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A photo illustration including a photo of Richard Brunson and campuses where he worked.

Richard Brunson worked at Universities of Wisconsin campuses before going to Goshen College.

Photo illustration by Justin Morrison/Inside Higher Ed | Wikipedia Commons | Universities of Wisconsin Stevens Point Marshfield | Goshen College

Goshen College fired its orchestra conductor Monday after putting him on leave last week in the wake of a newspaper article exploring allegations that he forcibly kissed a student when he worked at a Universities of Wisconsin campus.

It remains a mystery how Richard Brunson came to work at Goshen, a private Mennonite college in Indiana, despite resigning from UW following an investigation into those allegations. Brunson, who worked at UW’s Stevens Point and Stevens Point at Marshfield campuses, didn’t return Inside Higher Ed’s requests for comment, and his lawyer said in an email that “no one associated with Richard Brunson wants to talk.”

According to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, after Brunson left UW in 2022, the universities’ legal counsel called the nearby Medford Area Public School District, where Brunson had begun working. A UW spokesman said legal counsel recommended the district request public records “about the resignation and Board [of Regents] action if they wished.”

Brunson then resigned from the school district in a “settlement agreement,” and the district “agreed to provide a neutral letter of reference,” according to the Journal Sentinel, which broke the story of UW’s “unusual” notification to the school district about a former UW employee. The district’s administrator, Pat Sullivan, didn’t respond to Inside Higher Ed’s requests for comment Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources told Inside Higher Ed Tuesday via email that “we don’t collect data on institutional sexual harassment policies and procedures so we wouldn’t be able to comment on how rare this is.”

The UW spokesman, who answered questions via email, didn’t elaborate on why UW provided the information it did to the district, other than the decision being “based on the specific facts of this case.” In one of the documents in UW’s investigation, the board said it adopted a resolution in 2018 requiring UW institutions to disclose information about employees’ “disciplinary histories when contacted for reference checks”—but Brunson’s lawyer, according to the Journal Sentinel, said the district hadn’t done a reference check and accused UW of overstepping.

Apparently, a lawsuit between Brunson and UW made it harder for someone at Goshen to figure out what happened in Wisconsin. According to the Wisconsin spokesman, when the chair of Goshen’s music department contacted officials at UW Stevens Point in June 2023 about Brunson, that campus, “upon advice from Universities of Wisconsin legal counsel,” told the chair that the “public records associated with this decision cannot be released as they are currently subject to litigation.”

However, according to the UW spokesman, Stevens Point officials gave Goshen the case number. Brunson began working there in July. When asked why no one checked the court files, Jodi Beyeler, a Goshen vice president who oversees both communications and human relations, told Inside Higher Ed she doesn’t “have an answer for you on that.”

“We’re continuing to look at our processes,” Beyeler said. “I would just say hindsight is 20/20, and if you look at the timeline, it’s a complicated situation. It’s a lot of different moving parts.”

Matthew Hill, that Goshen music department chair, said he didn’t check the court records and he assumed they involved a fight about tenure. He said he didn’t even know court records are generally public.

“I had no clue about any of this,” Hill said.

“We just did not know any of this, and if we had, things would have been a lot different,” Hill said. “I just want to be very clear that we just did not understand any of this stuff.”

The Allegations

Brunson began working for UW Stevens Point at Marshfield, formerly UW Marshfield/Wood County, in 2011, according to a UW investigative report the universities provided in response to an Inside Higher Ed public records request. He was a tenured associate professor.

In 2018, he was reprimanded for “inappropriate touching of a student” after allegedly putting his hand into a student’s shirt to drop a Nerf gun dart there, another university document says. But the investigative report released to Inside Higher Ed focused on 2021 allegations, in which a student who was friends with Brunson’s children and had known him for a decade reported that “Brunson had pulled him into a bear hug and then pulled his head down and kissed him on the lips.”

This allegedly occurred on campus, while both were wearing masks. UW said the student also reported that, while he was still in high school, Brunson messaged him on Facebook, saying, “May is National Masturbation Month—have you done your part?”

Another student alleged, per the report, that “he started receiving sexually suggestive messages from Brunson on May 19, 2017, with a Keep Calm and Jack Off meme followed the next day” by another message with a masturbation theme. “These messages continued until April 20, 2020,” the report says.

A former student, who “said he started receiving sexually charged messages from Brunson when he was sixteen,” reported that “There was often a hand on a shoulder or a slap of the ass,” according to the report.

A UW Stevens Point faculty committee and the Stevens Point chancellor recommended firing Brunson before he resigned, the Wisconsin spokesman said.

In a statement to campus Monday, Goshen wrote that “We take all reports of sexual harassment very seriously, including from previous employers, and have sought to act with both due diligence and speed. Effective this morning, we have terminated Dr. Brunson’s employment. We are committed to examining our systems to strengthen our prevention and responses in the future.”

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