Why did a Halifax professor disciplined for sex abuse keep teaching for decades?

A recently reported allegation of sexual assault against a Halifax professor is raising questions about why he was permitted to continue teaching for decades after he was disciplined in the early 1990s by his university in a separate sexual abuse case.

Wayne John Hankey, 76, was charged with sexual assault on Feb. 1 for an incident that occurred in student housing on the University of King’s College campus in 1988.

The victim, who is male, came forward to Halifax police in September 2020. Police have not released any further details about the incident or the complainant — including the victim’s age — to protect his identity.

Hankey taught classics and philosophy at both the University of King’s College and Dalhousie University for years. He retired from King’s in 2015, but continued teaching at Dalhousie up until the sexual assault charge was announced. Dalhousie said on Feb. 1 Hankey “agreed to step back” from the one course he was teaching “in light of the circumstances.”

The new charge is not the first time Hankey has faced this type of allegation.

In late 1990, a former King’s student and family friend of Hankey’s told the Anglican Church he had been sexually abused by Hankey for two years in his late teens, from 1977 to 1979, including while he was a student at King’s.

The Anglican bishop of Nova Scotia in 1991, Arthur Peters — who was also chairman of the board of governors at King’s — charged Hankey, an Anglican minister, with immorality. The church convened a rare ecclesiastical court session to deal with the matter. While the proceedings were closed to the public and the details of the case were never released, the outcome was: Hankey was found guilty.

Bishop Arthur Peters, who was also the chair of the board of governors of King’s, charged Hankey with immorality in 1991 after receiving a complaint of sexual abuse. (CBC)

Hankey was deprived of his religious office, meaning he would not be permitted to carry out any duties in any Anglican church for at least two years and until the bishop decided Hankey could be reinstated. That has never happened.

The victim chose not to pursue criminal charges against Hankey, but the allegation was reported to King’s, where a committee investigated. After the investigation, King’s suspended Hankey for one year.

Clearly, the school found enough truth in the abuse allegation to discipline him.

Yet Hankey went on to continue a long and celebrated academic career teaching generations of students.

In the wake of the recent sexual assault charge, some former King’s students took to social media to question why. Why was he kept on the payroll, and even made a full professor by Dalhousie just three years after returning from his one-year suspension and a year of sabbatical?

‘A fairly typical response’

Sister Dr. Nuala Kenny, who is the author of three books on sexual abuse and the clergy, and served on the commission that investigated abuse at Mount Cashel Orphanage in Newfoundland, said the 1991 decision by King’s to simply suspend Hankey for one year is par for the course for that time.

“It would have been a fairly typical response of a group trying to be responsible but underestimating the complexity of the issue,” said Kenny, who is a professor emeritus at Dalhousie University and has had a long career as a pediatrician and medical ethicist.

Kenny said the church’s response of stripping Hankey of his religious title also conforms to their legal requirements at the time.

Hankey was ordered by the church to undergo counselling, but it’s unclear if that happened.

Sister Dr. Nuala Kenny served on the Winter Commission investigating allegations of abuse at Mount Cashel and has written three books on sexual abuse and clergy. (Submitted by Nuala Kenny)

Kenny said in a broader cultural context, revelations about sexual abuse started to be made in the late 1970s and early 80s, but the response to those disclosures was often “silence, secrecy and denial: Keep it quiet, don’t talk about it.”

As the 80s progressed, there was increasing awareness that sexual abuse was a major issue that needed to be dealt with. 

Sexual abuse at that time was viewed as a “treatable condition,” like a sexual addiction, and some abusers were sent to facilities that used a treatment model similar to the 12-step model used to help with alcohol addiction.

But those strategies of ordering abusers to receive such treatment are “inappropriate to the complexity of sexual abuse of children,” Kenny said.

Since abuse is a deeper issue of abuse of power and relationships, such treatments don’t cure the problem, Kenny said.

“The whole culture of abuse of power or self-satisfaction was one that was prevalent,” she said.

By the early 1990s, and certainly by the mid-90s, Kenny said, many institutions had developed policies to address such conduct. It is unclear what King’s and Dal’s policies were at the time.

‘Larger than life’

Hankey was undoubtedly a powerful man in “the quad,” as the King’s campus is known.

“Hankey was not just a minor, obscure figure on campus, somebody who knew about Aristotle and, you know, who cares? He was a larger-than-life figure,” said Bruce Wark, a former professor in the School of Journalism who worked at King’s from 1991 to 2006.

That outsized status was memorialized in a regular comic called BatWayne that ran in The Watch, the student newspaper at King’s. The comic poked good-natured fun at both Hankey and King’s.

BatWayne was a comic published in the King’s student newspaper, The Watch, in the late 1980s that poked fun at Hankey and the university. This piece was republished in the school’s alumni magazine, Tidings, in 2017, in an issue that commemorated Hankey’s retirement. (Tidings/University of King’s College Alumni Association)

Hankey was a towering man with a booming voice who wasn’t afraid to use it, inside the classroom or elsewhere.

Wark, who served on university committees with Hankey and attended faculty meetings where Hankey was present, said Hankey was often a thorn in the side of administration, fighting for issues involving the pension and faculty rights and even the labour concerns of cleaning staff.

“He spoke up, he was vocal, he was in their face,” said Wark, who admits that as part of the journalism school, he was a few steps removed from the goings-on in other departments.

“They disliked Hankey because he was always getting after them…. You would think that would give them some incentive to want to come down on him. On the other hand, he was … a hard case. You didn’t dismiss Wayne lightly.”

‘Institutions tend to protect their own’

Hankey was also powerful on campus because he served practical needs.

In the 1960s, the college was on the ropes, struggling financially as a small undergraduate school without unique programs to lure students, and therefore dollars.

Hankey was the first director of the Foundation Year Program, a first-year undergrad program known as FYP that became a cornerstone of the school and now attracts students from across the country and beyond. The program — and Hankey at its helm — helped the college bounce back from the financial brink.

“King’s had increasingly become a residence of Dalhousie with nothing of its own to offer. FYP was it. Dr. Hankey was an inspired choice as founding director,” reads a retirement tribute to Hankey published in 2017 in the alumni magazine Tidings and written by his former student, Peter Bryson, who also acted as his lawyer in the Anglican Church case.

The very structure of universities can sometimes also lead them to close ranks around troublesome faculty when controversy crops up.

“Universities are always competing for scarce student dollars and it’s more and more important for them to attract and retain faculty members who can run successful ventures such as the Foundation Year Program,” said Wark.

Hankey had a long career at King’s and Dalhousie. (CBC)

“Moreover, faculty remain at the university for decades while students come and go in relatively brief spans. Faculty have offices, positions on committees and boards of governors, long collegial histories and social alliances as their departments compete for status, money and resources.

“In such a setup, it’s not hard to see why institutions tend to protect their own. The students they depend on are like passing butterflies on a sunny, summer day.”

Academically, Hankey would have been an asset to King’s too, said Shirley Tillotson, a retired Dalhousie history professor who also lectured at King’s.

An Oxford graduate, Hankey has published three books and more than 120 academic articles and reviews, according to his biography on the Dalhousie University website.

Although he taught in the classics department at Dalhousie for many years, he frequently lectured at King’s.

“The university has to deliver a curriculum and the classics department at Dalhousie was not a large one, and that’s who they had available to draw on,” Tillotson said.

Tillotson pointed out that since Hankey was a Carnegie professor — an arrangement that saw him hired, tenured and promoted by Dal, but his salary paid by Kings — the decision to keep him on board after the allegation in the 1990s would have involved both institutions.

Hankey helped develop new library

Hankey also would have been viewed as valuable to the college for his role in the development of a new library at King’s.

The library was praised as an architectural gem and for its collections, but the building also represented King’s aspirations of being a scholarly university.

Before it opened, the school’s library was dismal, said Wark.

“It would make the former Halifax Public Library look like a Taj Mahal.”

Hankey was instrumental in developing the library at the University of King’s College. It officially opened in 1991. (University of King’s College Archives)

Administrators hoped the new library would help cement a reputation as a heavy-hitting academic force on the post-secondary scene.

But the timing of the explosive news of Hankey’s suspension, first reported by Frank magazine, could not have been worse — for Hankey or the college.

May 14, 1991, was supposed to be a day of pomp and celebration as the $5-million building finally opened.

Instead, college president Marion Fry was fielding questions about Hankey’s notable absence and reports of his suspension. Fry was tight-lipped when grilled by reporters.

“He made his own decision that he wouldn’t be here today, and more than that I am not prepared to say,” Fry told the CBC at the time.

Marion Fry was the president of King’s College at the time Hankey was suspended for a year. (CBC)

Despite the cloud of controversy over Hankey, Fry still publicly praised him for his role in the opening of the building, saying he was a “hard-working, motivating presence” and lauding “his vision, his dedication, his enthusiasm and his attention to detail,” according to news reports at the time.

Wark muses that perhaps the universities’ lacklustre discipline of Hankey was a reflection of how it viewed the allegation.

“Maybe they just didn’t think it was serious enough,” he said. “It may be that they didn’t feel, King’s, that any further disciplinary action then was warranted.”

Although Hankey’s time as librarian ended in 1993, a portrait of him painted by Aaron Weldon was unveiled at a retirement lunch held in the library in 2017. That portrait hung in the library until October 2020, just after the victim in the current sexual assault case came forward.

A portrait of Hankey hung in the library at King’s until October 2020. (Dalhousie University)

In a statement to the King’s community on Feb. 2, the university said: “Today there are questions about the portrait of Dr. Hankey that was hanging in our library. This portrait, which was not commissioned by King’s and belonged to Dr. Hankey, was removed in October 2020 and was returned to its owner.”

Dal and King’s also marked Hankey’s retirement in 2017 with two academic conferences spanning a week, drawing 95 participants.

Hankey, universities decline interviews

After news of the sexual assault charge broke on Feb. 1, King’s committed to conducting an independent review “to determine the facts and an appropriate response” and of the school’s responsibilities “in light of those facts.” King’s has encouraged any student or alumni who needs support to contact the school’s sexualized violence prevention and response officer.

Dalhousie also encouraged people to come forward if they believe they’ve experienced sexualized violence.

Both schools declined intervew requests from the CBC, saying they couldn’t comment because the case is before the court.

Reached at home on Friday, Hankey declined to comment.

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