Sunday, May 25, 2008

Vancouver Art Gallery Presents Lifetime Achievement Award to Jeff Wall, Alleged Operator of SFU Sexual Harassment Ring


The Vancouver Art Gallery knew of allegations that he had operated a sexual harassment ring at SFU. Condo developer Michael Audain knew of allegations that he had operated a sexual harassment ring at SFU. But that didn't stop them from awarding artist Jeff Wall the Audain prize for Lifetime Achievement at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Thursday.

Did Wall's lifetime achievements include operating a sexual harassment ring when he was head of the Visual Arts Department at Simon Fraser University? At least one serious complaint is outstanding at SFU about a sexual harassment ring which operated in the 1980's and was allegedly composed of Wall, who was head of the department at the time, and Assistant Professors Greg Snider and David McWilliam.

A woman who suffered lifetime consequences when she dropped out of SFU without finishing her degree due to alleged chronic sexual harassment, calls Wall the "crotch-watcher" due to his signature style of sexual harassment. "One thing he would do that really bothered me was he would stare at my crotch in a really obvious way and then he would look me right in the eyes."

This former student says her life was destroyed by the sexual harassment. She had to interrupt her education because she lost her ability to concentrate due to the sexual harassment. And after dropping out, she lost her student loan eligibility . . . .

Destroyed Room by Jeff Wall

Michael Audain, a condo developer who funded the award, has been aware for months of sexual harassment allegations against Wall. But Audain was apparently willing to overlook allegations that Wall's sexual harassment had resulted in a woman dropping out of SFU and entering a life of poverty on the Downtown Eastside. And Wall could hardly be seen as an ingrate: "As an artist you have to appreciate the fact that someone is appreciating you", he said when interviewed by the Vancouver Sun about the prize Audain had funded. The two men are apparently on a first name basis, with Wall referring to Audain as "Michael" in the Sun interview.

The Vancouver Art Gallery was aware when they hosted the Audain prize ceremony that Wall faced allegations of sexual harassment. Shortly after Kathleen Bartlett became Director, the VAG was asked to put a hold on accolades for Wall until SFU met its obligation to hold an investigation into sexual harassment in the SFU Visual Arts Department under Wall. A victim says she "spoke at length" to Bartlett's assistant about the allegations against Wall and still has her notes from that conversation. The VAG and Bartlett nonetheless continue to publicly present Wall as the VAG's little darling, giving the public no hint of their awareness that he evaded investigation for a serious matter.

The sexual harassment in the then tiny SFU Visual Arts Department -- just 15 students were accepted each year -- while it was headed by Wall also involved an element of fraud, alleges the woman who eventually dropped out due to sexual harassment. Each applicant to the School for the Contemporary Arts was expected to attend an interview, ostensibly so that their potential as an artist could be assessed, but there were indications that potential as a sex partner for professors was being assessed. The woman recalls being interviewed by Greg Snider and an administrator on the Burnaby campus. The two men were sitting side by side, both facing her, and when the adminstrator was jotting down notes, Snider sexually harassed her. “He gazed at my body, up and down. He was leering at me and then he tried to lock eyes with me.” She didn’t confront him, partly because she was shy, partly because she “couldn’t believe what was happening”, and partly because she desperately wanted to get accepted into the program. “I figured I could just avoid this letch if I got accepted,” she says. “But when I got in, I found out they were all like that!”

In fact, when the eventual drop-out arrived at her first Drawing class, the professor, Jeff Wall -- she didn't have a clue who he was at that time -- engaged in similar behavior. “It happened the instant I walked in the door,” she says. “I was just six feet in the door; it was as though he knew I was coming.” She had the impression that Snider had discussed her with Wall in advance. She believes that these professors were sharing information about potential conquests and being competitive in getting students into bed.

The woman who dropped out of SFU recalls finding Wall's brazen style of staring at her crotch odd considering he often came across as a shy man. She wasn't the only student who perceived him as shy. She recalls that after she disclosed the Visual Arts sexual harassment during a Women's (History) Studies class, a beautiful woman with long auburn hair and green eyes approached her outside the office of the School for the Contemporary Arts. The woman, whose name she recalls, was in both her Women Studies and Visual Arts studio classes but they didn't know one another well. The woman disclosed that Greg Snider had been putting the moves on her. Snider, she said, would stroke her back and say, "How's your back, [name]?" She imitated the soft voice he used as he asked her that question. (Snider had a spouse and at least once child.) The auburn-haired woman said she had not experienced sexual harassment from Wall but during the brief conversation that ensued, she did offer an observation, "He's a very shy man."

The woman who dropped out believes that Wall's gruff, even authoritarian communication style, was an effort to cover up his shyness. But he wasn't always gruff. Like when she was working in the SFU third year studio on Quebec St. and he commented, "You got your hair cut". She had gotten several inches trimmed off the ends of her hair and he told her, "It looks nice." Even that comment though made her uncomfortable because it was part of a pattern of inappropriately "intimate " conduct for a professor who was, to quote a phrase he once used with his class, "hanging a mark over your head".

It was during the same year, third year, that she was bent over on the floor working on her drawing when she looked up and saw Wall looking down her v-neck black sweat. A woman, Barbara, was speaking to him and he wasn't paying attention. "He was looking down my sweater."

She wishes now that she had spoken to the auburn-haired woman longer when she approached her outside the Center for the Contemporary Arts office in second year, but she remembers feeling "so burned out by the sexual harassment thing."

The auburn-haired woman, after confirming that she had not been sexually harassed by Wall, just Snider, said that Walll had actually recently come to her aid. It had been in response to David McWilliam (who was in a sexual relationship with another student from our class that year, the same year his spouse had a baby) telling her that he didn't think she should remain in the Visual Arts program due to her arthritis. She was in her early twenties but had arthritis in her back that occasionally required her to lie on the couch during studio classes, which were informal classes. She submitted a written complaint to the department that she was being discriminated against based on her disability. Wall then notified her that she was accepted her into third year.

That was part of the problem, says the woman who dropped out. "The sexual harassers got to pick who would get into third year." Students didn't automatically move from second to third year in Visual Arts; Wall, Snider, and McWilliam decided who they would allow to enter third year.

Keep in mind that the Visual Arts department, started by Wall, was small. There were only three studio instructors. Wall never hired a female studio instructor even though over 90% of the students accepted into the program were female. "All the studio professors were male and they were all trying to get laid", says the woman who would eventually drop out. After Wall left, women instructors began to be hired.

One of Wall's lifetime achievements not mentioned when he received the award at a ceremony at the Vancouver Art Gallery was allegedly hypocrisy. Wall, Snider, and McWilliam pretended to be sympathetic to feminism but it was an act. An act. The woman who dropped out recalls Wall showing up for a conference at a feminist video place on Broadway near Oak in Vancouver. She can't recall the exact name of the place but she does recall censorship being a theme of the conference. Lisa Steele, an artist from the Ontario College of Art presented a large-screen video of herself having sexual intercourse with her partner.

"Anyway, Wall shows up late and he sits at the head table and gives a keynote speech on something or other. I could barely listen, I was dumb founded. The crotch-watcher was at the head table! And feminists had invited him; he had them conned." This was just a few months before she would drop out of SFU due to the sexual harassment ring operating in the Visual Arts Department under Wall's stewardship, and it was roughly in this time period that a female Dance student left for Toronto to recover from her relationship with Wall whom she realized had no intention of divorcing his wife.

But you did not have to be a target of Wall's alleged sexual harassment to notice his hypocrisy. A former Theatre instructor in the SFU Center for the Contemporary Arts who acknowledged having had sex with a large number of women -- he was tight-lipped about whether any of them had been students and he avoided uttering even a peep about SFU's sexual harassment history -- recalled that Wall had crossed a picket line despite claiming to be a Marxist. (See Lifetime Achievement Award Given to Marxist who Crossed a Picket Line.)

After the woman who could no longer concentrate dropped out, she learned that Wall had left SFU and taken a job teaching photography at the University of British Columbia. He was later fired from UBC by Serge Gilbault, who was Department Head and a well known writer on art. The reason given by Gilbault in a front page article in the Vancouver Sun was that Wall was too often absent from work. That was a problem at SFU too says the woman who dropped out. Wall went to Holland for three weeks when she was in two of his third year classes, both a theory and a studio class, and he arranged no substitute instructor.

"It was hurtful", said the Downtown Eastside woman when asked how she felt after seeing Wall receive yet another award and more public accolades at the VAG. She would like to see a moratorium on awards for Wall until there is an investigation into the alleged sexual harassment ring that operated at SFU while he headed the Visual Arts Department.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

This reads like a national enquirer article. It's obvious you are the alleged "victim".

reliable sources said...

anonymous,

Do victims usually refer to themselves in the third person?

This article in your view, "reads like a national enquirer article", but let's not forget that the National Enquirer was accurate when recently exposing the sexual conduct of John Edwards. And the National Enquirer has been accurate in exposing the sexual conduct of countless others being presented to an unwitting public as pillars of the community.

Anonymous said...

I am a young, female student of Greg Snider and I have never felt uncomfortable in his presence. Regardless of the validity of the National Enquirer, the article was not written very well and comes off as being sensationalist.

reliable sources said...

anonymous,

You have Snider's above victim to thank.

She protected female students who came after her by exposing Snider's use of his classroom to seek sexual stimulation behind the back of his spouse. You were probably in elementary school when she first exposed Snider's sexual harassment on a 'Course Drop' form, when she was dropping a class co-taught by Snider.

Snider would no doubt be aware that he can't get away with that sort of blatant sexual harassment any longer.

The victim wasn't convinced that Snider could ever completely stop though, as his sexual harassment had a "compulsive" quality to it. The fact that you are not experiencing sexual harassment, doesn't mean that Snider has completely reformed. Snider selected his targets; he didn't hit on every single woman. The victim has no doubt that there were women in her class who were never approached in a sexual way by Snider. Keep in mind that Snider's studio classes then were much smaller than they reportedly are now.

Thanks for your comment though. The alleged victim discussed in the article -- incidentally, you're reading the DTES Enquirer, not the National Enquirer as you called it -- was disappointed to hear that Snider was still teaching. She thought he might have retired by now. She would like to finish her degree but she feels sick at the thought of having to encounter that "letch".

You are fortunate in that you will probably get to graduate. She dropped out of the SFU Center for the Contemporary Arts due to sexual harassment. She never got her degree.

Anonymous said...

Well, then I thank her for coming out about it. I meant that I was unconvinced because of the way the article was written. The fact that I haven't seen him act that way toward anyone in the past few years just adds to that.

reliable sources said...

anonymous,

YOU ARE NOT A STUDENT, in my opinion. Nice try, you had me fooled initially.

Something about the comment you left on Nov. 8 did not sit well with me. Like other writers who spend hours a day on the internet posting and sifting through comments, I have developed an instinct for assessing comments.

In the minutes after responding to your comment, your words, "the article was not written very well", kept nudging me. It seemed incongruous that a student who did not have the literacy sharpness to distinguish between the publication name, "Downtown Eastside Enquirer" and "National" Enquirer", would seem so sure of themselves in giving writing feedback. My guess is that you are a person who has for some time been in a position of authority such as a teacher, a person who has for years been telling younger people what's wrong with their work.

You use a classic technique for planting misinformation: making a concession -- albeit a slight one -- to your opponents to enhance your credibility. You write, "Regardless of the validity of the National Enquirer...." [You’re not sufficiently emotionally detached from the sexual harassment ring to concede that the expose` on the Downtown Eastside Enquirer could have validity, so you substitute the name of a different publication, the National Enquirer, thereby avoiding making any concession.]

You've since returned, making another comment on Nov. 11, USING THE SAME FORMULA.

I notice that you don't join the alleged victim in calling for an investigation to get to the bottom of this situation.

I suspect your goal is to trigger women to come forward to announce, "I wasn't sexually harassed", thereby making it more likely that women who were sexually harassed or witnessed sexual harassment won't bother to come forward for fear they won't be believed. Or that they will be tempted to minimize their experience.

Any battered women's counsellor will tell you that in most cases when a woman is mistreated -- even if she's beaten black and blue -- there will be people who say of the batterer, "He's not such a bad guy, he's always been nice to me."

I was talking to the victim this morning and she thinks it's time that feminists such as Allison Clay and Donna Zapf, two lovers who were teaching at SFU (although Zapf has now moved to Duke) should come forward. Clay knew that sex with students was occurring, because she had been David McWilliam's spouse when he was having sex with a student. And Zapf knew about it as she was co-teaching an Arts in Context course with Snider when the alleged victim dropped the course, giving past sexual harassment as the reason on the Course Drop Form. Zapf's teaching assistant, a blond 'out' lesbian whose name the victim couldn't recall off the top of her head, was aware that the issue had been raised.

KW said...

Your story about an alleged harassment ring at SFU is very interesting. The details about "the ring" parallels the Tom Ellison scandal!

I hope that more people come forward about this... I feel for the poor woman who didn't get to finish her degree.

Certainly, Wall is a distinguished artist and has brought the Vancouver School of conceptual photography [which I adore] into the public consciousness of the art world--he should come forward publicly for what he was doing and APOLOGIZE for what he's done before bestowing any more awards. I don't doubt he deserves them solely for his artistic merit, but morally, I agree he shouldn't be getting them when this issue is still in the air...

Anonymous said...

this is an interesting article. as a young woman studying visual arts at University of Victoria, I was subject to some inappropriate behaviour by a male professor. There was definitely sexism in the department 15 years ago. If the professors had "chosen" which students were able to advance to third year, I can not imagine how much worse it would have been (UVIC does not have that system. In the end, I always received low marks from this one male professor, as it was apparent I was not interested. decent male professors and females graded me much higher than he ever would. When you are a young female student, male professors often have all the power.

clive coogan said...

Ok.. this is simply weird.  I was an Art student at the Centre for the Arts (81-86) during the time of this so-called "sexual harassment ring".  I stumbled across this quasi news story during a simple goggle search for info.  First, the program was very small- maybe 25 students in the entire 4 year program.  There were 3 faculty members teaching Art.  Calling this "a ring" seems rather exaggerated to say the least.  It takes a minimum of three people to form a ring holding hands therefore at least 5 out of the 25 students need to jump into it to make it a reality.  The news story seems to suggest a much larger faculty & student count to justify such allegations.  I simply did not ever witness this kind of behavior in my classroom other than the normal sexual energy present between pupil and teacher.  In fact the energy is most often perpetuated by the student.  Especially within such a small student / faculty ratio and the fact that your damn career depended on your professor not only liking your work, but liking you.  This is not a new concept in the academic world and frankly begins in High School.  So, I wonder if this is not simply a witchhunt perpetuated by a former woman/student who like most opportunists in the Art World sacrificed her body to justify the inherent lack of talent which seems to always make it into the Vancouver Art Gallery.  I can tell you this: As a Gay student in a very hetero program I was never offered a cock to suck to get a show at the OR Gallery.  In fact, I should be angry that my three professors never offered me the same opportunity to graduate with honors.  The world will never change wether we are talking about The Centre for The Arts or the Guggenheim Museum.  Most everyone will take off their "ring" for an opportunity. Except stupid me. Had I only known that all it took was a few loads in the mouth for a show at the VAG.

reliable sources said...

Clive,

You left the same comment on two articles posted at the Downtown Eastside Enquirer on the topic of the alleged SFU sexual harassment ring. (You left the same comment as well at a post at nowpublic.) Your responses suggest you either have not bothered to actually read the articles to which you are responding or you suffer from comprehension problems.

Your write,
"First, the program was very small- maybe 25 students in the entire 4 year program."

In my reporting on the alleged sexual harassment ring, it has been made clear that the student body in the SFU Visual Arts department was small at the time. I reported that there were roughly 12-15 students in any given Visual Arts class.

You write,
"It takes a minimum of three people to form a ring holding hands therefore at least 5 out of the 25 students need to jump into it to make it a reality."

It was clearly reported in my articles that there were just THREE professors in the SFU Visual Arts studio program at the time -- Greg Snider, Jeff Wall, and David McWilliam – and that the sexual harassment "ring" was comprised of these THREE professors. By "ring", I mean professors sharing information with one another, even competing with one another, to get into the pants of female students.

I mentioned reports that sexual harassment had been occurring in other departments of the Center for the Arts as well, but my articles have focused primarily on the identifiable "ring" in the Visual Arts department.

You write,
"The news story seems to suggest a much larger faculty & student count to justify such allegations."

You don't mention which of the news stories you are referring to here; as I noted earlier, you left your comment on two Downtown Eastside Enquirer stories. My articles do not "suggest a much larger faculty & student count". To the contrary, it is suggested that it was precisely the small number of faculty and students in an informal studio environment, that allowed a sexual harassment ring to operate in the Visual Arts Department.

A well bonded group of three male professors, close in age, with similar values and similar attitudes toward women, can keep a secret and cover for one another if necessary. Once any group grows beyond three people though, it becomes more difficult to keep a secret.

You write,
"I simply did not ever witness this kind of behaviour in my classroom other than the normal sexual energy...."

You are not alone, Clive. Even women being sexually harassed were not always aware of other women in the same class becoming targets. And from what I'm told, the sexual harassment did not always occur within clear view of an entire classroom of students, and it did not always occur while a studio class was formally in session.

One alleged sexual harassment victim says she had no idea that Greg Snider had been hitting on a classmate until the classmate disclosed this to her. The disclosure came after the first woman mentioned rampant Visual Arts sexual harassment while in a Women's Studies (History) class. A classmate in both the Women's History class and the Visual Arts class approached her shortly afterward to tell her that Greg Snider had been hitting on her. Snider would reportedly stroke the latter woman's back and ask her how she was doing -- hardly, "the normal sexual energy" between student and professor. Neither woman had known that the other was being sexually harassed. Imagine that, Clive.

The incident in which Snider fixated on a student's nipples did occur while a studio class was in session (these classes were reportedly 3 or 4 hours long), but not in full view of other students. Snider was reportedly standing with this particular student at her work station, which she recalls was situated next to a pillar. "I was standing by the pillar, I remember I was wearing a navy blue turtleneck; I remember it like it was yesterday, I've told so many people about it over the years." Other students working on their own art projects some distance away, chatting with other students, weren't necessarily in a position to see Snider's eyes locking on one student's nipples.

Artist Allison Clay left her spouse David McWilliam not long after he bedded a student in 2nd year. Makes you wonder, Clive, if she was noticing things that went beyond the "normal sexual energy" of professors and students. But then again, even a student cognizant of the presence of the sexual harassment ring says she didn't realize until much later that McWilliam was actually having sexual relations with a student. She had seem him gaze at this student in a sexually interested manner, but, "When they were in studio, it wasn't like they lay down on the couch together."

You write,
"So, I wonder if this is not simply a witchhunt (sic) perpetuated by a former woman/student who like most opportunists in the Art World sacrificed her body to justify the inherent lack of talent which seems to always make it into the Vancouver Art Gallery."

Clive, you could have been an adviser at the SFU Center for the Arts. One alleged sexual harassment victim, who apparently never "sacrificed her body", was encouraged by an adviser to act like one of your perceived "opportunists in the Art World" and essentially use Jeff Wall for what she could get out of him. The student had gone to the office of this adviser – she remembers his name being "Tony" and that he had an office in the Center for the Arts "portables" -- to talk about problems she was having with Wall. Tony cut the conversation off early; she suspects he knew that she could disclose sexual harassment if he allowed her enough leeway. She recalls him launching into a "patronizing" lecture about how she could get to be like Ken Lum. "I had never heard of Ken Lum", she says. Tony explained that Lum had developed a close personal relationship with Wall while a student in the Visual Arts department and that the relationship had helped Lum get ahead. Tony told her that after graduating from SFU Visual Arts, Lum had gotten accepted to, she believes he said, "New York University". "Tony was impressed by this; I don't know why," she says. "He told me I could do the same if I played my cards right with Wall."

You write,
"As a Gay student in a very hetero program I was never offered a cock to suck to get a show at the OR Gallery."

I realize you're trying to inject humor into your comment, but you're obviously not familiar with the SFU Visual Arts program. The SFU Center for the Arts had nothing to do with the Or Gallery, according to two sources. I have been told that the only connection was that the Or Gallery was run by Ken Lum, an SFU Visual Arts graduate and friend and protégé of Jeff Wall. Undergraduates at SFU were not getting shows at the Or Gallery, according to my sources.

You write,
"In fact, I should be angry that my three professors never offered me the same opportunity to graduate with honors."

I realize you're being facetious but, for the record, my sources have never claimed that SFU Visual Arts professors offered higher marks in exchange for sexual favors. I reported that one woman who was a target of sexual harassment saw her grades drop in Jeff Wall's classes to well below the grades she was getting in classes external to the Center for the Arts.

You write,
"Had I only known that all it took was a few loads in the mouth for a show at the VAG."

Clive, you're going off half-cocked; pardon the expression. From what I've been told, professors angling for sex with students had little or no power to get a student a show at the VAG. But of course, you know that.

You obviously don't believe sexual harassment is something to be too concerned about. Another gay male in the SFU Center for the Arts may have had a similar attitude. Grant Strate who taught in Dance and later became Director of the Center was made aware of the sexual harassment issue. Strate asked the complainant via voice mail if she was ok with him allowing Greg Snider to listen to a tape of what she had reported. She agreed. Strate did nothing about her complaint. She never heard from him again.

As I have pointed out in previous commentary on the alleged sexual harassment ring, the real question about this case is why SFU has spent years evading it's obligation to hold an investigation.

Anonymous said...

I'm a female accepted to SFU Visual Art starting this year. Is this still going on? What is the vibe like now?

These stories are disgusting and make me furious. I would NOT want to go into this program if there is even a whiff of this still happening.

All these guys mentioned are still gainfully employed people of influence in the academic and art worlds, correct?

reliable sources said...

anonymous,

I haven't checked recently, but when I first learned of this story quite some time ago,Greg Snider was still a department head at SFU. I'm sure if you telephoned SFU, they could tell you over the telephone if he's still there. Now that mandatory retirement has been eliminated in BC, he could be there for a long time.

But the woman who brought this story to my attention isn't going away any time soon either.

She experienced Snider's alleged sexual harassment as "compulsive" and she doubts he could totally stop. At the time the ring was allegedly operating at SFU, sexual harassment was a current issue and was being covered in the media. But this did not apparently act as a deterrent.

One thing that may place students at SFU at risk for sexual harassment is the attitude of President Michael Stevenson that he can evade dealing with complaints. He has for years evaded any discussion of this case.

At the time I learned of this story, David McWilliam had long since moved from SFU to Emily Carr and his ex-common law wife, Allison Clay, had moved from Emily Carr and taken his faculty position at SFU.

Jeff Wall may not have gotten another teaching job after being fired by UBC (where he went after SFU) for excessive absenteeism. Wall remains influential in the art world though. I was told that the art world and media in Canada have a sycophantic relationship to Wall. I have no doubt this is true, as I was shown a copy of a fatuous interview with Wall published in the Globe & Mail a few years back.

Anonymous said...

You are correct in stating that SFU refusing to discuss this case is an issue. That may be what concerns me the most and I may contact them to see what this is all about. It's an issue for me, anyway, as a prospective student. I actually found this link when trying to research faculty. I would feel much better if SFU addressed this (especially since their contemporary art program is getting so much attention with the new Woodwards development).

Harassment is not acceptable in any professional or academic environment. Even if you are an amazing artist or darling of Canadian culture and media.

Thanks for the reply. Is the victim going to pursue charges or an investigation? I suppose the anecdotal nature of the claims would be a problem. Unless other students can verify something.

By the way, what is it about artists that makes them think the rules don't apply to them? Also, maybe a reminder that as an instructor at an institution like SFU, you have an obligation to the community, taxpayers, and students who are essentially paying your salary.

Sorry to ramble on.