A message from the president

July 28, 2020

Dear members of the McMaster community,

I am writing to update the McMaster community on a serious matter that arose earlier this year. Given the severity of the issues involved, we are providing as much information as we can at this time.

This past February the university shared information about a faculty member in Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour (PNB) who was being suspended. Allegations in the case involved a number of McMaster policies including the Sexual Violence Policy.  In June, Hamilton Police laid charges of sexual assault and sexual assault causing bodily harm against Scott Watter, an associate professor in the PNB department.

McMaster launched its own investigation and encouraged anyone with concerns or information to reach out for assistance and to help McMaster better understand any incidents that may have occurred.

That message was heard, and people have responded.

We have received more complaints in the last few days and two additional professors in Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour have now been suspended and are no longer allowed on campus. The scope of the original investigation is being expanded to include the additional allegations. The investigation is being led by a highly experienced investigator from Rubin Thomlinson LLP.

While I am confident in the investigation under the university’s Sexual Violence Policy and the Discrimination and Harassment Policy, our actions need to go further than originally planned.  I have directed that the investigation be broadened to identify any potential systemic or cultural issues within the department that need to be surfaced and addressed.

Given the number of allegations and the scope of the complaints involved, it is critical that we undertake a full review of the culture of the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour and address any underlying systemic issues. We owe this level of diligence and action to the complainants who have come forward.

We are ensuring that as the investigation proceeds, those who have come forward are receiving as much support as possible including extended mental health support and safety planning.  We encourage any students, faculty and staff who needs assistance to actively reach out by email (svpro@mcmaster.ca) to the Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) for disclosure support, safety planning, academic and workplace accommodations, and reporting options.

Students seeking counselling support may contact the Student Wellness Centre.

Employees seeking health support services may contact Human Resources Health Safety & Wellbeing or Homewood Health through McMaster’s Employee and Family Assistance Program.

Any community member may contact McMaster Security Services for 24/7 emergency support or the Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton & Area (SACHA) for their 24/7 support line.

We will do everything we can to support the continuation of the important teaching and research work of the department during the investigation.

While we will be as transparent as possible, the Sexual Violence and the Discrimination and Harassment policies emphasize the important role confidentiality has in the process, both to protect complainants and to ensure that the investigation is comprehensive and fair.  As a result, we will not be sharing the details of the investigation as it unfolds.

McMaster will not tolerate any behaviour that threatens the security and safety of any member of our campus community. I recognize the courage of the complainants who have come forward, and I want to assure them that their allegations will be fully and fairly investigated and that appropriate action will be taken.


David Farrar