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Grant Hannis case: Students say Massey University did not take complaints seriously enough

Author
Emily Menkes, NZ Herald,
Section
National,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 29 January 2019, 2:23p.m.
Massey University journalism professor Grant Hannis appeared in Wellington District for sentencing on charges of indecent offending. (Photo / Melissa Nightingale)
Massey University journalism professor Grant Hannis appeared in Wellington District for sentencing on charges of indecent offending. (Photo / Melissa Nightingale)

Massey University received multiple complaints about former journalism professor Grant Hannis in the months after his arrest for sexually assaulting an elderly woman but students say not enough action was taken.

Hannis was sentenced to eight months home detention on Friday for an indecent act against an 82-year-old dementia sufferer in her rest home.

After news of his offending broke, Massey initially said there had been no issues with his behaviour aside from an incident of "rudeness in the classroom".

But the Herald can reveal that several complaints were made by female students alleging intimidation, aggression and inappropriate jokes about sexual assault by Hannis.

Students say not enough was done but Massey University says the complaints were dealt with.

One woman, a postgraduate journalism student from 2018, complained to Massey about Hannis in August after a confrontation at school.

"Throughout the year he would constantly target females in the class… I started to feel like he was really getting off on humiliating people in the class and making them feel like shit," she said.

"I was terrified of coming to class, my anxiety was through the roof and I didn't know how I was going to make it through the rest of the year having him as a teacher."

The 22-year-old woman made a complaint in person to a senior faculty member.

"When I made that complaint I felt that wasn't taken seriously at all. A day later [Hannis] was back teaching the class and I had to just mentally prepare myself to get on with it. I never received any sort of emotional support or confirmation that they were taking it seriously."

Another woman, also 22, who was taught by Hannis at undergraduate level, said she considered not doing the postgraduate course when she discovered he would be lecturing.

The second woman said she believed other women in the class were also targeted.

"I don't recall one instance where a guy was called out. It was generally just really uncomfortable to be around him."

She made a complaint around the same time as the first woman, and said she was also unhappy with how the process was handled.

She informed the senior faculty member that she did not feel comfortable around Hannis, but still had to visit him in private to get her marks back.

The Herald understands a class representative also made a complaint to the same senior faculty member around the same time.

None of the complainants were told if Hannis faced formal action, or received any follow-up information after their complaints.

Massey communications manager James Gardiner said it was "regrettable" if students were not satisfied with how their complaints were handled.

Gardiner said the senior faculty member dealt with a complaint made by several students and their class representative in August. It was about "rudeness in the classroom and their dissatisfaction with the way they were treated and spoken to", he said.

As a result of that, Hannis apologised on the class Facebook page and amended some grades.

The same faculty member also met separately with one student who could not attend the group meeting, Gardiner said. He raised her concerns with Hannis and remind him of his responsibilities regarding communication with students.

Because it was about the same issue, the faculty member did not regard it as a separate complaint, Gardiner said.

The faculty member did not recall a separate conversation with another student, he said.

"However, if the student – or any other student or former student – wishes to come forward with information, or to follow up a complaint that they do not believe was handled adequately this will be investigated."

Gardiner said Hannis discussed leaving Massey in August and told the senior faculty member he was facing mental health issues.

"We didn't find out about the charges until late November or early December."

Hannis, 55, fought to keep his name permanently suppressed arguing it would cause him and those connected to him extreme hardship.

The judge later gave Hannis a discount due to the "penalty" of name suppression being lifted, allowing his sentence to be slightly shortened.

A well-known and respected academic, Hannis initially claimed the offending was "two friends who just had an intimate moment together" and denied it was a criminal act.

He later pleaded guilty after prosecutors downgraded the charge from unlawful sexual connection to indecent assault.

Hannis continued teaching for six months after his arrest. The university said it was never told about his arrest or the charges he was facing.

* Emily Menkes studied journalism at Massey University.

 

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