The trouble with Steven Galloway

Award-winning Kamloops author Steven Galloway has problems of his own making. They could have been avoided.

Penguin Speakers' Bureau

Penguin Speakers’ Bureau

Galloway was raised in Kamloops and attended the University College of the Cariboo in the 1990s before it became Thompson Rivers University; where I taught for twenty years.

Galloway is best known for his 2008 novel The Cellist of Sarajevo which sold 700,000 copies, was translated into twenty languages, and had film options. His career took off and he became chair of the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia on July 1, 2015.

A year ago, Professor Galloway was dismissed from the writing program and has since been fired by UBC, which cited “a record of misconduct that resulted in an irreparable breach of the trust placed in faculty members.”

His firing set off a storm in Canadian literary circles. University of Victoria faculty of the Writing department signed a letter critical of the firing process, a letter also signed by literary heavyweights such as Margaret Atwood. UBC’s faculty association said it has serious concerns with the administration’s “misleading public and private comments regarding Professor Galloway.”

Former students don’t see it that way. They say he fostered a sexualized atmosphere, drank regularly with students and played favourites –bringing some students into his inner circle while casting others out.

Reporter Kerry Gold investigated some of those misadventures in her feature-length article in The Walrus (December, 2016). Galloway would convene Thursday-night sessions in a local canteen known as the Legion with up to ten students. “The group would stay late, consuming alcohol at a pace that made some uncomfortable,” says Gold.

Galloway’s former teaching assistant, Erin Flegg, says the sessions became an informal part of the curriculum. Participants would vie for Galloway’s approval and the rewards it could bring: references, teaching positions, introductions to agents and publishers.

One night in 2012 was particularly rowdy when they met after graduation. It wasn’t late but Galloway had quite a lot to drink, a witness told Gold. “It’s time,” Galloway said, as he got up and slapped the face of a female student next to him. It was revenge for what she had said in class –that she didn’t like Galloway’s writing. Galloway then responded that he would like to slap her face but that he would wait until she was no longer a student.

Partying with students is a bad idea. As a high school teacher and later an instructor at TRU, my policy was never to date or revel with students. The obvious problem is the power differential. Teachers have the power to promote students and advance their careers.

Another student hoped to get into Galloway’s writing class and was drawn into to the struggle for his attention. “He invited her to come drinking,” says Flegg, “That’s how the relationship began. The power dynamics were there from the start.” The two had a relationship for three years.

Intimate relationships are a temptation for teachers. For me, I only had to remind myself that I had been placed in a position of trust: the betrayal of which would diminish me and my profession, and would harm my students.