College of Charleston seeks guidance in dealing with sex misconduct allegations
In the wake of a professor’s resignation amid allegations of coerced sex with students, the College of Charleston is trying to figure out how to reach out to past students to see if others contend they were victims
The college’s leaders believe they are limited in what they can publicly say by state libel and slander law. That’s because the professor resigned before a final ruling on the accusations was made by the faculty hearing committee.
In the meantime, the college’s president, George Benson, has sent a letter to South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson to get guidance. The college wants to know how to alert others about its preliminary findings that the professor should have been dismissed for allegedly violating sexual misconduct policies.
Those policies had been reviewed and updated by the college in 2010, the year before sex abuse scandals focused national attention on Penn State and The Citadel.
College of Charleston officials said they followed the approach detailed in its policies when confronted by allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment against tenured professor Enrique Graf.
The internationally acclaimed pianist resigned when the college tried to fire him. He was also accused of using drugs with students.
Graf denies all of the accusations. He told The Post and Courier he resigned because the college was not conducting a fair and adequate investigation.
The newspaper obtained copies of the investigation records last week by filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act. Several of the school’s leaders also agreed to sit down and discuss the investigation.
But Graf’s attorney, Allan Holmes, said the College of Charleston botched the investigation and presumed Graf was guilty before the investigation started.
“The idea that there was supposed to be an impartial search for the truth, there was no effort to do that,” Holmes said. “They (college officials) were determined, not in any way to take any chance of being the next Penn State or The Citadel.”
In his letter to the attorney general, Benson suggests possible changes to state laws to give state colleges limited immunity from civil lawsuits when they disclose certain information to the public. That’s so professors or others who are dismissed or resign amid findings of sex abuse, harassment or misconduct can’t move from school to school as if nothing happened.
Mark Powell, spokesman for the attorney general, said the matter is being researched by the office.
The college’s investigation details three cases alleging inappropriate sexual behavior, coercion and sexual harassment of Graf’s male students. Two of them were College of Charleston students. The other was a piano student of Graf’s in Maryland who alleges abuse as a teenager.
A criminal investigation is under way by the College of Charleston’s Public Safety Department, looking into the most recent allegation. The State Law Enforcement Division is assisting. Graf has not been criminally charged and police provided no further details.
The university’s investigation of Graf began in January when one of his students filed a formal complaint. Shortly afterward the school discovered a 2006 email to the college that alleged Graf had abused a teenager in Maryland in the 1980s. The email was written by the man’s wife at the time.
What happened with the email complaint is unknown because the college has virtually no record of any investigation and none of the university officials involved can recollect.
“We can’t say what the scope was because we have followed the leads as far as they will take us,” said Brian McGee, the college’s chief of staff.
College officials said the email was sent to Steven Rosenberg, the music department’s chairman at the time. He forwarded it to Valerie Morris, the School of the Arts dean, with the instruction to alert then-provost Elise Jorgens.
The college could not find any documentation that Jorgens was informed. Morris believes she had a conversation with Jorgens, but neither of them can remember, McGee said.
Jorgens, who is now retired, told The Post and Courier she has little recollection of the matter. But, she said, assuming she was presented with the emailed allegation, she would have likely not investigated further because the case did not deal with a College of Charleston student.
Jorgens said she did not know about an allegation made in 1994, so she had no background information to suggest the college’s students could be at risk.
Asked whether she believes an investigation would have been warranted based on the information she would have had, Jorgens said no because it wasn’t their’s to do.
“Didn’t seem to me it was the College of Charleston’s business,” she said.
Holmes, Graf’s attorney, said Graf never got a fair process and the college’s investigation is full of holes. In addition, he said, credibility concerns about the accusers were never addressed including their potential financial motives, mental instability and alleged drug use.
Holmes said the student who made the most recent allegation smoked “spice”, or synthetic marijuana.”
“That was completely ignored,” Holmes said.
Holmes also contends that the man who alleges Graf abused him as a teenager in Maryland is lying and spent years as Graf’s close friend.
But Provost George Hynd, who reviewed the college’s investigation, found the three alleged victims credible, according to a letter he wrote to Graf in March, when he proposed Graf’s dismissal.
Graf filed an appeal and was to fight the allegations and proposed firing in a faculty grievance hearing. However, he resigned before the hearing took place.
In an email to the newspaper, Graf wrote: “Rather than subject myself to such a clearly biased proceeding and considering the level of acrimony between the administration and me, it was impractical and unappealing to consider continuing my career at the College of Charleston.”
The College of Charleston’s open approach to releasing records of their investigation contrasts with how The Citadel initially dealt with records of its investigation of a former cadet who would be convicted in 2012 as a serial child molester.
Louis “Skip” ReVille pleaded guilty to molesting almost two dozen boys, ages 12 to 17, from across the Lowcountry over nearly a decade. He is serving a 50-year prison sentence.
Evidence showed that The Citadel became aware of questionable behavior by ReVille in 2007 from a former attendee of a now-defunct Citadel summer camp for children, where ReVille worked as a counselor in 2003.
The Citadel investigated that complaint, but took no action and did not report the case to police.
Many of ReVille’s victims were molested in the years after 2007. ReVille worked during that time as a coach in various in Lowcountry youth sports activities, giving him access to hundreds of boys.
When ReVille was finally arrested in 2011 and began confessing what he did, The Citadel balked at publicly releasing its investigative documents on the 2007 complaint and resisted Freedom of Information Act requests for the material.
The state military school later released the documents. They revealed that one of the investigation’s goals was to protect the school’s reputation from release of details about the alleged incident.
The Citadel became the subject of nationwide news reports on its resistance. It would be subjected to an investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division, and eventually would call in outside investigators to clear the air.
The storm of negative publicity lasted for nearly two years until that report was finally issued in April.
The report called The Citadel’s investigation of the 2007 complaint “well-intentioned but inadequate.” It said the school needed to develop and follow clear policies for dealing with abuse complaints.
During a Board of Visitors meeting in June, Citadel leaders said they plan to have specific changes in place to make the campus a safer place by the time cadets return in August.
The College of Charleston has also launched a comprehensive review of its policies and procedures. It also enacted policy changes to its music department of about 100 students, including a requirement that one-on-one sessions between teachers and students be in rooms with an open door or a window that cannot be covered.
Having detailed procedures in place for handling allegations of sexual misconduct made dealing with the situation far clearer, McGee said.
“I don’t think there was a head-scratching moment saying, ‘What do we do next?’” McGee said. “It was a matter of straightforwardly saying, ‘We have a process and were going to follow that process.’ ”
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.