Home Featured News GRCC claims no knowledge of former professor’s unethical past

GRCC claims no knowledge of former professor’s unethical past

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After the resignation of Harold Lee, The Collegiate has continued to review records and found documentation that concerns were raised about his conduct as early as 2010. The former Grand Rapids Community College professor resigned in January following a sexual misconduct investigation.

An anonymous letter was sent to GRCC, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department and Grand Rapids Child Services in July 2010 making several allegations against Lee, including sexual misconduct. The letter also said he was fired from his previous employer for having sexual relations with a student. The sheriff’s department investigated the allegations in the letter and determined there was no criminal case to prosecute.

Upon receiving the letter, GRCC police decided not to initiate an investigation, according to police reports.

GRCC Campus Police Officer Tony Myers followed up with Kent County Sheriff’s Department Detective Ed Kolakowski’s July 2010 report, which shows Lee self-reporting some of his past misconduct.

“(Lee) then informed me that in fact he was let go by Montcalm Community College because of having sexual relations with a student at the school. He was let go from the college and no charges were filed. He advised that his current employer is aware of the reason he was let go from MCC,” Kolakowski wrote in his 2010 report.

MCC Vice President for Administrative Services James Lantz said he was working in his current role the year Lee resigned from the college, and that he “would have certainly investigated and documented and placed that in the file” if sexual misconduct had been reported.

“The documents that we have clearly show that (Lee) resigned for personal reasons and family obligations and that’s really all the information we have,” Lantz said.

A Kent County media spokesperson declined to comment on the details of the report.

“I spoke with Detective Kolakowski regarding this incident,” Myers wrote in his GRCC police report. “Kolakowski advised he had spoken to all parties involved and the case was going to be closed. He advised the letter came from a subject who was involved with (redacted) and he was trying to get back at Lee. According to Kolakowski, there was no factual basis for the allegations and they would be closing their report. This report will also be closed with no further action taken.”

When contacted Tuesday, Myers referred comment to the GRCC Police Chief Rebecca Whitman, who stressed that there was no illegal behavior to be concerned about.

“My opinion – that doesn’t mean that it was an illegal sexual relation with a student at the school,” Whitman said. “I don’t know what that relationship was.”

Whitman declined to comment on any action that could have been taken in 2010 by the campus police department.

GRCC President Steven Ender said he had never seen the letter or the sheriff’s department report until  he was interviewed by The Collegiate last week.

“I knew nothing about Mr. Lee, or anything that has arisen about Mr. Lee, until we received a complaint and investigated,” said Ender, referencing the December 2015 investigation.

In an interview with Executive Director of Human Resources Cathy Kubiak, she said she was not made aware of the reports in 2010 and that she was not aware of any administrative action following the appearance of the reports. Ender said he was not aware of any action taking place around that time either.

“I can only read this (GRCC police report) and surmise that Tony Myers and Lieutenant Woolworth must’ve determined that there was nothing for them to pursue,” Ender said.

Ender said the administration would not have been involved unless the GRCC police contacted them and made it aware as a problem.

“If that didn’t occur, then there’d be no follow up,” Ender said.

Kubiak said when Lee was hired, the school followed up with the standard hiring procedure, but she was not sure of who was on his hiring committee in 2001.

“We don’t keep hiring records that far back,” Kubiak said. “I do know that a criminal background check was done and our typical practice is to look at the letters of reference, talk with those letters of reference individuals, as well as the previous employers. And his previous employer was contacted and they confirmed the information that he had reported on in his application.”

Kubiak said Lee’s application indicated that he resigned from MCC for “personal reasons.” If the college had known about Lee’s misconduct record at MCC before hiring him, Kubiak said their decision would have changed. She was not sure, however, what the college could have done nine years later, in 2010.

“It’s difficult for me to answer,” Kubiak said. “One, it didn’t occur because we weren’t given the report and, two, I don’t have an answer for how we would evaluate that.”

After being shown the reports regarding Lee, Ender declined to say what the college should have done in 2010.

“I cannot speculate around that question,” Ender said.

“I can’t imagine that in 2001, or whenever he was hired, that the college would have made that hire if they had factual information from his former employer,” Ender said. “I just can’t imagine that HR became aware of the situation in 2010. If our police determined that they didn’t have anything to investigate, then I don’t know what they would have sent forward.”

Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Mike Vargo joined the dean’s office in 2010, but said he didn’t know any of the reported information until the college investigated Lee for sexual misconduct in December 2015.

“It was really a surprise to me when this all came about,” Vargo said. “Really unfortunate when I found out about it, but particularly surprising within the context that, at some point, the college became aware of the fact that there’d been misconduct previously.”

Director of Equal Opportunity Employment Compliance Kimberly DeVries said the school’s sexual misconduct policy is to take action if students or employees are at potential risk.

“If we ever, at any time, found out something – whatever it was – that made us think that any of our students or employees were at risk, we could and would take appropriate action,” DeVries said. “That would mean an investigation, which if we were investigating something a long time ago might be difficult. Particularly something that happened with someone who wasn’t even our student, that would be difficult. But we would do our best to do that if we felt like we needed to to protect our students.”

“Campus police responded in a way that they felt like they protected our students,” DeVries said. “And I will back that up.”

Overall, Ender said he doesn’t think GRCC is characterized by a culture of sexual misconduct.

“If it comes to the attention of this institution, we’re pretty adamant about investigating and dealing with issues and not sticking our head in the sand,” Ender said. “That is our responsibility.”

When asked if anything could have been done to prevent the misconduct that occurred last December, the GRCC president said, “No.”

Lee could not be reached for comment.