By Isaiah Hazelwood, Trinity News Senior Editor
Trigger warning: Discussions of sexual harassment and sexual assault
Andy Orchard, the former provost of Trinity College from 2007 to 2013 and current professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University, is a well-known academic in the field of Medieval literature. However, a recent podcast and accompanying article published by Al Jazeera have placed him under scrutiny for his personal behaviour in both academic and non-academic settings. In light of these publications’ contents, Orchard is now facing multiple allegations of improper behaviour, sexist comments, and the sexual harassment of students.
The students interviewed by Al Jazeera claim Orchard’s behaviour began three decades ago when he was a professor of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic at Cambridge University. According to former students, he frequently held meetings at a pub and was often drunk, earning himself a reputation of being “an alcoholic and a sexual predator.” Their description of Orchard’s actions was echoed by one Cambridge satirical publication at the time, which wrote: “Orchard puts the perv in supervisor.” Several students later discovered that Orchard was involved in a relationship with a postgraduate student, who privately voiced her fear of reprisal from Orchard if she ended the relationship. Despite the power imbalance created by Orchard’s role as a professor, they alleged the university “saw this as a matter of consenting adults” and declined to act against him.
In 2000, Orchard was offered a position at the University of Toronto as a professor for English and Medieval Studies and was later promoted to additionally serve as provost of Trinity College. While his former students described feeling abandoned and “left to pick up their own pieces,” Orchard was contrarily “going from glory to glory.”
His students at the University of Toronto alleged he led a toxic culture within his classrooms, was frequently “speculating about the sex lives of female faculty,” and often made homophobic jokes. They accused Orchard of repeatedly abusing his power as a professor by having sexual relations with one student. When that student ended the relationship, they described that Orchard began harassing another of his Ph.D. students to begin a similar relationship with him. When the targeted student reported Orchard’s behaviour to the University of Toronto’s Sexual harassment officer, her companions described that her choice to not file a formal complaint led to the event being resolved with no consequences for Orchard other than a note added to his personnel file. On the topic of this specific incident, another faculty member in Orchard’s department commented that the university’s inaction was driven “not so much a fear of losing him as the fear of retaliation through a lawsuit.”
In a recent article, the Star stated that Orchard’s behaviour was known but ignored by the University of Toronto. In 2004, Professor David Klausner submitted a report to the Sexual Assault and Harassment office accusing Orchard of sexual harassment of three graduate students. While the students were reassigned to new supervisors, no formal action was taken against Orchard.
Later in 2008 following an encounter between Orchard and a student at a pub where he refused to release her hand, the Acting Director for the Center of Medieval Studies wrote a letter to Orchard reprimanding his behaviour as “inappropriate and in breach of the University’s Conflict of Interest Policy … [and] may have also been in violation of the University’s Policy and Procedures on Sexual Harassment.” However, the letter went no further than a reprimand, and no other actions were taken.
Among those accusing Orchard is Alex Gillespie, who claims to have been a victim of his harassment as a junior academic in the University of Toronto’s Medieval Studies Department. She alleges that while drunk following dinner, he cornered her on a staircase, accused her of being a member of a “queer Feminist … Jewish conspiracy … to destroy my legacy in the study of old English.” According to Gillespie’s account, Orchard then proceeded to implicitly threaten her by saying “I am going to destroy you” and “I’m going to fire one last shot of testosterone across your bow.”
Alex Gillespie is now the Vice-President of the University of Toronto and Principal of the University of Toronto Mississauga. It is only from this position that she felt willing to discuss Orchard’s behaviour in the interview with Al Jazeera: “I have reached a position where if I spoke if I said no, there couldn’t be reprisals. That is what happens when you promote people who have previously been marginalized into positions of power, you give them the ability to speak of their experiences and to change the cultures which made those negative experiences possible.” Gillespie’s courage is emblematic of the broader societal change within recent decades, as Orchard’s behaviour has become recognized as clearly unacceptable. However, her fear of speaking out prior to her current position suggests significant cultural changes are still needed to recognize survivors of sexual violence.
Nevertheless, Orchard was offered and accepted the position of Chair of Anglo-Saxon studies at Oxford University in 2013. Several academics critiqued Orchard’s selection for the position at the time, suggesting Orchard was hired despite his negative reputation being known. Catherine Karkov, the chair of Art History at Leeds University and a former student of Orchard’s said “there are things I would like to say to Oxford about Andy Orchard. That he needs to be stopped, that he never should have been hired.”
Following the publication of Al Jazeera’s article, Meric Gertler, President of the University of Toronto, released a statement praising “all those who have come forward [for demonstrating] real courage in choosing to speak about their experiences” and reminding that “sexual violence – indeed sexual harassment of any kind – has absolutely no place at the University of Toronto.” The University’s Policy on Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment is currently undergoing a periodic review and Gertler has urged for the review to “account for power dynamics that are inherent in institutions of higher learning.”
Mayo Moran, the current provost of Trinity College who has served since 2014, released a statement specific to Trinity College’s actions. While Moran described changes to the college since Orchard’s departure, such as requiring all college faculty to participate in training in sexual violence and harassment, she also stressed that “we cannot be complacent either about that or about the absence of formal complaints.” Alongside the University’s ongoing review of the Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment policy, Trinity College plans to hire an external expert to conduct their own internal review. In the meantime, Orchard’s portrait has been removed from Strachan hall. The removal is an indication of Trinity’s acknowledgement of the statement released by the student group Trinity College Against Sexual Assault and Harassment (TASAH).
TASAH swiftly issued a statement on this issue. Accordingly, it called on the University of Toronto and Trinity College to make “public statements … condemning [Orchard’s] actions,” begin a formal investigation into Orchard’s behaviour, institute “a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual assault between staff and students,” commit to “supporting survivors and ending rape culture on campus,” and remove Orchard’s portrait from Strachan hall. When contacted by the Trinity Times, TASAH reiterated their ongoing advocacy for sexual assault survivors and calls for accountability from the University of Toronto. “We want to reinforce the importance of seeing a truthful and transparent commitment from Trinity and the University of Toronto to supporting survivors and creating longstanding change on campus. As a survivor-led group, we are committed to doing our part in creating safer spaces on campus and dismantling rape culture. Part of this involves holding the university and various stakeholders accountable. As such we are continually updating our recommendations and will be publishing an open letter to provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate their support. And as always, we continue to work one-on-one with survivors who need peer support and referrals.”