MOUNT PLEASANT, MI - An independent investigation has cleared three Central Michigan University employees of wrongdoing in connection with sexual harassment allegations at a Lansing public relations firm, according to a letter from CMU President Bob Davies.
CMU suspended its employees in March after T.J. Bucholz, a CMU alumnus and founder of Vanguard Public Relations, was publicly accused of sexual harassment and creating a toxic work environment at the firm. Some of Bucholz’ accusers were current CMU students or recent graduates when they worked with him, according to previous MLive reporting.
The investigation sparked from allegations shared with the university by Lansing City Pulse reporter Todd Heywood, according to the letter. Among these allegations were that CMU Journalism Department faculty member Steve Coon was knowingly “trafficking” interns to Vanguard and Journalism Department internship program administrator James Wojcik knew about Bucholz’s conduct, yet continued recommending Vanguard to students. Central Michigan Life advisor David Clark was also alleged to have kept directing students to Vanguard internships despite knowing about previous interns’ experiences.
CMU hired former U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider, now of the firm Honigman LLP, to conduct an outside review and determine if CMU employees violated policies or if anyone was aware of and failed to address improper conduct. Schneider attended Frankenmuth High School with Bucholz, but the university expressed confidence he did not have a conflict of interest.
CMU never named the three employees publicly but their identities were reported by Central Michigan Life and subsequently by other outlets including MLive. The three employees were placed on paid administrative leave as a “necessary step” in both protecting the accused and preserving the integrity of the investigation, according to the letter.
The CMU Board of Trustees received Honigman LLP’s final report last week, according to the letter. The investigation found no evidence to support the allegations and concluded that Coon, Wojcik and Clark neither violated university policy on sexual misconduct nor knowingly put students in a position to be exploited or harassed, according to the letter. All three have been fully reinstated following their vindication in the report.
However, the report states that some witnesses were “reluctant to come forward” to CMU regarding Bucholz’s conduct out of fear of retaliation, believing he held a “position of power” in the community as a donor and prominent alumnus of the Journalism Department. One told the firm she felt saying something negative about Bucholz to a CMU faculty member would be “career suicide.”
Honigman LLP addressed this in its recommended actions for the university, including simplifying the process of reporting sexual misconduct, more training to help employees “better identify” misconduct, and improving the procedures related to student internships. CMU is making plans to implement the suggestions university-wide, according to the letter,
Davies noted in his letter that the investigation was neither quick nor inexpensive, lasting several months and costing more than $550,000. The investigation involved interviewing 53 witnesses, including former Vanguard interns and Bucholz himself, as well as reviewing roughly 164,000 documents, according to the final report.
“The cost is substantial, yet we firmly believe it was a necessary expense,” Davies wrote. “Because this case involved serious allegations including sexual harassment and trafficking, CMU had an obligation and a responsibility to conduct a thorough investigation. And, because our first and foremost obligation is the health, safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff, we had a duty to ensure that investigation was independent and impartial.
“History is a great teacher. In recent years, we have seen too many instances in which institutions, and those in leadership roles within them, failed to respond to warning signs. We could not, and did not, allow that to happen here.”
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Source : https://www.mlive.com/news/saginaw-bay-city/2021/10/central-michigan-university-staff-cleared-of-wrongdoing-by-investigation-into-pr-firm-ties.html887