Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Former UW professor who resigned amid sex harassment probe fired by Goshen College

From JSOnline:

Kelly Meyerhofer
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Richard Brunson, a former University of Wisconsin professor who sexually harassed students and went on to land two other jobs in education, was fired by his most recent employer a week after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on his disciplinary history.

The story highlighted the unusual steps the UW System took to bring Brunson's background to light and how, despite those efforts, both a Wisconsin school district and an out-of-state college hired him.

Contacted for comment on the termination, Brunson's lawyer, Michael Brown of DVG Law Partner, asked the Journal Sentinel to "please leave us alone."

Brown has previously argued UW's actions amounted to overreach. He asked the student newspaper of the Indiana college where Brunson most recently worked: "At what point do ongoing punishments of Dr. Brunson become excessive (and unending)? … How, if at all, can Dr. Brunson ever have an opportunity to move forward with his career and community life and have a chance to prove he has changed, and is changing, for the better?”

Here's what to know:

Where did Richard Brunson work?

Brunson was a music professor at the UW-Stevens Point Marshfield campus for just over a decade.

A UW System investigation found he sexually harassed several of his students in a pattern going back several years, records show. Six students told investigators they received sexually suggestive messages from Brunson, often about masturbation.

While the disciplinary process was playing out, Brunson applied for a job teaching choir to middle and high school students in the Medford School District, about 40 miles north of the Marshfield campus.

Brunson resigned before the UW Board of Regents could vote on firing him. So instead, five months after Brunson quit, the board revoked his unused sick leave. A day later, a UW System lawyer called Medford's superintendent to share what had happened.

Is what UW System did in this case rare?

Yes. Proactively volunteering information on a former employee's disciplinary history is "unusual," one education risk-management expert told the Journal Sentinel.

But it's something more schools should consider doing if their state laws allow them to do so, Brett Soklow of TNG said. It can help curb a common problem in education known as "pass-the-trash," where someone commits misconduct, quietly leaves and is hired elsewhere.

How did Medford School District respond?

Medford put Brunson on paid leave for the next seven months until he resigned at the end of the 2022-23 school year, according to a settlement agreement Brunson struck with the district. Medford agreed to provide a neutral letter of reference for Brunson.

Medford Superintendent Pat Sullivan declined to answer questions about the district's hiring process.

How did Brunson land job at Goshen College?

Brunson applied for a music professor position at Goshen College, a private Mennonite liberal arts school in Indiana, two hours east of Chicago. He also sued UW System to prevent releasing public records associated with his time at UW-Stevens Point.

The chair of Goshen's music department contacted UW-Stevens Point's human resources office about Brunson in June 2023, UW System spokesperson Mark Pitsch said. The HR office responded, saying Brunson hadn't been employed there since June 2022 and an ongoing court case prevented the university from releasing public records.

A judge last August ordered the documents be turned over. Goshen had already hired Brunson by then.

What has Goshen College said about its hiring process?

Goshen College spokesperson Jodi Beyeler said the college had not submitted a formal records request to the UW System and did not know the reasons behind Brunson's resignations until the Journal Sentinel contacted the school in late January.

The UW investigation "was not revealed to us through references or background checks," Goshen College human resources director Marlene Penner later said in an email to students and staff.

The school put Brunson on leave a day after the Journal Sentinel story published Feb. 5. On Monday, Penner emailed the campus to say Brunson had been terminated.

"We take all reports of sexual harassment very seriously, including from previous employers, and have sought to act with both due diligence and speed," Penner wrote to the campus community. "We are committed to examining our systems to strengthen our prevention and responses in the future."

Contact Kelly Meyerhofer at kmeyerhofer@gannett.com or 414-223-5168. Follow her on X (Twitter) at @KellyMeyerhofer.

From: https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/education/2024/02/13/goshen-college-fires-richard-brunson-former-uw-professor/72571917007/

"It can help curb a common problem in education known as 'pass-the-trash,' where someone commits misconduct, quietly leaves and is hired elsewhere."

That's how sex predators just keep going and going...

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