Keep it professional with profs

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A good investigative article can lead a journalist on a wild ride and expose some major issues in society.

One thing you need is a reliable source that will go all the way with you.

If your source loses their credibility, even to protect themselves, your article and your entire paper loses credibility.

An investigative article can take years to craft because a reporter has to ensure that there are no holes and that as many questions as possible are answered. They have to show undeniable proof every step of the way.

These articles hit dead ends, sources change and secrets are kept, but one of the reasons those articles don’t often come out is because they fall apart. Sources take back consent, people/companies threaten lawsuits, lawyers get involved and it all becomes very complicated.

It’s a complication that not many news organizations have the time or money to spare to dedicate to those worthwhile and interesting articles.

When a person comes to a newspaper with an allegation of wrongdoing it’s almost impossible for a dedicated journalist not to look into the juicy tidbit.

That’s what happened to Imprint’s managing editor and myself a few weeks ago, but the short investigation sparked some interesting reactions from University of Waterloo staff.

A woman came forward alleging she had met an assistant professor in the chemical engineering faculty on Ashley Madison, a website for married people to set up extramarital affairs. He offered to have sex with her and engage in other elicit activities in his office.

We proved the real identity of the professor, who was none to happy to learn that his sexual conquests could be subject to publication. He said it would ruin his life; he would lose his job and his family. Said it was a moment of weakness and after five-years of marriage he was bored.

University staff informed us they have no policy against sexual activity on campus or between faculty/staff and students.

They have many policies on sexual harassment and assault, but they are all complaint driven. Consenting adults can have sex behind closed doors on campus.  They can’t regulate sexual relations because some students live on campus. That makes sense, but it seems insane to me that I could have sex in my office and nobody would care. Every time I mentioned this people just pointed to the window next to my door. None the less, it seems unlikely that I would keep my job, but there is a precedent set in provincial court. An RBC employee was terminated for engaging in consensual sex in his office afterhours, among other things, but fought to regain his job and won in appeals court.

Nevertheless we continued our investigation and it sparked a visit from high-ranking UW staff who came to convince us to drop it because the activities were not breaking laws, or against policies and wasn’t a matter of public interest. No matter how unethical this professors behaviour was, we could create a mental health crisis for male professors. Never mind the students involved.

Still, we intended to push ahead, but the professor obviously knew the identity of his lover and threatened her to keep quiet.

The story unravelled after our source said she made it all up, she came back with evidence of threats of legal retribution and to her personal wellbeing, but as the story became more complicated with a pregnant master’s student coerced into an abortion and multiple girlfriends, it became clearer that this tale of star-crossed lovers wasn’t as clear-cut as it seemed. Nor was it something we wanted to try to make an article of.

Nevertheless, it’s something we believe students should be aware of and should guard themselves against.

Not all of your professors are good people and some may have secrets they are willing to do anything to protect and the university itself may go to great lengths to protect its reputation. Protect yourself and don’t get intimately involved with a professor because it will bite you in the end.

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