Independent Investigation Clears CMU Three Employees of Violating Sexual Misconduct Policies

Three Central Michigan University employees have been cleared of violating sexual misconduct policies following an independent investigation.

Steve Coon, James Wojcik and David Clark were suspended between March-April 2021 in connection to sexual harassment allegations against Vanguard Public Affairs.

Several women had come forward, saying Vanguard’s president sexually harassed them when they worked at the firm.

The investigation found that the three did not violate sexual misconduct policies or knowingly place students in a position where they would be harassed.

The following is a letter written by CMU President Dr. Robert Davies to students, faculty and alumni:

Dear students, colleagues and friends,

As many of you are aware, earlier this year Central Michigan University was notified of serious allegations of misconduct by an alumnus who employed CMU student interns and recent graduates at his agency, Vanguard Public Affairs, and that CMU employees (two faculty members and a staff member) may have been aware of, or even involved in, the situation.

Following an extensive reporting series by CM Life in October 2018 regarding sexual assaults, harassment and other heinous acts, I penned an open letter to the campus community. In this letter, which came not more than two months after I first set foot on campus as the new president of CMU, I pledged that we would not tolerate such behavior and that we will act when allegations are brought to our attention. I also pledged that we will always focus our efforts to protect our community of students, faculty and staff.

During the last eight months, we lived up to the pledge we made in 2018. When these allegations arose, we acted swiftly and prudently by engaging a highly respected law firm to conduct an extensive independent investigation of these allegations. We also asked the firm to make recommendations for CMU to continue to serve and protect our community by fortifying our efforts to prevent sexual misconduct.

We have received the report from the law firm and are now able to share the outcome of that investigation with our campus community.

In this communication, we will provide:

  • A brief recap of the allegations.
  • An overview of the investigation.
  • A summary of findings.
  • Recommendations and our path for moving forward.

Recap of the allegations
Allegations were first shared with CMU by reporter Todd Heywood, who was investigating the owner of Vanguard. These allegations included sexual harassment and creating a toxic and hostile work environment.

Among the allegations made by Heywood was that CMU faculty member Steve Coon knowingly was trafficking interns to Vanguard. This was soon followed by allegations that CMU faculty member James Wojcik knew of this conduct yet continued to recommend the work site to student interns. Additionally, Heywood stated that a third CMU employee, David Clark, also knew of the experiences of previous CMU interns but continued to direct students to intern at Vanguard, where they could be exploited by the alumnus.

The story, including the allegations involving all three CMU employees, was quickly picked up and disseminated by media outlets throughout the state, including the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News, MLive, WCMU and our own student newspaper, CM Life. Although CMU never released the names of the employees allegedly involved, several media outlets did name the three CMU employees implicated.

The independent investigation
The health, safety and well-being of our students is our paramount concern. Due to the serious nature of the allegations, CMU took swift action to protect our students, faculty and staff.

We immediately retained independent outside counsel, former U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider of Honigman, LLP, one of the most respected law firms in the state of Michigan, to conduct an independent and exhaustive investigation to determine:

  1. did any CMU faculty member, staff member or University-affiliated person engage in conduct that violated CMU policies;
  2. if any such violation occurred, was anyone at CMU aware of such conduct;
  3. was there any failure on the part of CMU to address this alleged improper conduct.

Furthermore, we asked that the report include specific actions or recommendations CMU should take to avoid future problems similar to those alleged.

Because of the serious nature of the allegations, we also made the difficult decision to place the three CMU employees implicated on temporary paid administrative leave. These individuals have been valued members of the university community for many years, and we understand how difficult it was for each of them, and for their students and colleagues. Unfortunately, this was a necessary step to maintain the integrity of the investigation, to allow it to proceed, and to protect all individuals involved in the case.

Findings
Last week, Central Michigan University and our Board of Trustees received the final report from Honigman, LLP, and we are pleased to report that the investigation found no evidence to support the allegations made. Mr. Coon, Mr. Wojcik and Mr. Clark did not violate any CMU policies related to sexual misconduct, nor did they knowingly place students in roles in which they would be exploited or harassed. All three have been reinstated in their positions at CMU.

This was not a quick nor inexpensive process. We asked Honigman, LLP to conduct a thorough investigation of the situation, which included interviewing dozens of individuals involved in the case and the review of thousands of documents. We also requested they provide recommendations to avoid any similar situations in the future. The final cost of the investigation will be over $550,000, which will be paid from one-time use contingency funds included in our annual operating budget.

The cost is substantial, yet we firmly believe it was a necessary expense. 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. When CMU was made aware of the allegations, we had a duty and an obligation to our entire university community to take prompt action, and we did.

Recommendations
CMU’s Board of Trustees also asked Honigman, LLP to provide recommendations for specific action steps the university can take as we move forward. We are making plans now to implement many of these suggestions. The major recommendations include:

  • Increasing training to help employees better identify misconduct.
  • Removing potential barriers to reporting sexual misconduct, including simplifying the process, and reviewing our definition of a “mandatory reporter.”
  • Ensuring students and employees understand how, where, and when to report misconduct.
  • Improving processes and procedures related to student internships, including increased student feedback and regular worksite evaluation.

In the weeks ahead, we will work with deans and division leaders to discuss opportunities for incorporating these recommendations university-wide.

Moving forward
This was a challenging situation for our community. Now it provides an opportunity to closely review many of our processes and practices, and to identify areas for growth and improvement.

We appreciate the cooperation of the individuals who participated openly and transparently in the investigation, and we will continue to apprise the entire university community on our progress as we implement the recommendations