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.

Russell McVeagh, law faculties under fire

The spotlight on inappropriate behaviour in legal circles continues, with more distancing from law firm Russell McVeagh, and the Auckland University joining Otago in the firing line.

Women’s Law Journal: Russell McVeagh & NZ Women’s Law Journal

Until now, we have not commented on the complaints of sexual assault against Russell McVeagh. Russell McVeagh is one of the Journal’s sponsors and we have taken this time to consider our relationship with the firm.

The complainants have faced trauma two years ago and again with recent publicity. Our go out to the women involved. You are not alone: we and many others stand with you and hope to support you however we can. Russell McVeagh, the profession and society have failed you by enabling a culture in which these assaults could happen.

We have had a frank conversation with Russell McVeagh about the complaints, the firm’s culture and the steps the firm has taken subsequently. Russell McVeagh seem to have genuine concern for the complainants and have told us of their endeavours to do best by them and ensure this never happens again.

In spite of this, we feel it is best for us to put our relationship on hold so that Russell McVeagh can review its policies, practices and culture.

The events of the last few weeks show that the problem is far broader than Russell McVeagh. It is not an issue of working long hours and alcohol-fuelled social events, which are a normal part of professional life. The issue is deeper than that: it is about the sexist thinking that people have failed to challenge for far too long. Anything else is a scapegoat. We believe that now is the time for the leaders of our profession to take responsibility and initiate change.

We are deeply disappointed by many of the responses from senior members of the profession in recent days. The women involved and anyone who has suffered because of the inappropriate actions of others deserve our support. They also deserve a comprehensive, creative and paradigm-shifting response.

There have been heartening and proactive responses from other members of the profession.

We support these positive actions and would like to lend a hand wherever we can. Of particular note, we would like to mention the Wellington Women Lawyers’ Association, Elizabeth Hall and Zoë Lawton who have taken it upon themselves to institute fora where anyone can speak out about their experiences and be heard. In the coming months, we will also be taking action to help change our profession for good.

We will not be silent any longer.

NZH: School debating competition drops law firm Russell McVeagh after sexual harassment scandal

School debaters have dropped their sponsoring law firm Russell McVeagh, as public reaction continues to mount over alleged sexual harassment of the firm’s female interns.

NZ Schools’ Debating Council vice-president Nicholas Cross said the council had put its relationship with the firm “on hold”.

“Russell McVeagh has been the major sponsor of the NZ Schools’ Debating Council for 18 years and has been a valued and supportive partner throughout this time,” he said.

“The council was very concerned by these recent allegations. Our policy is zero tolerance for any kind of harassment.”

All six of New Zealand’s university law faculties have already distanced themselves from Russell McVeagh, but Auckland has joined Otago in the hypocrisy spotlight.

ODT: Law camp cancelled after claims

The University of Otago student law society has cancelled the law camp run for second-year students, following a series of allegations of nudity and jelly wrestling. The camp was scheduled to be held this weekend.

The camp has been highly scrutinised by former students for the levels of alcohol consumed and the activities run during the weekend.

The camp is organised by The Society of Otago University Law Students (Souls), and has been running for at least the past 10 years.

Souls had vowed to clamp down on drunkenness and ban ‘full nudity’. But yesterday it put out a statement saying the pro-vice chancellor and the university were not prepared to support the camp, previously held at Camp Iona, near Herbert.

“Without this support, regrettably, Souls is unable to run the camp this year.”

Souls president Tim Austen said the event had relied on the support of the law faculty and wider university, which provided assistance with security, while the proctor signed off an event management plan.

Faculty dean Prof Mark Henaghan has attended parts of previous camps as a guest but could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

NZH: Familiar tale of binge-drinking and nudity at Auckland University’s annual law camp

Binge drinking, skinny-dipping, and dirty-dancing competitions with extra points for nudity have occurred at the University of Auckland’s annual law camp, students claim.

The weekend-long camp on Motutapu Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, run by the Auckland University Law Students’ Society (AULSS), has come under scrutiny after the University of Otago student law society scrapped its law camp following allegations of nudity and jelly wrestling.

Students say that daylight hours featured healthy team-building and bonding exercises and games including obstacle courses, raft building, and orienteering.

But the evenings were dedicated to raucous parties with drinking games, vomiting, sex and seedy skits.

No staff were present but the 200-odd students were overseen by sober student leaders.

One self-described conservative, teetotal student spoken to by the Herald was shocked by the antics.

“I’m not really used to that whole situation so I kind of just assumed that’s what happens when you go to normal uni parties,” said the student, who wished to remain anonymous.

She was unfazed by the rampant binge-drinking and sex, but when her group was asked to go skinny-dipping, and then perform “racy” dance shows, she became “super-uncomfortable”.

“I wasn’t drinking but before we did the skit thing, our leaders said, ‘This whole thing would probably just be easier if you were drunk’,” the law student said.

“The more dirty the skit, the more clothes you took off, the more points you would get, at least it seemed that way. It was uncomfortable because it encouraged you to strip or be vulgar and that’s very not me.

“There was a skinny-dipping game where if you went completely in the nude then you got more points, but the entire team had to do it. That was where I felt kind of peer pressured by the sort of thinking that I have to do it because everyone else is doing it.

“It was very out of my comfort zone. But I am also the kind of person to be open to almost everything, so I was feeling really weird, I never do these kinds of things, ever. I was kind of in the head space thinking, ‘Well, what everyone else does, then maybe I should do it too’.”

She added: “I’ve always wanted to experience being drunk or doing something crazy. But I didn’t expect it to be at law camp.”

When they arrived on the island, condoms were handed out, the student said.

Throughout the weekend, she said, couples snuck off to have sex.

“There were lots of people puking, people stripping naked or taking off whatever and just dancing,” she said.

Another student posted on an online forum that they will pull out of this year’s camp after hearing that it’s “all about getting laid and drunk” and that it “should be renamed STI camp”.

University students will inevitably let their hair down and ditch their inhibitions – many are away from home for the first time in their lives, and almost all have recently been legally been able to buy and drink alcohol.

What they do in their own time is up to them.

But university organised or sanctioned over-imbibing and debauchery is inappropriate, irresponsible, and is a disservice to those students who get caught up in and pressured by group excesses.

Back to where the inappropriate legal fraternising story began, Newsroom: Ex-Russell McVeagh lawyer moves on

The man at the centre of the serious sexual assault allegations involving Russell McVeagh is no longer sharing offices with several other lawyers. He left Russell McVeagh following the allegations of serious sexual misconduct against summer clerks.

One of the lawyers at those offices confirmed to Newsroom the man at the centre of the allegations was no longer working from those offices and information about him has disappeared from the venue’s website.

Meanwhile, Russell McVeagh told Newsroom an internal project team is working towards making an announcement regarding the appointment of a non-legal external reviewer early next week.

Since Newsroomrevealed the allegations on February 14, Russell McVeagh has claimed it undertook a detailed internal investigation and the two lawyers accused by the clerks left the firm. It claims it adopted a Zero Tolerance policy to sexual harassment and abuse but will not say when that came into effect.

Newsroom also understands that ILANZ, the In-House Lawyers Association of New Zealand, has agreed with Russell McVeagh that the firm will withdraw as a Premium Sponsor of the ILANZ Conference 2018.

ILANZ president Erin Judge said it is appropriate for Russell McVeagh to focus on the external review that they have commissioned and implement the recommendations made.

“As a collective of in-house lawyers, we need to consider how inappropriate sexual conduct affects our part of the legal profession and what we are going to do about it.

“The upcoming conference provides us with an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to a safe and healthy work environment and to encourage discussion of these issues. Continued sponsorship by Russell McVeagh would be a distraction from this important discussion.

“Sexual harassment, assault and unsafe working conditions are not limited to one firm or one part of the legal profession. We all have a role and responsibility in driving change. We are mindful of this as we finalise our conference programme and continue to focus on the best interests of our membership.”

Some soul searching required in both business and education legal circles.

United States “is a deeply divided nation”

Political experts talked about deep divisions in the USA at a Fulbright New Zealand forum hosted by the University of Otago last night.

ODT: Next president would preside over ‘deeply divided America’

Otago University politics professor Robert Patman told the audience at the College of Education auditorium that no matter whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump prevailed, the next president would preside over a ”deeply divided America”.

Despite a sustained economic recovery, changes to healthcare and combat troops leaving Afghanistan and Iraq under President Barack Obama, the signs showed ”many Americans feel alienated from their country’s political system”.

”For an increasing number of US citizens, the optimistic American dream … seems to be increasingly beyond their reach.”

Racial division had widened and economic inequality continued to deepen.

”Even the winning candidate is likely in reality to have a limited capacity to govern a polarised country and manage its relations with the rest of the world.”

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have high unfavourability ratings so whoever wins will have have a hard job gaining confidence and support.

Assistant professor and Fulbright scholar Simon Nicholson from American University, Washington DC spoke (via a pre-recorded video) about how divided the USA was on climate change.

Whereas in the past there was bipartisan support for environmental causes, the stance on climate change was now split on Republican and Democratic lines, Dr Nicholson said.

This meant the election was a ”big deal” for climate change and if Mr Trump was elected it would be a ”severe blow” to international efforts to battle it.

I don’t see the chasm between mainstream climate consensus, and strong scepticism and opposition, changing.

Carla Lam (Otago University)…

…said a Clinton win would be a victory for gender equality, but would not bring ”substantive change” on gender.

”That there is even any doubt that Hillary could win, given the alternative, to me says enough about gender politics.

”Consider for a moment what would be made of Hillary Clinton as a candidate if she were known to be married to a man 24 years her junior, married twice before, and as someone who openly declared sexual attraction to her child in his presence on national television.”

There’s no doubt that Trump seems to get a free pass from many on things that Clinton would be absolutely trashed for if they applied to her.

However Clinton may be seen more as ‘establishment candidate becomes President’ than being a huge victory for gender equality. That the first woman with a chance of making the top job in the White House has emerged from an established political family is barely a ‘woman makes it to the top on her own merits’ victory.