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Investigation finds no evidence of ‘pipeline’ connecting CMU interns to abusive workplace

Central Michigan University
A report commissioned by Central Michigan University finds employees at the school did not know that student interns were working at a Lansing firm rife with verbal abuse and sexual harassment.

A report of an investigation released by Central Michigan University on Wednesday found no evidence that Central Michigan University funneled interns to an abusive workplace.

Earlier this year, several CMU graduates said university staff encouraged them to intern at Vanguard Public Affairs, a Lansing firm run by prominent CMU alumnus TJ Bucholz, even though the university should have known the workplace was rife with verbal abuse and sexual harassment. But investigators said they found no evidence that university staff knew about the toxic workplace.

CMU hired the Honigman law firm to examine the university’s relationship with Vanguard and Bucholz.

The investigation found that students and graduates feared retaliation from university staff if they reported abuse. It also found that students trying to make anonymous reports of misconduct had to briefly identify themselves in the university’s reporting system.

As a result, investigators said, students could be deterred from making reports.

Indeed, the probe found that no one reported harassment directly to CMU employees -- though they did get close.

For example, a former student who worked at Vanguard told a CMU staffer that Bucholz “was a ‘creep’ or ‘creeper’ and kept a handgun in his car or office,” and that she was quitting because "things got weird, inappropriate," but the alumna never explicitly identified behavior that met the legal definition of harassment, according to the report.

The graduate's description of the workplace should have prompted the CMU employee "to ask a litany of follow-up questions," the investigation found.

The law firm recommended that CMU improve its training for staff to help them recognize misconduct and fully anonymize the process for reporting abuse. CMU President Bob Davies said the university would consider those suggestions.

One of the investigators at Honigman, Matthew Schneider, went to high school with Bucholz. Schneider is a former U.S. Attorney in Michigan.

Legal experts have told WCMU that Schneider’s professional background made him a strong choice to lead the investigation, but they were concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest.

A CMU spokesperson said Schneider has “impeccable credentials and unquestioned ethics” and was “precisely the right person to lead this independent investigation.”

Two faculty and one CMU staff member were placed on leave during the probe. They’ve since returned to their jobs.

“Today, the truth about this investigation has been shared with the CMU community,” Dave Clark, one of the faculty members who had been suspended, said in a statement. “The truth is that CMU is an institution that values the safety of its students.”

Davies, the university president, said the decision to suspend the three employees and undertake an expansive $550,000 investigation was difficult, but necessary.

“It was a gut-punch, and that is very difficult. But not to act -- not to put the safety of our faculty, staff and students at the forefront of the decision-making process -- that would have been unconscionable,” Davies said.

The full report by the Honigman law firm is available here.

This story has been corrected to reflect that a former CMU student who worked at Vanguard was an alumna when she described her experience at the firm to a CMU employee.