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Faculty alleges Kansas college head forged hostile workplace

May 20, 2018 - 2:57 am
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Garden City Community College trustees are searching for an independent investigator to look into faculty allegations that the college's president has created a hostile workplace and has jeopardized the college's accreditation, the board's attorney said Friday.

The move stems from a 28-page report dated May 8 from the faculty senate accusing college President Herbert Swender of sexual harassment, intimidation and other misconduct. Trustees this week voted to hire an outside investigator to look into the faculty's allegations.

Swender did not respond to phone and email messages from the Associated Press seeking comment.

Randall Grisell, the attorney for the board of trustees, said trustees want to take a fair approach to considering each allegation and have not discussed the substance of any of them.

"We simply want to have it investigated by somebody not associated with the board and then let the board make its own independent determination of the materiality of some of the allegations and the seriousness of them," Grisell said. "They are not wanting to prejudge any of the allegations at this point, which I think is the prudent approach on their part."

Grisell said he has been asked to find an investigator for the board to consider. He said he anticipates that the person retained will be an attorney with a background in employment law and in Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination.

The faculty senate report said the most important issue is the college's accreditation. It noted the college is already on probation by the Higher Learning Commission and it is about to lose its accreditation at a November review because of administrative issues such as inadequate record keeping and failure to do performance reviews.

The faculty report details alleged misconduct by Swender such as forced prayer at mandatory in-service meetings, including his naming an official pastor and an official church for the college. Faculty members are prohibited from talking to the media or speaking with the college's board members.

The report details a Spring 2017 faculty meeting in which faculty were allegedly ordered to hand their cellphones over to the person next to them to see who had contacted the press — something the report said was not only a violation of faculty members' Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search but also humiliating and degrading.

Swender allegedly referred to one professor as "Hot Lips Houlihan" and on numerous occasions directed employees to come down and receive "birthday spankings." Swender is also accused in the report of covering up allegations of sexual harassment against students involving the athletic department.

Grisell said that to his knowledge the board members had not heard the allegations until they received the report and they scheduled the special board meeting this week after learning of them.

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