During an in-service Friday for Garden City Community College faculty and staff, GCCC Interim President Ryan Ruda announced that the college had received the final report regarding a roughly five-month third-party investigation into the college’s IT department.

The college opened the investigation and suspended its IT department, then comprised of Andy Gough, Andrew Knoll and David Larsen, on July 20 following a staff member’s reports of possible “irregularities in the monitoring of email accounts at the college,” GCCC Attorney Randy Grisell said at the time.

Grisell said then that an unknown party had accessed and saved information sent and received from employees’ email accounts, and that some of the data included correspondence between a staff member and Grisell as counsel. Any monitoring would violate attorney-client privilege, he said.

Former GCCC President Herbert Swender, former Vice President of Administrative Services Emily Clouse and former Vice President of Business Affairs and CFO Glendon Forgey, who also oversaw the IT department, were all still employed at the college at the time.

Administration placed Gough, Knoll and Larsen on indefinite suspension with pay also on July 20, stating that it was a precaution in regards to the integrity of the investigation rather than a disciplinary action, and was not meant to imply that any of the three were guilty of misconduct, according to their suspension letters from the college.

Gough at the time asserted that he and his colleagues had done nothing wrong, were “outraged that we’re the subject of an unfounded attack by Mr. Swender” and suspected that administration was “trying to cover something up.”

The college initially reached out to local law enforcement and the U.S. Department of Education regarding the alleged breach and secured IT services provider ConvergeOne to initially investigate any monitoring and set up protective measures. GCCC contracted with cybersecurity company SpearTip Cyber Counterintelligence in August to conduct a forensic investigation that would provide more details, Forgey said in September.

On Sept. 12, college administration, headed then by Ruda, reinstated Knoll and Larsen. Gough remained on suspension and ultimately resigned from the college on Oct. 1 to take a new job, said his attorney, Bob Lewis.

The company investigated whether any irregular monitoring or sharing of confidential information was taking place at the college, according to the release.

SpearTip’s final report, dated Dec. 21, said GCCC Director of Public Relations Ashley Salazar, found that “videos had not been accessed or monitored by any user nor did the investigation find any confidential emails shared outside of the network,” according to the release.

It “found no irregular activities” and declared that “allegations against any individuals, most notably the inferred allegations against current GCCC employees Andrew Knoll and David Larsen … were without merit,” the release stated.

Salazar clarified that the report found no instances of irregularities connected to any past or current employee, including Gough. She said GCCC Director of Facilities Derek Ramos offered Gough his position back after receiving the report last month, but had not yet heard back from him.

Salazar said the investigation cost the college $10,000. She said GCCC may release the report in the future but will review it further before deciding whether to do so. 

Larsen and Knoll told The Telegram that they were pleased and satisfied with the report — and they believe it confirms what they’ve been arguing since the investigation opened. Both believe Swender and his administration had a hidden agenda and the investigation should not have been opened in the first place.

“There was never anything to begin with,” Knoll said. “The previous administration had a goal in mind that they did not get to fulfill … but the investigation never had merit and it never had any truth to it.”

Lewis, who represented Gough, Knoll and Larsen throughout the investigation alongside his colleague, Shawnee attorney Jean Lamfers, said in a statement that he and Lamfers were glad that the three had been exonerated, but believed the investigation “should never have been undertaken, has taken much too long and wasted a lot of taxpayer dollars.”

“We are nonetheless still disappointed that the college suspended them without any reasonable grounds and at the whim of a college president who was then under investigation for his own wrongdoing, and soon after left the college under a dark cloud … Most troubling has been the harm it caused the lives of these three IT professionals,” Lewis said in the statement.

Both Larsen and Knoll said they are glad to move forward under the new administration, which Knoll said has treated he and his colleagues with much more empathy and professionalism than its predecessors.

“The current administrative staff … handled it to the best of their ability and, I think, did everything correctly once they were put in charge,” Larsen said, referring to the investigation.

When Larsen, Knoll and Gough were suspended, the college faced significant IT support delays across the college. Friends, family and colleagues alike supported them and called for their return for weeks at Board of Trustees meetings.

According to the release, following Ruda’s announcement that the investigation was over and no wrongdoing was found, present faculty and staff gave Larsen and Knoll were a standing ovation.

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.