Editor’s Note: Emporia State President Allison Garrett sat down with The Bulletin on Monday afternoon for a wide-ranging interview in which she described the process of how tenured faculty could be fired, pondered whether or not she was a role model for women on campus, and defended herself against a charge—leveled in an editorial recently by the Emporia Gazette—that she had displayed a lack of empathy after an undergraduate student told The Bulletin she was left “hopeless” by the university’s handling of her sexual misconduct complaint against a professor. Garrett declined to discuss the complaint filed by the student, who was called “Jane” in the Bulletin’s coverage to protect her identity, without the consent of faculty member Brian Schrader, a tenured professor of psychology. Jane said Schrader had led her to a storage room, where he tried to kiss her. Jane filed a sexual battery complaint with university police.
The interview was conducted at the president’s office on the second floor of Plumb Hall. In attendance, in addition to Garrett, were Gwen Larson, assistant director of marketing and media relations; Rayna Karst, editor-in-chief of The Bulletin and senior English major; Allie Crome, managing editor of The Bulletin and junior English education major; and Sarah Spoon, magazine editor and junior Spanish and English major. Spoon conducted the interview.
A full transcript appears below.
Spoon: Well, thanks for meeting with us.
Garrett: Well, you’re welcome.
Spoon: I know you were planning on going to the town hall meeting, and I was wondering if you were going to be wearing black tomorrow?
G: You know, I wear black a good bit of the time and I certainly recognize that that’s an important way to make a statement so I hadn’t really decided what I would wear tomorrow, but I’ll certainly give that some thought.
S: Do you support the #metoo movement?
G: Sure. Yeah. I think it would be unusual for you to find any woman of a certain age, and I guess by that I am implying that I am of that certain age, who can’t say ‘Me too.’ I think most women would be able to point to certain things that have happened to them that fall into that category.
S: Do you believe that powerful men have not been held accountable for too long and it’s time for things to change?
G: You know, I would agree completely with that. As you look at Hollywood, as you look at Washington D.C., and other places, there is certainly strong evidence that a culture that suppresses women has developed in many industries.
S: And what about the Midwest? And specifically, Kansas?
G: I don’t know any reason why Kansas would be different than elsewhere. I’m new enough to Kansas that maybe I don’t have the perspective of someone who is a lifelong Kansas, but I’ve certainly seen it in the Midwest. I grew up in the Midwest and I believe that it is widespread. Now having said that, it is interesting because, I think for men they sometimes think about #metoo and they think ‘oh, well I’ve never done this so it must not be happening to women,’ and yet I do think that most women probably have experienced something that falls into that category.
S: You said that you felt like women of a certain age would have a hard time not saying ‘Me too’ and you said like you were of that certain category. Have you ever been on the end of a sexual harassment case?
G: Not a case.
S: Or an incident?
G: Yes. I have.
S: What did you do in that incident? Did you report it?
G: No, and I’m not proud of that. Back then, people just really didn’t report it and I’ve had a couple of instances that have happened in the past. I think it’s wonderful now that we are in a culture where women are comfortable reporting and perhaps we are finally beginning to see the tide turn on it being okay to talk about these things.
S: As you are the highest administrator on campus and a woman, do you feel that you are a role model for women on this campus?
G: Well I would hope so, but I would never claim to be a role model in every respect and there are ways in which I might be and there are other ways in which I am definitely not. Cooking, would be a great example of that. My youngest son bought me a cookbook for Christmas and the title of it is “How to Boil Water” and I have not yet opened it, so I still don’t know how to boil water. But maybe in some ways, yes, and in other ways, not so much.
S: So are you saying not being able to cook, you’re not a role model for women in that way?
G: No, I think anybody can cook. My husband is the cook at our house.
S: So there was an article in The Wall Street Journal about a lawsuit filed in 2001, that was against Walmart. It accused Walmart of systematically paying female workers less than men and providing them fewer opportunities for promotion. Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the dissent on the Supreme Court decision, saying that she felt that the burden of proof had been met based on past cases for class action discrimination lawsuits. From the outside, this case could reflect poorly and maybe make you look like you’re not an advocate for women. What can you say to women on campus, either about this case or in general, to refute that?
G: That’s a good question and that’s certainly not a case that I was highly involved in. I was long gone from Walmart before much of that case had made its way through the court system. One of my roles during the time I was at Walmart was serving as the keeper of the company proxy statement. One thing that is true, under SCC rules, is that any shareholder who has a concern about something is able to file with the company proxy proposal and seek to have all of the shareholders take a vote on that issue. I viewed my role, in many respects, as providing, in Bentonville, Arkansas, a voice that executives might not necessarily hear outside of Bentonville, Arkansas. I took a lot of pride in making sure that I brought forward, to our executives, issues that were important to women, to LGBTQ individuals and on other social issues. So in that respect, I think I’ve done some good. I’m sure other people would look at my record and say ‘oh no, absolutely not’ but I felt very good about that. During my time at Walmart, I wrote the first diversity brochure about the company, and it’s sort of sad to think that even at that time, we didn’t have any regular diversity report. But that was just something that was really important to me. I can’t say that I would look back on that effort today and say ‘well, that was great” because those kind of reports have evolved a lot over the last 15 or 20 years. For its time, maybe it was a nice step forward.
S: Do you know what percentage of campus is female?
G: You know, it’s probably around 60%. I haven’t looked recently, but typically, in higher education today, at most universities, the university is about 60% female. I’ve got the data if you want me to send you that exact percentage.
S: According to usnews, it’s actually 62%, which is fairly close. That’s higher than K-State, which is 52%, KU which is 50%, Pitt State, which is 53% and Washburn which is 60%. So comparatively, we have the highest average of women on this campus and so this issue with Jane’s story, obviously effects a lot of women.
S: What would you say to a campus that is yours that is 62% women, that would make them feel confident in the university’s policies and procedures to defend them against sexual assault and sexual harassment?
G: I would give any young woman several pieces of advice, and this is advice that is very similar to the kind that I’ve given to my daughter. I think you and I have talked about the fact that I have a daughter who just graduated from college, early, which I was really happy with. We do have all kinds of policies and procedures, you’re right about that. Sexual harassment should never happen. If it’s happened once, it’s happened one time too many. But we’ll talk about policies in a second. If you are ever in a situation where you feel uncomfortable, leave that situation. Or, if you’re concerned about a situation, and you’re going into, take someone with you. We certainly do have policies and procedures. Often time, those kind of kick in after the fact. I will say, we do a lot of training. There’s always opportunity to do more training but policies and procedures that have to do with sexual harassment often kick in after the fact. The more that young women feel comfortable about reporting, or older women, women of any age or anyone else on this campus who feels that they have been sexually harassed, the better this campus will become. As you know, we have a number of policies, lots of procedures. Sometimes it’s kind of confusing to people, but we do have individuals who are there to help you by hearing your complaint, investigating your complaint, alerting you to resources that are available to you if you do have some type of complaint.
S: How can women be confident that these policies and procedures will actually protect them when in cases such as Jane’s case, she wasn’t protected at all and the tenured faculty (member) still works here?
G: Well I can’t speak to Jane’s case. I can tell you that we do have policies and procedures. We follow those very closely to the letter and in any situation, at times you have partial information that is available. I think one of your frustrations, your reader’s frustrations, my frustration is that I actually cannot share more information. There is only one person who can unlock that door and to date he has not wanted to do that.
S: I guess I’ll rephrase one last time. What can you say or promise to make women on this campus feel that if they do report, that they’re going to be listened to and something will happen that will help them, through these policies and procedures? That they won’t feel shut out in the same way that Jane, other women on this campus and men have felt shut out after the procedure has gone through.
G: What I have to go back to is we have these policies in place for a reason. We do follow them very closely and when we identify things that shouldn’t have happened that may have happened or did happen, we take appropriate action. I recognize that, given limited information, that sounds a little bit like a platitude and I certainly don’t intended that to be, but I would want your readers to know that we take all of this very, very seriously.
S: Could you maybe walk us through the firing of a tenured faculty? You said yourself it’s a very complicated process and there’s lots of policy and procedures that goes into that.
G: Right. I can speak to that policy, I cannot speak to a specific instance.
S: Right, so if you could just walk us through the process.
G: A tenured faculty member, who has received a notice of an intention to terminate, has an opportunity to appeal. All of us, students, faculty, staff, have due process rights, but in the case of tenured faculty members, there might be arguably a bit more process that is due. If a tenured faculty member has exercised that option then what essentially happens is very much like a trial where a panel of disinterested tenured faculty, from other disciplines is selected to serve, essentially as a jury, and that group hears all of the evidence and then makes a recommendation to the president regarding the appropriate disposition of the matter.
S: And then you can either accept or decline whatever their decision is?
G: That’s correct.
S: I know there were some questions on Facebook from people, so I did want to address this. The people seem to be under the impression that tenured faculty can never be fired, and I know that’s not the case, but perhaps it would help to clarify for readers what specific things tenured faculty can be fired for.
G: There’s a fairly lengthy list, so I would draw your attention to that policy because it enumerates five or six reasons that would justify the termination of a tenured faculty member upon sufficient proof.
S: And what kind of things would those be?
G: Examples might be if you caught a tenured faculty member stealing from the university. Or sleeping with a student. Or plagiarizing a paper or research or something like that.
S: Have any tenured faculty been fired for cause at Emporia State during your time here?
G: No, not during my time here.
S: Okay. Have any sexual misconduct complaints been filed against Emporia State professors in the last three years? How many?
G: I don’t know the number in the last three years.
S: Maybe the last year?
G: I’m only aware of the one.
S: And any disciplinary action that you can remember in the last three years that was taken?
G: I can’t speak to disciplinary action.
G: To be clear, and you and I, I know you’ve discussed this with Gwen (Larson) as well. One of the frustrations for me is that I cannot talk about confidential student information and I cannot talk about confidential personnel matters. I know you’re probably frustrated. I’m frustrated that I can’t explain.
S: Well I do have to ask this question, did you overrule the grievance panel’s recommendation and the provost’s recommendation for the firing of Brian Schrader?
G: I cannot answer those kinds of questions.
S: We understand that you cannot talk about specifics for Schrader.
G: Now, to be clear, if Dr. Schrader were to decide that he wanted to state something publicly, he could do that. Or he could give the university permission. But that’s not happened.
S: Would it be appropriate to fire, and this specifically comes from Facebook some of these questions, to fire a tenured faculty if they murdered someone?
G: So murder, yes. But it would depend on the circumstances.
S: Of the murder?
G: So there’s justifiable homicide. If you’re a woman who’s being abused, and you are killing your abuser, it gets a lot murkier. So just, there’s a big range, but if someone is going to prison for first degree murder, they probably don’t have the option of continuing their employment anyway, but that would certainly be grounds for termination.
S: What about beating someone up? Getting in a fist fight?
G: It’s hard for me to answer those because I think the circumstances are always going to be very, very different. Until you see the full facts of a particular matter, you can’t really address what the appropriate resolution is.
S: Right. You mentioned embezzlement and stealing as being possibilities.
G: Possibilities, yes.
S: Right. What about sexual battery?
G: You know, again, on any of those, I think you have to look at exactly what is proven and you have to look at the full record. It’s a question of what is proven.
S: One of the other questions that has come up quite frequently is, why is it seemingly such a secret how these matters are happening? It is through shared governance and I know the letter that you sent to Rob Catlett was read in Faculty Senate and the letter was worded in such a way that most senators didn’t even know what was being discussed. I asked many and they had no idea.
S: That sort of seems very secretive and I was wondering why that was the case?
G: Well it’s hard for me to say because that policy was drafted sometime back in the mists of time. I do think there is reason to review that policy, but as you know, I assume, because you probably have looked at the policy, the faculty member in question, under the policy that has to do with termination of a tenured faculty member has the right to say ‘This is a closed hearing, it’s all going to be secret.’
S: Why wasn’t the decision, in the letter to Rob Catlett, revealed when he read it in front of the Faculty Senate?
G: If you, again, read that policy, you will see that the faculty member is given the option of how much gets disclosed.
S: Was that one about Schrader?
G: I can’t answer that, Sarah.
S: Okay. Sort of on a different note, I know we’ve talked about the Non-Disclosure (Agreement) quite a bit with Gwen (Larson) and we’ve been told that they’re no longer in effect as of September of 2017, so why wasn’t Jane notified that the NDA was no longer in effect and that she was no longer tied to that?
G: You know, you would have to visit with Ray Lauber and Lisa Moritz about that. I don’t know whether they made a decision to simply move forward from this point or whether they made a decision with respect to past investigations that they needed to notify people about a change in practice.
S: Okay. If you could send a message to Jane, what would it be?
G: I would want her to know that it’s incredibly important that any young woman, and I’m not speaking specifically to her, but any young woman who experiences something that makes them feel uncomfortable, needs to report that. We don’t move forward as an institution, we don’t get better as a society, as a whole doesn’t get better, when people stay silent about things like this. I’m pleased when people come forward when they’ve experienced something that they think is not right.
S: I understand that Jane and other students who file complaints are protected by federal laws of confidentiality, for obvious reasons, but that’s not true of state employees. While state law says that personnel matters might be exempt, it doesn’t mandate it. So why withhold all the information?
G: I actually asked that very question and was given a fairly long list of a variety of different federal laws, state laws and university policies. Something we touched on earlier, the fact that we have certain university policies in place today, doesn’t mean that those are the right policies for moving forward. In fact, I’ve asked our Faculty Senate to lead a process of creating a task force that involves all the shared governance groups, including students, to look at whether we have the right policies in place on some of these matters. Sometimes you go through a particular process and it ends up being a sort of messy process when you realize that policies you thought would work, don’t work as cleanly or there are unintended consequences to certain provisions and those policies need to be reexamined. It’s clear that we’ve reached that point. There was already work being done to reexamine some of our policies but there are additional policies that, in my opinion, need work.
S: And what kind of policies are those, that you think need work?
G: Well I asked the Faculty Senate, in particular, to look at two sets of issues. One set of issues has to do with this whole issue of confidentiality. There are so many different laws that promise confidentiality in one form or another. We have so many different policies that promise confidentiality and yet we also know that sometimes that might not be ideal, in certain circumstances. I think having a group look at that, particularly whereas here a portion of a faculty policy has been one of the sticking points here, would be important. The other set of issues that I asked them to look at have to do with questions of how you discipline and whether our policies, which we go through whenever there’s a matter like this, whether our policies work as intended, whether there are unintended consequences, and whether there are changes that are needed to those particular policies.
S: You said you asked this same question? Who did you ask? What was the context of that conversation?
G: On the confidentiality?
G: I asked the general counsel for a list. This goes back to I think, your readers being frustrated, you being frustrated, me being frustrated too, because there’s obviously more to this story and we can’t legally disclose it.
S: Wouldn’t it serve campus just to be able to say that a faculty committee was convened to consider the firing of a tenured faculty? In your opinion?
G: You’ve raised a very interesting question. Our counsel has opined that sharing the fact of a convening of any disciplinary body does in fact violate that individual’s right to confidential personnel records. As I said, any individual can decide on their own to waive confidentiality of their personnel records. That’s not our option.
S: How often does that generally happen? That people waive their confidentiality rights?
G: I think it would be fairly rare.
G: But I don’t know.
S: In last week’s Gazette editorial, Chris Walker… said he would have fired Schrader and he accused you of having a lack of empathy for Jane. How would you respond to that?
G: I don’t want to talk about this specific matter. You know, as I mentioned earlier, there’s obviously far more to this story than you’ve been able to report on to date. Or that the university has been able to speak to. It’s unfortunate, I think, that there can’t be more evidence or more information out there in the public, but we are bound by certain laws which are unfortunate. I would say that, not specific to Jane, but for any circumstance like this, I certainly understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of unwanted attention. As I mentioned earlier, I think a lot of women of a certain age have, at some point, been on the receiving end of unwelcome or unexpected advances. As someone who has raised a daughter in this environment too, I think that it’s important for all young women to know that they can and they should speak up when something happens to them.
S: Yes. And so maybe not specifically Jane, but say any sexual assault or sexual harassment victim, would you say, for yourself, that you have a lack of empathy for people that have gone through that?
G: I certainly wouldn’t say that. But I also want to be clear that there are certainly women and men on this campus and in this community who have probably had horrific things happen to them. The things that have happened to me, pale in comparison.
G: But it’s certainly true that different people react differently to different circumstances and anytime, whether they’re at Emporia State or in the workplace in the community, or in one of the other schools or at one of the government organizations in and around this community and in the state of Kansas, women need to be comfortable going forward.
S: My last question would be, anything else you want to tell us that maybe you want the campus community to know?
G: That’s a great question. Let me just make a couple of observations. I am very pleased that we have a group of KLC faculty who recognize that this is a bit of an inflection point for Emporia State. These issues we’ve seen are pervasive throughout society. It would have been, I think, naive to think that this sort of issue would never come to Emporia State. There’s a lot of important work to be done over the next several months. I’m excited to partner with others to move forward on ensuring that we have the kinds of policies, the kind of processes in place that we need to make people comfortable reporting, to make sure people feel heard. We’ll be working on a lot of important topics over the next several months.
S: What does that look like? You said you’ll be working on changing policy and I know you mentioned faculty senate.
G: Right, so I mentioned those two areas where I think Faculty Senate could be of particular assistance and in addition, there have been policy changes in the works for months now that relate to Title IX and Title VII and The Violence Against Women’s Act is part of that as well. Every so often, it is incredibly important to take a look at whether your policies work and sometimes you don’t know whether they did or didn’t work until you go through a particular matter and then you think “oh well, this didn’t work the way it should have worked.” So there’s that that’s already in process. There’s a lot of additional steps required before anyone gets to a point of saying “that’s a policy we all feel good about.” Then the Faculty Senate has been asked to, starting this Spring, but probably continuing on through the Fall semester, to make recommendations regarding those two broad categories of issues that I mentioned, and I’ve asked them to engage all of the shared governance in that review.
S: So anything else you want to say, maybe encouraging students? Or anything at all?
G: It’s important that the students do make their voice heard. I mentioned that we were going through these processes and, of course, we’ve been working on goal 5 which is to become a model for diversity, equity and inclusion, these policies, these processes are a piece of that and the students voice is incredibly important in that. As we get to the point where there is much broader engagement, where the faculty senate is really beginning that process, I think it’s incredibly important that we have students who are willing to step up to the plate and play an important role in that. One other thing I would just like to mention, and I was pleased that in your initial article, you did keep the student’s identity confidential. One of the things that weighs heavily, so often, is you hear about so many issues, whether in DC or Hollywood or right here, at home in Kansas, that at times there has been a culture of victim shaming, which is incredibly unhealthy. So thank you for that.
S: Okay. Well, thank you for meeting with us.
G: Yeah. Thank you. And I know you guys are frustrated. I have rarely been as frustrated. The only other time, I’m going to tell you a real quick story, maybe you’ll find it funny, maybe not. The only other time where I found myself frustrated was because, well in this case it’s because we cannot share because there are actually legal rules that prevent that. Once when I was working for Walmart, back in the day, we ended up with this weird situation where we were either going to violate the laws of the United States or the laws of Canada. There was no ‘we’re not violating anybody’s laws here’ approach that made sense, and it was kind of frustrating. I’m not analogizing this exactly to that situation but at times you think it’s frustrating because there’s not. As I mentioned, there’s only one individual who can make it okay for us to share a lot of additional information or even some additional information. That’s the way the policy works.
G: Yes. Thank you.