Ontario professor demands public apology for Playboy remarks made at convocation ceremony

Johanna Weststar questions the sincerity of the apology issued by both the school and philanthropist Aubrey Dan

A professor at a southern Ontario university says both the school and a recent honorary doctorate recipient have not offered sufficient apologies for what she describes as sexist remarks made at a recent convocation ceremony.

Johanna Weststar, associate professor of psychology at Western University, questions the sincerity of the apology issued by both the school and philanthropist Aubrey Dan after remarks he made during the ceremony last Friday.

While receiving an honorary doctorate, Dan joked that he chose to transfer to Western in the early ’80s in part because of Playboy Magazine’s assessment that women at the university were “among the best in North America” at the time. Dan added that “obviously they still are.”

Dan later issued an apology saying he did not mean to be sexist, describing himself as an egalitarian, and adding that the remark was meant to express “what went through my 19-year-old mind when deciding…to go to Western”

The university also issued a statement apologizing to anyone who was offended by the remarks and praising its “long-standing” relationship with Dan, whose name adorns its Department of Management and Organizational Studies where Weststar teaches.

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Weststar says both Dan and the school only apologized for the fact that people were offended rather than taking responsibility for the content of the remarks.

She lambasted the school, in particular, for what she felt was a disingenuous position.

“I would like to see Western also make a public statement of apology that is not immediately tied to statements of Mr. Dan’s worth and commitment to Western,” Weststar said in an email. ”These issues are separate and saying sorry out of one side of your mouth while you endorse someone out of the other side is not enough. I recognize that Western would like to maintain their donors, but this should not come at the cost of compromising the integrity and reputation of the institution.”

The university did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Weststar’s criticism.

Weststar levelled similar critiques at Dan’s statement of apology, in which he said he did not intend to give offence and expressed his gratitude for the honorary doctor of laws degree conferred on him during Friday’s convocation.

Weststar said apologies should not contain a defence of what was said, adding Dan ought to “show that he is truly sorry for what he said in a way that reflects that he has given thoughtful consideration to the impact of his words.”

She also called on Dan, a Tony Award-winning theatre producer and entrepreneur, to apologize to her department in person since she and her fellow faculty members “live under his brand.”

When contacted by the Canadian Press, Dan said he has offered through an intermediary to speak with Weststar by phone to discuss the issue.

He also proceeded to outline the amount of money he said his Dancap Private Equity Research Fund has given her over the years, pegging the total at $8,449.82 since 2013.

“I’ve been very supportive over the years of Johanna’s excellent research work,” Dan said in an email.

RELATED: Controversial Nova Scotia professor fired after fire storm over comments

Weststar did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Dan’s financial figures, but said earlier on Wednesday that a personal discussion between them would not address her concerns with his convocation remarks.

“A direct apology to me, if that is what is on offer, is not going to solve the problem and actually makes personal and invisible an issue that is public and needs to be more visible,” she said.

Michelle NcQuigge, The Canadian Press

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