Students in professor Sean Baker’s journalism classes were notified by email Monday that he would not be teaching for the next two weeks.
Baker told Central Michigan Life that he was taking a “personal leave of absence due to ongoing health issues.”
“On Saturday (March 1), I went up to work after having a few margaritas,” Baker said. “I was intoxicated. I didn’t want to go home and went to work instead, which was the first thing I did wrong.
“I am regretful for what happened that day, and the effect it has had on CMU students and my family.”
College of Communications and Fine Arts Dean Salma Ghanem confirmed that Baker had taken leave from teaching his classes. The absence follows several “personnel” issues involving Baker and his interactions with other journalism faculty members.
“I cannot comment on the incident,” Ghanem said. “I can neither confirm nor deny whether he has been suspended or fired.”
Former journalism department chairwoman Maria Marron contacted the Central Michigan University Police Department regarding Baker’s erratic behavior on March 1, the same day that CMU hosted a high school journalism conference in Moore Hall.
Marron filed for, and was denied, a personal protection order against Baker on March 4. A PPO is a court order restricting a person from making threats or violence toward another. A plaintiff must show cause and have the order approved by a judge for it to take effect.
The PPO was denied by Isabella County Circuit Court Judge Eric Janes because Marron “failed to allege sufficient facts to show that immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage would occur prior to a hearing.”
“Sean Baker has a history of being intoxicated at work, although the university has not been able to get the ‘evidence’ it needs to begin a case against him,” Marron wrote in her PPO request. “Various colleagues and students have reported his slurred speech, his stumbling around and his agitated demeanor.”
Baker admitted to CM Life that he was intoxicated when he arrived at work March 1. He said it was a relapse, and that he had not had a drink in three years. However, the March 1 altercation between him and journalism faculty members was not the first time Baker’s issues with alcohol have caused personal problems.
In 2011, Baker pleaded guilty to being drunk and disorderly, a misdemeanor, outside of Soaring Eagle Casino. Baker was arrested after he had shouted expletives at a security supervisor, according to the ticket issued by the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Police upon Baker’s arrest.
Court documents show Baker was ordered to submit to alcohol and drug testing for an undisclosed period of time, including not patronizing restaurants, bars or other places where alcohol is served.
After the incident, Baker said he decided to seek “personal, professional, and spiritual help” for his abuse problems. He took another leave of absence from teaching a summer course due to substance abuse problems.
According to emails sent to Ghanem on Oct. 11, 2013, Marron reported that a custodian in Moore Hall found Kessler whiskey bottles on the third floor, and that the worker had run into Baker “‘loaded’ many times.”
Ghanem sent an email to Marron and the custodial staff on Oct. 15, instructing them to “not make any assumptions of who might be the culprit” and to report any suspicious behavior.
According to the court documents, Baker and Marron exchanged emails on Sept. 29 regarding an incident between Baker and journalism professor Johnny Sparks. The emails detail an altercation between Baker and Sparks, to which the latter described Baker as “appearing agitated and condescending.” Meanwhile, Marron wrote in a separate email that Sparks reported to her that he had smelled alcohol on Baker.
Baker said the incident was a misunderstanding, and that he had taken anti-anxiety medication that day after receiving bad news about a family member. In Marron’s Oct. 11 email, she wrote that Baker had contradicted his explanation several times.
He is continuing to seek help for substance abuse problems, and Baker maintains he has been in control of the situation for the last few years. He also maintains that when he does return, he can effectively teach classes.
Baker said he greatly regrets how he handled the March 1 incident.
“Had I not been drinking that day, things would have been different,” Baker said. “I feel horrible about it. I made a mistake.”
Metro Editor Adrian Hedden contributed to this report.