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Crandall University defends its firing of professor on grounds of sexual harassment

John Stackhouse Jr. has sued Crandall University for firing him following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment. (johnstackhouse.com  - image credit)
John Stackhouse Jr. has sued Crandall University for firing him following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment. (johnstackhouse.com - image credit)

A New Brunswick Christian university says it did nothing wrong when it fired a tenured professor following an investigation that found his comments and emails toward students constituted sexual harassment.

Crandall University also denies that it acted in bad faith when it released details of the investigator's report at the same time it announced it was firing John Stackhouse Jr. last November.

"Crandall did not post anything on its website that was not true," said the university, in a statement of defence filed in Moncton Court of King's Bench this month in response to a lawsuit by Stackhouse.

"If anything, Dr. Stackhouse, through his conduct as described above, has tarnished the reputation of Crandall and has caused Crandall to suffer loss."

Crandall's statement of defence comes after Stackhouse filed a lawsuit last month claiming the university damaged his reputation by publishing the findings of a "flawed" investigation.

Stackhouse also claims Crandall wrongfully terminated his employment, alleging his termination letter lacked detail surrounding the specific behaviour by him that constituted sexual harassment.

Crandall University is defending its decision to fire former professor John Stackhouse following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment. (CBC)

None of the allegations by either parties have been tested in court.

In an email to CBC News, Stackhouse declined providing an interview, adding that his lawyer is "in the process of preparing a Demand for Particulars" in response to Crandall's statement of defence.

CBC News also asked for an interview with Crandall president Bruce Fawcett. In an email response, spokesperson Darrell Nevers said legal counsel had advised it would be inappropriate to comment on matters before the courts.

Online allegations led to investigation

Stackhouse, a prominent evangelical academic and author, joined Crandall University in Moncton as a professor of religious studies in 2015, following a 17-year tenure at Regent College in Vancouver.

Last March, an Instagram profile called "dobettercrandall" appeared online and posted a number of accounts of what it alleged were incidents of harassment, many associated with one professor in particular.

On the Instagram account, Courtney Lutes used the pseudonym “Jessica” to share what she says happened in Stackhouse's classes.
On the Instagram account, Courtney Lutes used the pseudonym “Jessica” to share what she says happened in Stackhouse's classes.

On the Instagram account, Courtney Lutes used the pseudonym “Jessica” to share what she says happened in Stackhouse's classes. (dobettercrandall/Instagram)

In April, Crandall's board voted in favour of hiring an investigator and turned to labour lawyer Joël Michaud to conduct the investigation.

On Nov. 22, 2023, Crandall issued a statement online, announcing it fired Stackhouse as a result of Michaud's investigation.

A CBC News investigation also heard from former students of Stackhouse, who said they were made to feel uncomfortable by comments he made about the physical appearance of female students.

CBC also found that prior to his departure from Regent College, he was subject to an investigation looking into multiple allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

Crandall knew about complaints before social media posts

In Crandall's statement of defence, the university revealed it was aware of allegations of inappropriate comments by Stackhouse prior to March 2023.

Crandall says those included comments that were offensive to female students.

Crandall says it warned Stackhouse about those comments, and that he assured management he would change his behaviour.

The statement of defence doesn't say how many complaints it received about Stackhouse prior to March 2023, nor how far back those complaints date.

Crandall says it was in March 2023 that the Instagram account surfaced, prompting the university to hire Michaud to investigate the claims.

Sexually charged emails, inappropriate comments

In its statement of defence, Crandall leans heavily on Michaud's investigation report and identifies Stackhouse as the subject of allegations by students that he sent sexually charged emails and made inappropriate comments in class that constituted sexual harassment.

Crandall says in the course of his investigation, Michaud was approached by a student who shared 78 "concerning" emails sent to her by Stackhouse, most of which included sexual references.

Crandall notes that when confronted about those emails, Stackhouse admitted they were unbecoming of a professor and a Christian.

Joel Michaud, lawyer for the union, said the province is desperate to stop workers from using their right to strike.
Joel Michaud, lawyer for the union, said the province is desperate to stop workers from using their right to strike.

Crandall says Joël Michaud's investigation found Stackhouse made comments to students that constituted sexual harassment, and that he sent one student dozens of sexually charged emails. (CBC)

The statement does not quote the emails, but says they included Stackhouse describing a sexual fantasy of his, as well as him referring to his desire of having a "sleepover" with that particular student.

"This correspondence between an experienced, tenured full professor, Dr. Stackhouse, and a young undergraduate student ... is shocking," says Crandall, in its statement.

In its statement, Crandall likens Stackhouse's emails to "a classic case of grooming," along with constituting sexual harassment and abuse of authority.

That section of Crandall's statement is preceded by another section, which discusses findings by Michaud that Stackhouse is now married to a former student.

The statement says Stackhouse told Michaud their romantic relationship did not begin until the summer or late summer of 2022, months after she ceased being a student of his in April 2022.

The statement says Stackhouse acknowledged he and his now wife commenced a romantic relationship when Stackhouse was still legally married to someone else.

Mr. Michaud "concluded that it could be concerning to Crandall, given its mission and Christian foundations, that Dr. Stackhouse commenced a romantic relationship with someone who had very recently been his student and while still legally married to someone else," says Crandall, in its statement.

Termination for cause was clear, says Crandall

Crandall says contrary to what Stackhouse alleges in his claim, the termination letter they presented him with made clear the reasons he was being fired were because of the findings of Michaud's investigation, which he'd been allowed to review and respond to beforehand.

"Crandall maintains that it had just and sufficient cause to terminate Dr. Stackhouse's employment, especially given its mission and values as a Christian based university."

Crandall also alleges Stackhouse, at the time of his hiring, deliberately failed to disclose that he was on a forced leave of absence and was the subject of an investigation into misconduct by Regent College.

Stackhouse, in his claim, said he was seeking relief related to the loss of salary for the reasonable notice period, loss of his various employment benefits, aggravated damages, punitive damages.

Crandall says it denies any and all liability to Stackhouse and is requesting the court dismiss his claim with costs.