Photo by: Paul Sancya/Associated Press
Source: New York Times, July 17, 2007
Author: NICK BUNKLEY
YPSILANTI, Mich., July 16 — Six months after a female student was raped and killed in her dormitory room, Eastern Michigan University said on Monday that it had fired three administrators, including its president, who are accused of covering up the fact that a crime had been committed.
The president, John A. Fallon III, was ousted exactly two years into his five-year contract. The university’s Board of Regents also dismissed James F. Vick, vice president for student affairs, and Cindy Hall, the public safety director, and reprimanded Kenneth A. McKanders, the general counsel.
The actions follow reports, including one by the federal Department of Education and another commissioned by the university from investigators at a local law firm, that said university officials had violated federal campus crime reporting law by waiting more than two months to tell other students and the public that the student, Laura Dickinson, 22, had been killed on Dec. 12.
University officials had insisted that foul play was not suspected even as the police were investigating several suspects, and only revealed the circumstances of Ms. Dickinson’s death to her family and the campus community after another student was arrested in February.
The arrested student, Orange Taylor III, has been charged with murder and is scheduled to go on trial this fall. He has pleaded not guilty.
The university expects to find out within two months whether it will be fined by the Education Department for the administrators’ actions.
“We are committed to regaining the trust of all E.M.U. stakeholders, and all of the people of the great state of Michigan,” Thomas W. Sidlik, the board’s chairman, told about 200 people crowded in the regents’ meeting room Monday. “This board will not tolerate anyone who sabotages the educational mission of this university by participating in these destructive behavior patterns.”
Mr. Fallon has maintained that he was unaware that the student’s death was being investigated as a crime because his subordinates did not tell him, and that he acted to the best of his ability. He was not singled out for wrongdoing in either of the reports but has been the primary target of outrage expressed by parents and faculty members.
The departures of Mr. Vick and Ms. Hall were agreed upon several weeks ago but not revealed until Monday. The board decided to oust Mr. Fallon during a Sunday meeting by telephone, after learning that he “may have been contemplating additional action that would have further damaged this university,” said James F. Stapleton, a board member who led the university’s efforts to investigate the handling of Ms. Dickinson’s death.
Mr. Stapleton declined to elaborate on his comment, saying that Mr. Fallon would probably make a public statement in the coming days.
Mr. Fallon did not respond to messages left Monday at his university-owned home, which he has 60 days to vacate. The evening before his ouster was announced, he told The Ann Arbor News, “I have a story to tell and intend to tell it.”
Mr. Sidlik said in an interview, “There was a general falling apart of the relationship over the last few days.”
Even before Ms. Dickinson’s death, Mr. Fallon was a controversial figure at the university. Faculty members went on strike for 12 days last fall after he halted contract negotiations. In December, three regents resigned, saying the campus was filled with distrust and open animosity.
Some professors said they were relieved that Mr. Fallon was leaving.
“It’s unfortunate, but it had to happen,” said Joanna Vecchiarelli Scott, a political science professor who said Mr. Fallon headed “a really incompetent presidential administration.”
Board members said that since the killing, the 23,000-student university had taken many steps to improve security, including changing locks on office doors and beginning a complete audit of safety at university facilities.
Robert Dickinson, Ms. Dickinson’s father, said he was pleased to see the university making changes, but he declined to say whether he was satisfied with the board’s actions. Mr. Dickinson said that Mr. Fallon had visited him to apologize but that he had had no other contact with university officials.
“If there’s another university that can benefit from seeing these mistakes and taking care of their own, that would be good,” said Mr. Dickinson, who owns a coffee shop in Hastings, Mich., a small town about 120 miles northwest of the university.