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Pattern of Inappropriate Touching

October 23, 2006

Charles Carlsen took a sudden leave of absence and then retired as president of Johnson County Community College, in Kansas, this spring after the student newspaper reported on a sexual harassment complaint that had been filed against him in 2003. 

Carlsen denied that he had done anything wrong, but said he wanted to avoid having the accusations become a distraction. Now it turns out that a number of women support the original complaint, and faculty leaders are charging that the trustees have not met their responsibilities to deal with the allegations.

Last week, the board of the community college released the results of an investigation into Carlsen's treatment of female employees, revealing that "a few" women reported experiencing the same treatment as did the woman whose case was revealed in the spring: incidents in which they said Carlsen touched their breasts.

"They said that they concluded that the conduct was not inadvertent or accidental because it was repeated," according to the board statement.

In addition, the trustees said that "a few other" women reported "inappropriate conduct" by the president, but declined to specify the nature of the conduct. Still other women reported Carlsen standing "too close" to them or hugging them inappropriately.

The trustees voted 4-1 to release a statement about their investigation, amid charges from faculty leaders that not enough was done to prevent the harassment of women by the college's president. Among the issues the report investigated was an allegation by the woman whose complaint became public this spring that she had reported the alleged harassment to Elaine Perilla, a former board chair and currently a board member, who had done nothing. Perilla was among the trustees who showered praise on Carlsen when he announced his retirement.

Perilla, who has said that she does not remember receiving the complaint, voted against releasing the information. The report said that the trustees and the complainant "disagree" on whether a complaint was made.

Because Perilla's conduct was one of the issues in the investigation, faculty leaders had asked her to recuse herself from all board actions related to the inquiry, and she declined to do so. "We've wanted this investigation to be truly independent," said Vincent Clark, a history professor who is president of the college's faculty union, which is affiliated with the National Education Association.

Perilla's vote to keep secret the news that multiple women said that they experienced inappropriate touching from then-president has further upset professors. "This is not sending a very good message about dealing with harassment," Clark said. "We appear to have someone who is not doing her job."

Reached at her home, Perilla declined to comment. A college spokeswoman said that the institution was not saying more than what was in the statement it released.

When he resigned, Carlsen said that he had "a strong desire to establish what those who know me already know to be true: I have done nothing wrong."

He did not return a phone call this weekend. The college statement said that he had scheduled an interview with the college's investigators but had canceled it and never responded to questions about the new allegations.

 

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