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Eastern Mennonite University releases report on handling of sexual misconduct allegations

11.29. 2016 Written By: The Mennonite Staff 2,905 Times read

On Nov. 28, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va., released a report detailing the results of a university-wide investigation into sexual misconduct and compliance on campus. The report focused on general, campus-wide policies and practices and examined EMU’s handling of allegations of misconduct by Luke Hartman, former vice president for enrollment.

The report, compiled by members of D. Stafford & Associates, a professional consulting firm, in consultation with EMU, stated that EMU’s administration followed correct hiring protocol with Hartman and that members of the administration did not have access to prior information that would have been grounds for a dismissal of Hartman prior to his resignation last January. According to their website, D. Stafford specializes in “campus safety, campus security, and law enforcement issues on college and university campuses, including specialization in compliance with Federal Regulations such as the Clery Act and Title IX.”

Hartman was employed at EMU from 2011 to 2016 and was a speaker at four Mennonite youth conventions. In April, a Harrisonburg judge dismissed a solicitation-of-prostitution charge against Hartman.

In a March 20 letter to congregants, the staff and board of elders of Lindale Mennonite Church, Linville, Va., confirmed that staff had been aware of reports of an abusive relationship since August 2014. On April 12, Lauren Shifflett posted an account on the website, Our Stories Untold, detailing reports of an abusive relationship with Hartman. Shifflett declined to be interviewed by D. Stafford, as did her advocates and sister, Marissa Buck, who also wrote publicly about Shifflett’s experience, citing concerns about the selection process for the investigative firm. Shifflett offered her two blogs on Our Stories Untold as her official statements. D. Stafford writes that “the [written] statements from Shifflett were accepted and treated as credible.”

Hartman also did not make a statement to investigators.

According to the D. Stafford report, on Sept. 14, 2014, Duane Yoder, lead pastor at Lindale, and Hartman met with Loren Swartzendruber, then-president of EMU, to report what they referred to as a “consensual affair of approximately six months with a 19- to 20-year-old woman from the Lindale congregation.” Swartzendruber asked that this same information be shared with EMU’s cabinet. EMU administrators were not made aware of Shifflett’s identity.

The D. Stafford report confirms that on Sept. 2, Shifflett did approach a Lindale associate pastor to report an abusive relationship with Hartman. The report states, “DSA found that Yoder and Hartman did not share with Swartzendruber or the Cabinet in September 2014 all the critical information that Shifflett had reported and subsequently published in her blog.”

DSA also found reports of an additional extramarital affair while Hartman was employed at EMU that would have been grounds for dismissal had EMU administrators been aware of it prior to his resignation.

According to DSA, EMU “has extensive and detailed policies addressing sexual discrimination and/or sexual misconduct.” However, the report recommended centralizing and streamlining the policies and procedures, hiring a full-time Title IX coordinator and appointing two to three deputy coordinators. In addition, the report calls on EMU to develop “a comprehensive system for tracking and maintaining documentation of reports, investigations, interim measures and resolutions of acts that may constitute sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct” and to provide comprehensive training about sexual misconduct policies for employees and students.

In response to the report, EMU’s Board of Trustees took several actions. According to a Nov. 28 press release from EMU, the actions included “affirming the clear commitment of EMU’s administration to prevent sexual violence and ensure a safe and secure campus community for all students, faculty, staff and visitors” and a reaffirmation of “the institution’s commitment to investigate reports of employee and student misconduct or violations of the Community Lifestyle Commitment to the fullest extent possible, regardless of the position of or familiarity with the reporting party.”

The board also requested that EMU’s president and administration present a plan of action, to be submitted in March 2017 in response to DSA’s report. The board called on staff to develop recommendations for: “(1) updating and adoption of a comprehensive policy and procedures on sexual misconduct; (2) staffing and infrastructure to support Title IX and Clery Act requirements; and (3) training of students, faculty, staff and board on their responsibilities related to Title IX and reporting of sexual misconduct.”

“We are satisfied that the investigation was thorough, fair and done with professional integrity,” said Kay Nussbaum, EMU board chair, in EMU’s Nov. 28 release. “The findings provide expert insight as we learn from the past and focus on institution-wide improvements going forward.”

The public report is available on EMU’s website. The full report by DSA is only available to EMU’s board of trustees and president’s cabinet. In its Nov. 28 press release, the university stated that this was done in order to “protect the privacy of the witnesses who participated in the investigation.” To compile the report, D. Stafford interviewed 49 witnesses and read over 1,000 pages of documentation.

The investigation by D. Stafford was initiated after a May 13 recommendation from the Mennonite Church USA Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention that, “in coordination with the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board and Mennonite Education Agency—Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia Mennonite Conference and Lindale Mennonite Church seek out and cooperate with an investigation by an outside organization in a timely manner.” The Panel recommended G.R.A.C.E. (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) or the FaithTrust Institute to conduct the investigation.

On Aug. 3, the panel withdrew from the investigation, citing concerns about the institutions’ failure to adequately involve Shifflett in the selection of an investigative firm.  In addition, due to disagreements over how findings would be released, Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board staff, along with Lindale Mennonite Church and Virginia Mennonite Conference, entered into a separate contract for an investigation with D. Stafford. MC USA has agreed to release D. Stafford’s entire report to the public. This report is expected in early 2017.

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to D. Stafford as an investigative firm. The language they use to describe themselves is “consulting firm.” EMU contracted with D. Stafford to review policies, procedures and the institution’s response to reports of sexual misconduct.

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