sexually harassed by the senior lecturer for over four years.
â” Alphea Saunders
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