As the Dalhousie Dentistry scandal limps towards something of a conclusion, the treatment of “whistleblower” Ryan Millet has been a source of outrage and mistrust of the university’s administration.
Like the other 12 students in the Facebook group, Millet was ultimately allowed to return to clinic, but was suspended for longer than the others because he refused to admit to unprofessional behaviour.
Millet’s return to clinic was conditional on him meeting a number of conditions; namely, Millet was compelled to admit guilt by submitting to remediation, including attending private counselling and the writing of essays and attending lectures under the watchful eye of the Academic Standards Class Committee.
On March 13, Millet released a statement saying that he would be accepting the remediation and returning the clinic. In that statement, he said that his family and friends knew that he was not a misogynist, and that he “must be content with that support, regardless of any contrary opinions of the [Academic Standards Class] Committee.”
It was that statement that prompted Lesley Barnes, assistant professor in Health Promotion at Dalhousie’s School of Health and Human Performance, to start an indiegogo campaign raising funds to cover Millet’s tuition fees and legal costs.
Although Millet has nearly half a million dollars in student debt as a result of his studies, Barnes says the motivation for the campaign wasn’t financial, at least not at first.
“I had been sympathetic to him all along. It’s really to show him that there are a lot of people out there who are really very supportive of what he did,” she says. “I think he showed a lot of integrity in bringing it forward and he may not have anticipated that his role in this resulted in the consequences it did.”
Barnes doesn’t know Millet personally, but said that starting the crowdfunding campaign was a way to combine her personal interest in the case with her professional commitment to doing the right thing.
As a faculty member in the health professions, she says that she teaches her students to be motivated by social justice concerns and wanted to put those ideas into practice. By showing support for Ryan Millet, she hopes to contribute to combatting misogyny. “We’re always asking our students to advocate on various issues so I think I have a responsibility to advocate what I believe as well.”
At present, the campaign’s stated aim to raise $300,000 – although it’s but a portion of Millet’s debt, Barnes says the number on the website is a typo, and that the actual amount she’s aiming for is $30,000.
“Would I like to see him get $300,000? Of course, I’d like to see any student be able to fund their education whether they’re a local student or an international student,” she said, adding that $30,000 “just seemed like a number that to me seemed reasonable.”
While the campaign is an attempt to show Millet that some members of the community value his integrity, the fact that it exists at all suggests fundamental issues with the administration of universities.
Millet was tried and sentenced by a committee made up of fourth-year Dentistry course directors, directors who no doubt have a stake in maintaining the reputation of the school by showing that they’re taking the matter seriously. In an earlier statement, Millet said that he believes “there is an underlying attitude amongst some within the Dalhousie community that he is partially to blame for the resulting adverse publicity and reputational harm that has accompanied Dalhousie’s treatment of the Facebook investigation.”
He also said that he felt that he has been denied due process and procedural fairness in the resolution of this issue.
There are also the financial constraints that Millet is facing. Millet is an international student, which explains in part why his debt is so high; nonetheless, even Canadian dentistry students at Dal already pay $18,572 per year. Next year, Dal proposes to increase that to $19,131. Millet has three children under the age of 4, and said that he is “far too invested in my chosen career to discontinue.”
When universities increase tuition to a level where students risk bankrupting themselves if they fail to graduate for whatever reason – students for whom the only safety net is a crowdfunding campaign – it’s difficult to see how a fair and transparent relationship between students and universities can exist, and how university administrations, and not just students, can be held accountable for their actions.