A report rounding out a more than six-month investigation into allegations the Garden City Community College Faculty Senate leveled against the college and its former president arrived in Garden City two weeks ago, bringing with it a series of conclusions and non-conclusions that some found slanted in the college’s favor.
“The fact is is that the tone took on … the perspective and defenses of the college rather than actually be what we were all told it would be, which was independent and that he would go where the facts led him. But he, in many cases, with many of our clients, did not clearly represent information that we had provided to him,” said Jean Lamfers, an attorney representing many interviewed witnesses, about the report.
In May, the Faculty Senate presented an extensive, 28-page report to the Board of Trustees detailing myriad concerns with the college and accusations that former GCCC President Herbert Swender had long fostered a hostile work environment through repeated instances of bullying, retaliation and sexual harassment.
The board retained Kansas City attorney Greg Goheen, a shareholder at the law firm McAnany, Van Cleave & Phillips, P.A., roughly a month later to investigate the claims. According to invoices from the firm to GCCC from June 26 to Oct. 22 that GCCC Attorney Randy Grisell provided to The Telegram, the investigation cost the college more than $21,100.
Grisell provided The Telegram with a copy of the final investigative report, redacting the names of three current and former students, one former employee and one current employee, he said.
The report is a step-by-step breakdown of the Faculty Senate’s concerns, broken into allegations that Swender had violated students and employees’ rights, acted unethically or unprofessionally and belittled or harassed students, employees and community members, as well as the board’s complicity in his alleged actions.
The disputes at hand were not only what happened, but whether they could be attributed to Swender’s action or inaction, the report stated. Because of this, it said most of the accusations, especially those regarding Swender, required “a subjective rather than an objective determination.”
Goheen’s report ultimately finds little validity in the Faculty Senate’s claims.
In some cases, it clears up inaccuracies or misunderstandings stated as injustices in the report, such as the legal implications of prayer at campus events under certain circumstances or standard time restrictions in trustee meeting public comment sections. These, Goheen states, are not instances of free speech violations.
For some confirmed instances, such as an in-service where Swender told employees to trade and search their colleagues’ phones, Goheen offers information but no opinion. With regards to GCCC, he simply urged the institution to be cautious when seeking employee information from their personal devices.
In many other areas, he could not find sufficient evidence to prove the Senate’s claims, such as concerns that employees were barred from reaching out to trustees (Swender admits in the report to requesting employees instead come to him with concerns and asking board members to keep him updated on employee complaints, but said it was not a rule), or that Swender was aware of wrongful actions at the college, specifically former GCCC volleyball player Shaney Tiamalu staying at former Athletic Director John Green’s home last summer, a violation that brought sanctions against the team.
There was no evidence that Swender wiped a faculty member’s computer, that he “degraded” employees for social media posts or provided false information to the board, as claimed by the Senate’s report, Goheen’s report states.
There was also no evidence that Swender covered up sexual harassment allegations, the report states, and Swender was not the Title IX coordinator. Sexual harassment allegations in the athletic department appeared to be investigated according to college processes and “there is no indication” that Swender ever maliciously interfered, it claimed.
Often Goheen cites that witnesses, referred to generically, could not provide specific examples of the Swender’s toxic behavior or that there were no documented complaints.
Swender himself stands out as a prominent voice in the report, often denying allegations lodged against him or claiming his words and actions were taken out of context. A significant portion of the breakdown is designated to his own defense.
The section detailing the Senate’s claims of Swender’s bullying — where he allegedly said he would “kick some intellectual ass,” among other comments — or sexual harassment — a string of instances where he referred to female employees as “Hot Lips Houlihan” or “Ms. Southeast Kansas” or asked employees to receive “birthday spankings,” among other examples — follows a pattern.
Swender either denies the comments or says they were taken out of context. Goheen states that some witness took the moment as a harmless bad joke, while others were offended. In several cases, he states that there were no filed complaints regarding the comments.
“It is clear that a certain number of the Faculty had developed a level of distrust toward Dr. Swender and the College administration, and that this distrust was shared by Dr. Swender and other members of the College administration particularly after the presentation of the Faculty Report to the Board. It is also apparent that, at least, some of the perceptions that lead to this mistrust are due to a lack of understanding and/or communication,” the report stated.
Goheen’s final thoughts remark that the college seemed to be appropriately addressing concerns, and many of those connected to the Senate’s claims were no longer employed at GCCC.
In many cases, he did not find wrongdoing, but transparency and clarification of procedures, as well as a legal overview of policies, particularly those relating to complaints and grievances, would be effective, the report advised.
Community member and former GCCC host parent Toni Douglass and her lawyer, Lamfers, said the report, and Goheen himself, were disingenuous at best, which is why Lamfers ultimately declined Goheen the chance to interview Tiamalu, who is oft referred to in the report.
Lamfers sat in with clients on many interviews — hours upon hours of interviews, Douglass said — with Goheen or his colleagues. What stood out to her, and Douglass, was how much of Douglass’ and other clients’ relevant accounts were omitted.
“He asked me pointed questions, and they are not reflected there. Where he said ‘Where Herb Swender denies it,’ where’s the section where ‘But Toni Douglass said this,’ or ‘Tammy (Hutcheson, social sciences instructor)’ said this,’ or ‘Holly (Chandler, reading instructor) said this.’ You see what I’m saying? There are gaps in that and it’s inexcusable…” Douglass said. “Say, for instance, 10 to 15 people spoke with him. When you read that report, who do you hear from? You hear from Herb.”
Instead of an objective search for the truth, Lamfers said the report felt biased. She thought his section on sexual harassment undercut or wrote off the alleged instances and those affected.
Goheen was given a list of names of people that never heard from him, Lamfers said. In the report, Goheen states the opposite — many attempted witnesses did not get back to him.
Of the people he did interview or the documents he did receive, much of the information he gathered was nowhere in the report, Lamfers said. Some sections stated as fact, such as one remarking on a rumor about Douglass or a no-trespass order filed against Douglass, among others, were missing accounts that added depth and needed perspective.
The report claimed the college had adequately followed grievance procedures for harassment or sexual harassment complaints, but Lamfers has long argued that sexual harassment complaints regarding former cheer coach Brice Knapp disappeared for years. Employees did not file complaints regarding other incidents because they were scared for their jobs, Douglass said, and witnesses told Goheen so.
Carol Lee, whose husband, Terry Lee, is mentioned in both the Faculty Senate and Goheen’s reports, echoed Lamfers and Douglass’ concerns of inaccuracies, biases and omissions in the report — a comment from Swender that her husband was “mean to women” felt particularly untrue and out of left field, she said.
She said she and others are working to obtain documents, including some from the college, to present to the board to prove the events as they saw and lived them.
The reaction was not one of bitterness, she said. She, Lamfers, Douglass and those who shared their opinions are not whining that they did not get the report they wanted. Critics wanted the truth, she said, and she did not feel like they got “a fair shot.”
The report, dated Dec. 11, has been distributed to Grisell, GCCC Interim President Ryan Ruda, Director of Public Relations Ashley Salazar and all members of the Board of Trustees, Salazar said. Trustee Merilyn Douglass said last week that she received the report on Dec. 13.
At 6 p.m. Jan. 2, when the college returns from winter break, the board will meet in a closed session at the Beth Tedrow Student Center to discuss the report, Grisell said. Until then, board members will refrain from commenting on its contents, Douglass said. Salazar said the college will not have an official statement regarding the report until after that meeting.
Faculty Senate President Phil Hoke, who publicly presented the Senate’s report to the board in May, said he has seen the report but also declined to comment until after the trustees’ meeting and the Faculty Senate’s first semester meeting, which he said likely would be in the first week of January. The Senate meeting, as always, will be open to the faculty and the public, he said.
Trustees Steve Martinez, Terri Worf, Leonard Hitz, Jeff Crist and Blake Wasinger did not return calls seeking comment. Goheen declined to comment on his investigation.
Contact Amber Friend at email@example.com.