Extracting some hard truths from Dalhousie mess

The University of Dalhousie’s school of dentistry finally announced on Monday that there will be a partial suspension of the 13 students, members of a “Gentleman’s Club,” for misogynist Facebook postings. That hardly makes them special, since the entire fourth-year dentistry class has yet to return from the Christmas break and get back to work. All other classes have already resumed, but school management is keeping the fourth-year class out for now.

The University of Dalhousie’s school of dentistry finally announced on Monday that there will be a partial suspension of the 13 students, members of a “Gentleman’s Club,” for misogynist Facebook postings.

That hardly makes them special, since the entire fourth-year dentistry class has yet to return from the Christmas break and get back to work. All other classes have already resumed, but school management is keeping the fourth-year class out for now.

The “partial” part of their suspensions refers to the clinical experience portion of their studies. They can attend classes with their peers (when classes resume in a week), but they cannot do any work at the clinic.

A stint of “restorative justice” and counselling is also required of the 13, along with any of their female classmates who choose to participate.

That’s it. After the Gentlemen posted a list of female peers they’d like to chloroform and have “hate sex” with (you could just call it rape), suspension of classes for everyone, suspension of clinical work for the 13 men and restorative justice for their victims is all we know about for now.

Of all the medical professions, dentistry remains the last bastion of near-complete male domination.

Joan Rush, a lawyer specializing in health law and ethics, has taught both medical and dentistry students at the University of British Columbia.

She notes in an article for the Globe and Mail that the professional association that governs the practice in Canada is nearly all white male. There are 18 directors of the Canadian Dental Association, and only one is female. There are no visible minorities represented on the board. The deans of all 10 faculties of dentistry in Canada are male.

As well, says Rush, since dentistry is completely privately run, its practitioners are free to offer only the services they wish, to whom they wish, at the price of their choosing.

This confluence of conditions has led to Canada’s rating of “poor” for ensuring equitable access to dental care among 34 OECD countries.

These factors have also led to a male-oriented sense of entitlement in the profession, something that is not shared in the others. Or if it does remain in other professions, at least it is not held to the same extent and the professions themselves are working to change.

The Gentleman’s Club at Dalhousie is partially a result of top-down attitudes in the whole profession that are out of touch with society.

That puts the problem and the crisis at Dalhousie smack in the dean’s office.

Are we talking about young, bright male students who have done something stupid? Of course. But the messages being sent in the handling of the crisis do not square with Canadian values.

Especially not the values that dominate Canadian universities.

When I went to university, there were slightly more male than female students on Canadian campuses. Today, almost two-thirds of university students are female. Among Canadian adults, women are more than 17 per cent more likely to have higher education than men.

There has been a lot of discussion about this; even Statistics Canada has studies examining the new gender imbalance in higher education.

That’s a whole other issue, but in the context of the discussion here, it shows that management of schools of dentistry have some catching up to do.

Restorative justice alone will not be enough. Nor is it fair that 13 students who paid a whole lot of money for their education and who have done a whole lot of hard work to become trained should be completely kicked out of school, four months before the end of their fourth year.

Nothing more has yet been forthcoming, because school managers have reason to fear “self-harm” could result. Outside of the ethical questions, how would you like to handle the prospect of lawsuits — from all concerned?

Remember, nothing criminal has been alleged as yet. We’re still taking about students doing something stupid in violation of an internal code of conduct.

Rush has a suggestion I kind of like. Have the 13 Gentlemen agree to whatever restorative justice their victims agree to. In addition, have them agree to have their first year of practice take place under supervision in hospitals or geriatric facilities. Or at non-profit clinics, preferably based in remote communities where residents have little access to dental care, much less care they can afford.

Canadian taxpayers cover about 70 per cent of the total cost of educating a new dentist. We have a stake in this, too.

For the students’ female peers, for us, and for the lessons both the students and their governing institutions can learn, this suggestion seems like a way out of a huge legal and ethical maze.

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email greg.neiman.blog@gmail.com.

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