Scandal-plagued dean Ceri Sherlock to leave Hong Kong arts school post for ‘family reasons’

He was accused by students of sexual harassment but later cleared by the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and settled a lawsuit from a whistle-blower out of court

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 November, 2016, 11:26pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 November, 2016, 11:28pm

A senior academic at the centre of a million-dollar sexual harassment case at Hong Kong’s only learning institution dedicated to the performing arts is to leave his job for “family reasons’’.

After five years in the job, Ceri Sherlock will step down as dean of the school of drama at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts in June 2017, the end of the current academic year.

The departure follows allegations of sexual harassment made against him by students, and a subsequent HK$1 million out-of-court settlement paid to a fellow academic, who claimed he was victimised for reporting the allegations to academy chiefs.

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In a statement released to the Sunday Morning Post, a spokesman for the academy said: “Professor Ceri Sherlock, dean of school of drama, will be completing his contract at the end of the academic year of 2016/2017 and shall not be seeking extension for family reasons.”

The school has already begun advertising his position.

Last year, Peter Jordan, a former head of acting at the school whose contract was not extended in 2013, filed a lawsuit claiming he had been victimised for reporting the allegations against Sherlock to the management of the academy.

The dispute was settled out of court – without an admission of liability – in April and Jordan received a HK$1 million payout from the academy and Sherlock, sparking transparency concerns at the publicly funded institution, as well as doubts about procedures to protect students and whistle-blowers.

Sherlock was cleared after an internal investigation was conducted, but details were never made public, prompting criticism by Jordan.

“Now the academy has a proper policy in place, I would urge a proactive approach. Anyone who abuses their trust and power should not be allowed to leave ‘honourably’,” Jordan said, upon hearing of Sherlock’s departure.

The academy did not address directly questions from the Post on whether Sherlock’s departure was related to the 2010 allegations that only reached the public domain this year.

“The academy strictly prohibits any form of discriminatory harassment and there are established internal policy and mechanisms for such allegations, and they are strictly followed,” a spokesman said.

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The school’s policy and procedures on sexual harassment were only made available on its website in August, after several reports criticising the fact that such documents were not shared with the public.

In the same month, a survey conducted by the students’ union showed that 12 per cent of students at the academy have experienced sexual harassment by professors and 18 per cent have witnessed classmates being sexually harassed. The poll also found that the majority of students were not aware of the reporting mechanisms in place.

Sherlock has not returned any of the phone calls and emails sent by the Post.

According to Sherlock’s official biography, he joined the academy as head of directing and playwriting in 2010, becoming dean of the school of drama in the following year.

Sherlock, who is originally from Wales, “has an extensive thirty-year career in the arts,” the biography read. He previously worked for BBC.

According to an advertisement posted on the academy’s website, the school is looking for a new dean, who should start working in August 2017. The closing date for applications and nominations is on November 21.

The dean of drama should be “a highly experienced expert in the performing arts who will bring high level discipline-based expertise to the academy to ensure that the school maintains its place as a leader in drama education,” the advertisement described.