Because the Jian Ghomeshi story is the gift that just keeps giving – and by "giving" I mean, "giving difficult-to-shake feelings of depression and rage," The Star is reporting on Monday that University of Western Ontario journalism students were warned off pursuing internships at Ghomeshi's CBC radio show "Q" because of the host's reputation.
Ghomeshi was fired late last month over multiple allegations of violence physical altercations with women he dated. A police investigation has now been launched. Now, two individuals connected with the University say Ghomeshi's behavior led to discouraging students from interning for his show. Western journalism lecturer Jeremy Copeland tells The Star that in 2012, he learned that Ghomeshi reportedly "prey(ed) on a young grad who wanted to work [at 'Q']" and that subsequently, he recently intervened to not place a female student who'd wanted an internship at the show there. And a former student says that two years ago, students were told "Q" internships were "off limits" due to "concerns about inappropriate behavior" on Ghomeshi's part. The former student says that they were not told the specific nature of the behavior, but were warned about "overly flirty" incidents involving female students.
The university's dean of the faculty of information and media studies, Thomas Carmichael, says that the school severed its intern relationship with the show in 2008, after a male student who'd done the program "indicated that the student was asked to run everyday errands not connected to journalism." But The Star also notes that "Carmichael did not respond to follow-up questions about whether concerns about Ghomeshi’s inappropriate behavior toward female students played a role in stopping internships at Q."
The young woman whose story was the alleged catalyst for the university's review of sending students to Ghomeshi's show tells The Star that shortly after graduating in 2012, she attended a taping of the show and that afterward, "Ghomeshi inappropriately touched and texted her" -- and that she then told Copeland and other university staff to warn them about sending students there. These new allegations – revealing an apparent penchant toward college students – seem particularly pointed and troubling after the revelation of an April Twitter account that asked, "Hi there @jianghomeshi. Remember louring me to ur house under false pretences? Bruises dont lie. Signed, every female Carleton U media grad." [sic]
Carleton University journalism department head Susan Harada says, "Our school didn’t have a policy, either officially or unofficially, of avoiding field placements at Q." And Ryerson School of Journalism chair Ivor Shapiro likewise says, "We have placed interns at Q in the past and we have never had any indication that there was a problem with one of our interns. I've spoken to all of our faculty supervisors who supervised internships at the CBC over the past ten years and nobody had an inkling of a problem."
What, then, is the origin of the "Carleton U media grad" accusation, and what is there to make of the Western grad's experience, one that she shared with instructors there? It may well be that Ghomeshi's alleged overtures were not directed to students specifically in internship programs. It may also be that even if they were, students felt uncomfortable coming forward. Yet the account of the woman who did tell the university staff makes clear that even with a complaint, the appropriate course of action was still difficult to choose. What to do when someone comes to you with an account of behavior that Copeland calls "unacceptable and unprofessional"? That's not the same as violent and abusive. How do you protect students from a potentially toxic, even dangerous, situation? The truth is that universities often can't, especially when dealing with people who are legally adults. Yet what's troubling is that in none of this is there any indication that anybody went to Ghomeshi himself, or to his supervisors, and said that there was concern over his behavior toward young female colleagues. No indication that he was directly confronted and asked to account for himself. Instead, like so much this story, the people who say they had negative experiences with him or heard about them seem to have decided it was a problem best solved by avoidance.