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Unwelcome Touch

June 13, 2014

A sexual harassment case involving a former provost at Montana State University-Northern who is accused of repeatedly and inappropriately touching her male colleagues – including the university chancellor – is set to be heard next week.

Northern’s dean of extended learning, Randy Bachmeier, accuses the former provost, Rosalyn Templeton, of repeatedly touching him in a sexual manner. Bachmeier also accuses Chancellor James Limbaugh and the university of retaliating against him for complaining about Templeton.

Even though the chancellor is fighting Bachmeier’s allegations, the chancellor has said Templeton touched him too, in such a way that he briefly mistook Templeton’s touch for his wife’s. Still, the university argues Templeton’s behavior was not sexual.

“Touching is normal for many individuals in academe, because of either their training or their cultural background,” Limbaugh said in a deposition given ahead of next week’s three-day hearing.

Despite that claim, the chancellor sent an email that “strongly encouraged” Templeton to stop touching people at the university, according to one of Bachmeier’s filings.

Another male employee at Northern is said to have earned the nicknames “Rosalyn’s Rubbing Post” and “Rosalyn’s bitch” because Templeton touched him so much, according to a deposition given by a human resources official at another university who conducted an investigation at Northern.

The sexual harassment complaint was first reported by The Havre Daily News, which successfully fought to make public documents about the case. The university and Templeton both tried to keep secret the pre-hearing documents about the case, citing the need for privacy.

The allegations against Templeton and the university have cleared one procedural hurdle already: an investigator with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry concluded there’s “reasonable cause” to believe unlawful discrimination occurred.

Templeton and the university deny there was any sexual harassment, and the university denies there was retaliation against Bachmeier for filing the complaint about Templeton. Last summer, an internal investigation by the university concluded no sexual harassment had occurred.

“Any pats on the arm and shoulder were benign and for encouragement or reassurance and she believes she performed her job well at Northern and there was nothing sexual or improper in her conduct,” Templeton’s lawyer, Betsy Griffing, said in an interview.

Bachmeier's lawyers said Templeton touched at least two other male employees, a dean and a department chair, in a "sexual manner." Bachmeier told a state investigator that Templeton's touches were slow and lingering. Templeton testified to the investigator that she might pat people on the arm or shoulder when they were upset or excited, but she did not recall touching Bachmeier's leg.

On May 6, 2013, Templeton did touch Bachmeier on the back during a dinner party at the chancellor's house, but their accounts differ, according to the state investigation. Bachmeier said she stroked his back; Templeton said she briefly patted his back and talked about ice cream they were in line for: "Take two scoops, it's really good," she recalled saying. Within days, Bachmeier filed a complaint against Templeton with the university.

Templeton came to Montana in summer 2010 after a rocky tenure as dean of the College of Education at Marshall University, in West Virginia. Almost immediately, faculty at Northern began to raise concerns about her. Templeton, for instance, wanted the university to study “Neuro-Linguistic Programming,” a controversial therapeutic method. Proponents claim the technique can quickly cure post-traumatic stress disorder and help seduce partners, among other things. Critics have dismissed it as junk science.

Faculty suggested in interviews this week that Templeton’s touching is actually a Neuro-Linguistic Programming maneuver intended to give her the upper hand in interactions. Templeton’s lawyer said Templeton is not a therapist and any suggestions that she was trying therapeutic techniques on people are “bogus” and “ludicrous.”

Bachmeier alleges Templeton first touched him in October 2010. Bachmeier directed questions to his attorneys, who did not respond to requests for comment.

Bachmeier claims that during a meeting, Templeton reached over and began rubbing his upper leg with the palm of her hand. He abruptly stood and ended the meeting. He claims she continued touching his arm or back at various times until May 2013.

During those two and half years, Bachmeier said, he did everything he could to avoid being close to Templeton or alone with her – he claims he gave nonverbal cues that he didn’t like to be touched, sat across the room from her in meetings and even moved his office to a basement to distance himself from Templeton. He also says he installed a chime on the door of his office wing so he could know if she was approaching. The university contends the move was initiated by the chancellor and part of an effort to free up more office space for Templeton's provost suite, and to give her more privacy.

Bachmeier alleges that he was a victim of several forms of adverse actions by university officials because he complained about Templeton. Bachmeier says that he told Templeton point blank to stop touching him in April 2013 and that Templeton then berated him and excluded him from meetings with other deans.

Templeton left Northern last fall at the request of the chancellor. Bachmeier alleges that he was then passed over for the interim provost job and that the job posting to fill the provost vacancy permanently was designed to exclude him. The provost job posting required candidates to be full professors, which Bachmeier is not. The university contends the qualification existed previously and is reasonable.

After Templeton announced her plans to leave Northern, another dean suggested Bachmeier would be a good person to fill the spot. According to Bachmeier's allegations, the chancellor replied that it wouldn't look good for someone who had filed a complaint to get the position.

At another point, the university's own human resources director emailed the chancellor to tell him to "Keep in mind that Randy is not in the union," which means Bachmeier would not have some of the protections of other employees.

At times, the university has been aggressive in its legal briefs. One filing by the university’s lawyer accused Bachmeier’s case of being a “waste.” (This paragraph has been updated: an earlier reference about a chronic complainer was made by the university about another faculty member, not Bachmeier.)

What does seem clear is that people had talked about Templeton’s touching for a while. (Templeton’s lawyer denies that the former provost engaged in “systematic touching.”)

Depositions in the case suggest Templeton touched several male colleagues, including the chancellor. During a public reception, Limbaugh said in a deposition, someone began rubbing the small of his back, “and I thought it was Tricia, my wife, because Tricia was at the event. And I looked over and she was on the other side of the room.” It was Templeton.

While the case centers on allegations of touching male colleagues, it also accuses Templeton of making inappropriate sexual comments to female subordinates.  According to one deposition given by another dean, Templeton told her, “you don’t need to go home; all you need is a good vibrator.” Templeton’s lawyer said that Templeton would not say something like that.

Other Kinds of Controversy

These are not the only problems faculty said they had with Templeton, nor is it the first time she has been at the center of controversy.

In 2009, a report by an internal committee at Marshall found Templeton’s management style as dean had alienated perhaps half the faculty of the university’s College of Education, the Charleston Daily Mail reported at the time. The committee suggested Templeton learn to manage her anger, specifically citing Templeton’s “unprofessional use of language” and yelling. It also suggested that Templeton’s management contributed to a 13 percent enrollment decline in the education college. At the time, Templeton did not comment on the report.

Nevertheless, Templeton was hired by Montana officials in summer 2010 to be the top academic officer at Northern, a 1,300-student university in the high plains of north central Montana.

Faculty came across articles about the issues at Marshall shortly after she was hired and began asking questions.

Kevin McRae, a spokesman for the Montana State University system, said it’s not unusual to hire administrators who have “distinguished themselves with tough decision-making in the past."

“Through the advent of Google, just about any time a recruitment is done, people can come to us with controversies,” McRae said. He also said there is not a “common thread” between the complaints at Marshall and the touching allegations at Montana.

In any event, Templeton's performance did not assuage the concerns of some faculty as time went by.

Within weeks of Limbaugh’s arrival as chancellor in January 2012, faculty met with him and demanded he fire Templeton.

He said no.

But by summer 2013, the concerns seem to have intensified.

“By mid-June or mid-2013, talk in the hallways was accelerating, and there were concerns about Rosalyn, ranging from, ‘She doesn’t let me come to meetings,’ ‘She doesn’t communicate with me,’ ‘She’s trying to get into the curriculum,’ ‘She touches me,’ ‘She comes to work late,’ ‘She has a humidifier going,’” the chancellor said in the deposition. “There was just one thing – one after the other.”

Faculty point out that Templeton went through about a dozen administrative assistants in her time at Northern.

Templeton’s lawyer said provosts make hard choices and people naturally don’t like someone who comes in and makes hard decisions.

Eventually, though, Limbaugh decided Templeton had to go, according to his deposition. She sent an unsolicited letter of resignation to him in August announcing she planned to leave in January. But he concluded he couldn’t wait that long.

By mid-October, Limbaugh decided Templeton couldn’t stick around, in part because of accreditation problems with the college’s nursing program. On October 18, the chancellor sent out an email saying that day was Templeton’s last at the university.

Still, Templeton got paid until January, when she had planned to go. And Limbaugh told Templeton she could use him as a reference.

 

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