CMU spends over $550,000 investigating unfound allegations of three journalism staff members

(Left) Jim Wojcik, (Center) Steve Coon, (Right) Dave Clark. Courtesy Photos

Editor's Note: Clark, Coon and Wojick did not assist CM-Life in reporting, writing or publishing stories pertaining to the vanguard investigation. CM Life has sought the advice of independant journalists, mainly the President of CMU's Student Media Board and executive Editor of Sentinal & Petoskey Media Group Sarah Leach. 

Central Michigan University spent seven months and more than half a million dollars on an investigation into three journalism staff members based on allegations it now has characterized as unfounded.

On March 17, Lansing City Pulse freelance reporter Todd Heywood called Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer John Veilleux and told him CMU interns were being sexually harassed and that university employees were aware of it, among other allegations.

"Heywood told Veilleux that female CMU student interns and employees of the Lansing public relations firm Vanguard Public Affairs stated they had been sexually harassed and subjected to a hostile work environment at Vanguard," the report said. "Heywood reported that Vanguard’s president and owner, T.J. Bucholz – a prominent CMU alumnus – subjected women to this discriminatory treatment, and that CMU faculty or staff members may have been aware of Bucholz’s conduct."

After the seven-month-long investigation into the Director of Student Media and adviser of Central Michigan Life Dave Clark and journalism faculty Steve Coon and Jim Wojcik completed by Honigman, LLC., President Bob Davies sent an email to the CMU community releasing the report on Oct. 13. 

"The investigation found no evidence to support the allegations made," Davies' email read. "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."

Although the report specifically cites Heywood as the catalyst of the investigation, CMU Board of Trustee Chair Richard Studley said the investigation was due to accumulation of multiple reports from several media outlets.

"The direction we gave to the Honigman firm was very, very clear," Studley said. "It's not our role to investigate reporters and whether their reports are accurate, — that's a job for editors. But it was not any one report but multiple reports of the same allegations that caused the focus to be the Vanguard firm and what, if any, role CMU employees had."

In a statement to CM Life, Heywood said he originally contacted University Communications to prepare them and ask for comment because the allegations involved university officials.

"At no time was I contacted by the investigators," Heywood said in his statement. "Had they done so, they would have found out that I had audio recordings of my interviews as well as transcripts with each source. Had they done their due diligence, the attorneys would have learned the statements ascribed to me specifically were, in fact, statements from my sources; not me."

Heywood declined to share any evidence supporting his source material with CM Life. He also said he did not offer the materials to the university.

The cost

The investigation has cost CMU $550,000 to date, with one last invoice on the way, according to Davies. The funds will be paid from "one-time use contingency funds included in (the) annual operating budget."

"The cost is substantial, yet we firmly believe it was a necessary expense," Davies said in his email statement. "Because this case involved serious allegations including sexual harassment and trafficking, CMU had an obligation and a responsibility to conduct a thorough investigation."

CM Life plans to file a Freedom of Information Act for invoices related to the investigation.

What's next?

Overall, the report had three recommendations for CMU.

"Whether to follow these recommendations – and how to implement them if followed – is a decision left entirely to CMU," the report reads. "The University is in the best position to determine which course of action will most benefit its faculty, staff, and student body."

The first recommendation was for the university to "remove barriers to reporting sexual harassment and hostile work environments." This includes, simplifying the process for reporting misconduct, increasing training on how to identify misconduct and when/where to report it as well as reconsidering the definition of what a "mandatory reporter” is.

The second recommendation was for CMU to "improve internship programs." These suggestions include, increasing student feedback, establishing continuity planning for the internship program and either utilize or abandon a rumored "Do Not Use List." 

"Journalism Department faculty reported that the Department maintains a list of businesses that faculty do not recommend for student internship placements," the report reads. "This 'Do Not Use' list has developed over several years after the faculty received reports of poor student internship experiences. However, the actual use of this 'list' is as inconsistent, as its whereabouts."

The final recommendation was to "improve faculty and staff processes and procedures." This includes, requiring faculty and staff to conduct university business on CMU email accounts, making faculty and staff administrative leave notices consistent and using in-person communication when placing employees on leave when possible.

“Investigators have outlined improvements to strengthen that commitment to student safety," Clark said in his statement to CM Life. "I also met with President Davies to discuss my concerns that, in future personnel matters, CMU employees are communicated with properly and treated with respect.”

On Oct. 13, Central Michigan University released the report of the investigation completed by Honigman LLC.