By: ALLAN WOLPER
Toronto journalists and academics are picking sides in a free expression free-for-all that followed the sacking of Gerald Hannon, a 51-year-old part-time college journalism instructor, writer and gay prostitute.
The Ryerson Polytechnic University journalism department personnel committee voted 2-to-1 not to renew Hannon’s contract as a part-time freelance writing teacher.
Joyce Douglas, a professor on the faculty committee, spoke for many colleagues and other journalists when she explained her opposition to Hannon: “I have grave difficulties supporting Gerald Hannon for a teaching position because of his views on pedophilia.”
Hannon endorses “intergenerational” relationships, or sex between male adults and young boys, and has written several hotly debated articles praising the practice.
He told the Toronto Globe and Mail he was victimized by a stone age faculty.
“I realize every institution has its dinosaurs and somehow they got all of theirs on the committee,” Hannon said.
But it was a lot more than that.
Reports circulated that Ryerson was losing contributions from alumni who clenched their teeth every time they read a story about the professor who was a hooker.
Journalists from the London Times and the Manchester Guardian chronicled the life of Gerald Hannon.
The 2,552-word Guardian piece was entitled “Professor, Prostitute, and Pedophilia [sic] Advocate: A Sex Lesson.”
University under siege
Hannon’s firing has put the Ryerson journalism department under siege as three Canadian magazine writers refused offers to replace him, arguing they would be endorsing classroom censorship.
And the Canadian Union of Professional Employees Union has mounted a high profile legal attack to help Hannon win back his $1,000-a-month (Canadian) teaching job.
The writers who turned down Ryerson included Heather Robertson, a past president of the Periodical Writers Association of Canada; Ron Graham, president of Canadian Pen; and Katherine Collins, another well-published writer.
Robertson saw Hannon’s firing as a threat to any writer with unpopular views who may want to express them in a Canadian journalism class.
“A person is entitled to have a private life and public views and should not be held accountable to them by a university administration,” Robertson said.
“The most contentious issues in society must be discussed in the classroom. Especially a journalism classroom.”
Ruth Biderman, executive director of PWAC, which represents 400 writers for magazines and newspapers across Canada, notes that the great majority of her members are repulsed by Hannon’s pedophilia position.
“He is not a member of our organization,” Biderman said.
“He has not even asked us to help him. But we are supporting him because we believe in freedom of expression. He is not a criminal. He is not engaged in criminal activity. He is not a pedophile.”
Sandra Bernstein, chair of the Freedom Of Expression Committee of PWAC, saw Ryerson’s decision to fire Hannon was an example of academic maturity.
“If they can’t handle a discussion of pedophilia, they shouldn’t have become a university,” Bernstein said. “Ryerson knew what they were getting. He was involved in one of the most famous cases in Canada.
“If you can’t talk about pedophilia, you know you won’t be able to talk about sexually transmitted diseases, and then sexual abuse. That could shut off a whole lot of information.
“This does not speak well for freedom of expression at Ryerson.”
The obscenity trial
In 1977, Hannon wrote an article entitled “Men Loving Boys Loving Men” for Body Politic, a now-defunct gay magazine, in which he promoted sexual encounters between men and young boys.
The Canadian attorney general charged Hannon and Body Politic with “using the mails to distribute immoral, indecent and scurrilous materials,” but they were acquitted after two trials.
Hannon began his Ryerson tenure three years ago after he won the first of two National Magazine Awards for articles that were published in Toronto Life Magazine.
Hannon’s academic performance won him applause from faculty and students until Heather Bird of the Toronto Sun accused him last October of promoting pedophilia in the classroom.
Ryerson grilled all 28 students in his writing class and found that all his references to pedophilia were made in a journalistic context.
But Hannon was suspended after he gave out explicit interviews, first to the Toronto Sun and later to the Ryersonian, a student newspaper, about his life as a male prostitute.
He said he solicited his clientele in ads in gay publications, noting that he had serviced more than 2,000 men since his first trick in 1987.
Hannon was reprimanded for talking to reporters, but returned to the classroom to a mostly accepting student body.
Still, there were whispers he would have difficulty winning an appointment for the 1996-1997 school year.
“People weren’t talking about it out loud, but the journalism department was really split on Gerald,” said Don Obe, a professor of journalism and close friend of Hannon.
Hannon’s student support, once unshakable, recently showed a small sign of cracking. It was spelled out by Dan Brown, an intern at the Globe and Mail, a newspaper Hannon writes for and which has supported him editorially.
Brown said he had thought and spoken about Hannon more than any other teacher in his academic career.
“He must know that what he believes in is incredibly abhorrent to the society he’s living in,” Brown wrote on the June 8 front page of the Globe and Mail’s Focus Section. “And that scares the hell out of me, because minds are shaped in classrooms.”
Brown, once a Hannon disciple, ended his Globe and Mail opinion article with the kind of paradoxical remark that has followed this saga since it began making headlines nine months ago.
“When I enter a classroom, it’s with the hope that the instructor is effective enough that my thinking will be different in some way when I leave,” Brown wrote. “Gerald Hannon was an effective teacher. He did change my thinking. And I hope he never teaches again.”
Hannon was surprised and saddened by Brown’s story, recalling they had discussed journalism over beers in the neighborhood pub. And he liked the way the article was put together, even though it pained him to read it.
“It was written well,” Hannon said in an interview. “It was well organized. I guess I taught him pretty well.”
Hannon had hoped that his work in the classroom might blot out the static his opinions on pedophilia and his life as a hooker were generating in the news media.
The key figure in Hannon’s reappointment appeared to be John Miller, chair of the Ryerson journalism department. Miller seemed to be one of Hannon’s most fervent supporters.
He defended Hannon when he first came under attack at a women’s media convention last fall and told several news organizations he would be reappointed.
Miller, a former deputy managing editor at the Toronto Star, also evaluated Hannon’s teaching during the spring semester and wrote a glowing report on his classroom performance.
But Miller changed his mind when he convened the faculty committee in June to select instructors for next year.
?(“I realize every institution has its dinosaurus and somehow they got all of theirs on the committee.”) [Caption]
?(-Gerald Hannon) [Photo]
?(Wolper, professor of journalism at the Newark campus of Rutgers University, covers campus journalism for E&P. An earlier article by Wolper, documenting Gerald Hannon’s battle to save his job, appeared in the June 8 edition.) [Caption]