Making Excuses for Inappropriate Behaviour?

An interesting article from Otago University’s Critic, about a widely liked and respected man who is also known to push and exceed personal boundaries as law professor.

Otago University was put in the #MeToo spotlight recently over inappropriate drunken sexualised behaviour at it’s summer law camps, with the head of their law faculty, Professor Mark Henaghan in attendance. This year’s camp was cancelled as a result of the publicity.

I have heard outside the University that Professor Henaghan is liked and respected. He is due to move away from Otago shortly (to Auckland University).

Crirtic – Opinion: Are We Making Excuses for Inappropriate Behaviour?

The first time I met Professor Mark Henaghan he put his arm around me and kissed me on the cheek. I was 17 years old in my first week of University and he was the Dean of the Law School. It was a University event so the official photographer probably has photos of me looking very uncomfortable.

That was not a good introduction to law school.

Recent media scrutiny has resulted in Law Camp being cancelled, and suggested that Professor Mark Henaghan was involved in skits that involved naked, drunk 20-year old females. It is right for questions to be asked. A Law Dean has standards to uphold.

Professor Henaghan attended the student-driven Law Camp because he’s a legend among students and they want to invite him.

I believe Professor Henaghan is a genuinely kind-hearted person. He’s a passionate lecturer, a leading voice on children’s rights in New Zealand and an important supporter to generations of students.

I’ve heard similar.

But, that’s no excuse for unprofessional behaviour.

I agree, but it seems that unprofessional behaviour has been excused for a long time.

I was in LAWS101 lectures where Professor Henaghan made leery jokes about the drinking, sex and general debauchery of students. He hugged female lecture theatre technicians coming to help him out and put his arm around female students asking questions after class. We were told by older students to use pink highlighters in our exams because “Mark likes girls”. It’s part of his humour and charm, but still leaves a slightly sleazy taste in the mouth.

Some students sat there asking, ‘was that appropriate?’ But we were told ‘that’s just Mark,’ so we just put up with it.

One person’s acceptance or enjoyment of personal attention from someone in a powerful position can be invasion of another person’s personal space. It can be a welcome squeeze, or unwelcome sleaze.

Obviously, there is a line between unprofessional behaviour and sexual harassment. The University is a place with solid processes for dealing with sexual harassment or assault. As far as I know, no formal complaints of sexual harassment have been made.

Creating an environment where we “just put up with it” at law school doesn’t help change the culture. In fact it makes it harder for people to identify what inappropriate behaviour really looks like.

It’s so easy to make excuses for people. “He could just have no boundaries.” “He’s just a super affectionate person.” “Maybe he doesn’t realise it makes people uncomfortable.”

But, how long do excuses hold up for? Didn’t #metoo start because people have been making excuses for too long? Isn’t it about being able to stop for a moment and ask, “is this normal?”

Fair questions. They can be difficult to have answered when the person making some people uncomfortable is generally liked and popular.

Despite how touchy he may be with people he knows in his personal life, the Dean of the Law School has responsibilities to uphold professional conduct with students.

One would expect and hope so. Apparently not in this case.

Professor Mark Henaghan is loved by generations of Otago students. But, nice people still do inappropriate stuff. It just feels hard to call them out when they’re right there. Maybe this dilemma is why people stay quiet for so long.

If people stay quiet for so long the inappropriate unprofessional behaviour of a university dean remains unaddressed, and year after year students are made to feel uncomfortable about what they feel as sleazy conduct.

It’s worse than one person in power abusing his position, whether knowingly or inadvertently.

It sounds like Professor Henaghan has effectively given University approval to an annual event, by his presence at the summer camp, to student that some are repelled and appalled by.

And his behaviour on campus has given an air of approval to men in power being able to be as physically personal as they please with students, including students he meets for the first time.

Two contrasting views:

Thomson Reuters (8 August 2017): Mark Henaghan – The Legal Luminaries Project

This is the third in a series of in-depth interviews with our esteemed legal leaders; our legal luminaries. Professor Mark Henaghan looks back over his life in the law, speaking candidly about his achievements, offering advice for younger lawyers and discusses what he thinks are the most important legal issues right now.

This is a free forum for Henaghan to talk about his own life and career. It includes:

When you look back what memories come to the fore?

It’s always my first year law classes. I love the openness and interest of the students. They have an endearing mix of naivety, hope, freshness, and exhilaration. It’s the next generation coming through and it’s a thrill and privilege to teach them. I relish the range in those classes. They are lovely young people.

What are your top 3 tips for young lawyers?

  1. Always be courteous to everyone, treat people with kindness. That has a great ongoing positive impact for everyone, including oneself.

What are your survival tips for dealing effectively with stress at varying stages throughout a career in law?

As a young person?

Have people around you. Put support teams in place to protect yourself and others. Be aware enough to know you need to have checks and balances in your life.

ODT (5 March 2018) – Mother ‘disgusted’ at dean’s presence at law camp

The mother of a former student who stripped and took part in jelly wrestling at one of the now notorious University of Otago law camps says she was disgusted the dean of the law faculty seemed to condone the event.

The woman, who did not want to be named, said she was disgusted when she found out her then 18-year-old daughter had been encouraged to jelly wrestle at the camp in 2012, but even more so when she learnt faculty dean Prof Mark Henaghan was present for part of the camp.

Her daughter had been chosen to take part after losing a game of paper, scissors, rock.

“She said everyone was peer pressured to do by other people in her group.”

While Prof Henaghan was not there for the jelly wrestling event, his attendance sent a message it was a sanctioned camp, she said.

“Students get up to a lot of stuff, but the fact that the dean of the school was there made it seem like it was sanctioned  by the school.”

At the time the woman said she thought about making an official complaint to the university, but decided against it.

The summer camp has been severely reprimanded, and Professor Henaghan will no longer be at Otago so won’t attend again

But the overstepping of professional lines by Professor Henaghan (and he wasn’t the only staff problem in the law faculty going by reports) is something that Otago University should address, publicly.

They shouldn’t make excuses for inappropriate behaviour of staff, nor ignore it.

But a liked person being to personal and in some senses sleazy (to some students) may continue to be swept under the campus rug.

Otago law faculty under ‘inappropriate behaviour’ scrutiny

New Zealand law is under further fire for abuse of power and inappropriate sexual conduct.

It began with attention on Auckland law firm Russell McVeagh in a series of Newsroom articles starting two weeks ago and widened to “growing into a wider condemnation of ‘the legal profession’, with claims the problem ‘is endemic’” – see Sexual misconduct in the legal profession.

All six New Zealand university law faculties cut ties with Russell McVeagh pending the outcome of a review into incidents of sexual misconduct and its culture – All six law schools cut ties with Russell McVeagh:

All six of the country’s university law faculties have now rejected ties with the troubled law firm Russell McVeagh while it conducts an independent review into incidents of sexual misconduct and its culture.

The University of Auckland joined the fray in a powerfully-worded statement saying it had put its relationship with Russell McVeagh on hold for the rest of the year, and that there should have been a strong apology from the firm.

Otago, Canterbury, Waikato, AUT and Victoria universities had already announced they were rejecting any recruitment branding, and Russell McVeagh-related events on their campuses.

Otago University’s Dean of Law Mark Henaghan and Canterbury University’s Ursula Cheer confirmed all the law schools have cut ties with Russell McVeagh.

Henaghan said it made sense to underwrite the competition because while removing branding was one thing, student associations had little money so it made sense for the universities to step in.

“We think it’s important to step aside and make a stance while the firm undertakes their inquiry.”

But Henaghan’s own department at the University of Otago Faculty of Law is now in the spotlight.

ODT: Claims of naked, boozy antics at Otago University law school camp

The University of Otago is under scrutiny amid claims of jelly wrestling and naked drinking games at boozy camps for student lawyers — attended by at least one senior staff member.

The camp for second year students has been held for the last 10 years and this year’s event is due to take place next weekend.

But student organisers have vowed to clampdown on drunkenness and ban “full nudity” — as the university probes a complaint about inappropriate behaviour.

One student told the Herald on Sunday she attended the camp in 2012 and said it rapidly descended into “an American fraternity house, or what you see in those American movies.”

She had not laid a complaint, but yesterday Otago University confirmed one complaint was under investigation.

“We received concerns from a person this afternoon about a law camp from a number of years ago,” a spokeswoman said.

“The concerns outline inappropriate behaviour allegedly witnessed at a law camp. This concern is taken seriously and will be promptly investigated.”

The university said it had also previously received complaints from two parents — one about excessive drinking and another about “nudity during a student performance”.

Professor Tony Ballantyne, Pro-Vice Chancellor of humanities, the concerns were addressed and “it was made clear to those participating in future camps that respectful behaviour is required of them”.

In a statement, the university went on to say that staff members attend the camp.

“Mostly the person who attends is the Dean of the Law Faculty as an invited guest.”

The Dean, Professor Mark Henaghan (63), last week announced he was leaving his role after 19 years to take up a post with Auckland University next year.

Asked if any students had complained about the behaviour of staff, the spokeswoman said: “In light of today’s concerns about a camp held several years ago further inquiries are required about this event. Student safety and welfare at these events is paramount.”

The Society of Otago University Law Students (SOULS), which organises the event said changes had been made in time for next weekend’s camp.

It gets worse. Herald on Sunday – University of Otago’s law faculty described as ‘smorgasbord of young, impressionable women for the men’:

A former University of Otago law student claims members of the law faculty have acted inappropriately towards women for years.

“Otago Law has been a . . . smorgasbord of young, impressionable women for men in the faculty,” said the woman in a message to a third party following a Herald on Sunday report today.

The woman agreed to allowing the Herald to use her comments today, albeit anonymously.

​”Even if relationships weren’t consummated, there were a lot of inappropriate conversations, caresses and carry-ons,” she said.

In one of her first days at the university she recalls a staff member walking behind her and complimenting her physique.

“He once walked up the stairs behind me, whispering in my ear, ‘you have such a lovely bum’.

“Being young … I felt so special because for years I was his favourite,” the woman said.

The Herald on Sunday reported today on claims of drinking and nudity at a camp that second-year law students of Otago attend.

Professor Tony Ballantyne, Pro-Vice Chancellor of humanities at the University of Otago, sent out an email to all Otago Law students today following the story.

“The story focuses upon very serious issues that require careful examination.

“Yesterday some concerns were also raised with me about alleged inappropriate behaviour at a past Law Camp and a process will be initiated this week to look into those issues.

“Any student with concerns about past Law camps or other events should contact me directly,” Ballantyne said in the email.

I’ve seen accusations from an identified person on Twitter against law faculty staff that are serious abuses of power and are behaviourally and sexually and professionally inappropriate. It included allegations of preferential marking for female students.

It sounds like this hasn’t just popped up out of the blue, it appears to have been an abusive culture for years that has not been addressed by the University of Otago. There will be pressure on them to investigate thoroughly and to take appropriate, decisive action. If some careers are affected by holding to account then so be it – something has to be done to stop abusive cultures.

Innocent until proven guilty and all that, but this looks bad for Otago, and it is another bad blemish on the legal profession in New Zealand.