By Amanda-Marie Quintino
Two weeks ago, Anthony Hutchinson’s teaching career at Ryerson came to an abrupt end, but no one at the university has been willing to provide a comment on his release.
Social work students can no longer have in-between-class counseling sessions and heated discussions with the well-liked and well-known social work professor who, according to current and former students, always offered an open door.
Instead, students returned from reading week to an empty office with an absent name tag. Hutchinson’s release was made public Thursday, Feb. 16. Sue Williams, dean of the faculty of community services, sent an e-mail message to social work faculty, staff and students informing them that Hutchinson would not be working at or with the university anymore.
“I’m writing to let you know that Professor Anthony Hutchinson is no longer employed by Ryerson University,” Williams wrote. “If students, faculty or staff have any questions about his courses please contact my office.” However, she and the School of Social Work have made themselves unavailable for comment to the student press.
The faculty has been advised not to speak to the media until further notice, one professor told the Eyeopener. “This is a private matter between the employer and the employee, and the university cannot comment on details,” Janet Mowat, Ryerson’s acting manager of public affairs, said.
“The university is committed to fostering an environment in which all individuals are treated with respect, dignity and privacy.”
Hutchinson said that he is not comfortable with speaking to the media at this point, but expressed an interest in “setting the record straight” once tensions ease, said his co-worker and long time acquaintance Josephine Grey, who spoke with Hutchinson over the weekend. Along with promptly removing the nametag from the wall outside Hutchinson’s former office and speedily clearing out the office’s contents, the university deactivated Htchinson’s voicemail system and disabled his e-mail privileges immediately after the faculty sent out its mass e-mail.
As a project director for the St. Jamestown Leadership Enabling Access and Development (LEAD) project, a non-profit organization aiming to provide access to health and well-being in Toronto’s most diverse community, Grey has worked with Hutchinson for decades, watching him put his textbook intelligence and street smarts to good use.
“Just the simple fact that someone was accused of something doesn’t give a post-secondary institution the right to get rid of a popular and talented professor,” saidGrey, who was interviewed by the university. At the beginning of the academic year, there were anonymous posters found taped in Kerr Hall East women’s washrooms, which alleged “inappropriate language and sexual interactions” between an unidentified social work professor and students.
When the posters were first found and Hutchinson was asked to comment on the allegations against an unknown professor, he said, “I have no comment on this kind of bullshit… these kinds of things happen and you know, what do you say right? You can’t say anything.”
The person behind the posters has declined a request for an interview several times. Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Services would neither confirm nor deny that any complaints have been received due to privacy concerns. Testimonials from Hutchinson’s students give him the nod of approval and reflect quite positively on the banker-turned-activist-turned-professor. “I did well in his class because he did a good job of getting the information across,” said one of his former students, who wishes to remain anonymous.
“He was a good professor and that was that. He was patient, kind, smart and I really didn’t see anything like this coming.”
The day the announcement was made, a comment was posted on Ratemyprofessor.ca, a web site which allows students to rate and critique their professors, complimenting Hutchinson’s teaching skills. “Anthony was a great prof,” it read. “In fact, many of us in his class looked up to him.
“Anthony was a real prof…He spoke the truth of what is happening in the world around us. Now he is gone.” Hutchinson can tell tales of community anguish and individual poverty because he lived it. When Grey met him, he was a student and living in his car. He left banking in order to have the time to dedicate himself to community development. “Anthony came to this field because he cares, because his heart is in it,” Grey said.
“He didn’t make his career on the back of the poor, but instead he has made his career revolve around the poor.”
Hutchinson has spent much of his time working as a motivational speaker, endorsing support systems for at-risk youth and analyzing what can be done to improve the livelihood of people living in impoverished communities. Grey and her fellow members of the Low-Income Families Together Committee have made a decision to support Hutchinson and write a letter to Ryerson University, detailing their disagreement with the University’s decision to release him.
She added Hutchinson had told her “his take on the whole situation was that he ruffled his feathers in the department and so people wanted him out.”