Search firm asked to further look into WSU presidential finalist

The search firm helping to find Wright State University’s next president has been asked to further investigate one of the three finalists for the job.

The chair of the presidential search committee said Thursday that Academic Search, a Washington, D.C. firm, will spend more time looking into Dennis Shields, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and the first finalist to visit campus last week.

Shields and other top administrators at UW-Platteville have been accused of retaliating against a professor who assisted a student in reporting sexual harassment by another professor.

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Doug Fecher, trustee and search committee chairman, said he is not worried about the information that surfaced because he knows both the firm and members of the search committee will “take a hard look” at the issues facing Shields’ administration.

“We are not discounting the information,” Fecher said on Thursday. “We need to be responsible and research it.”

Wright State officials have said they expected to pay Academic Search around $120,000 for its services. A copy of the contract between Wright State and Academic Search has been requested by this news organization.

The university had 61 applicants for its president’s job and narrowed the pool to three in January.

While Academic Search missed the issues Shields is facing in Wisconsin, Fecher said the search committee has not yet decided if it would ask for any sort of refund or explanation. Fecher said that a simple Google search didn’t turn up the allegations at first either.

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“I don’t know what to think about it,” Fecher said. “I don’t know how to judge it.”

Reached Thursday, Shawn Hartman, vice president for finance and administration at Academic Search, said he could not comment directly on WSU’s search because of a confidentiality agreement with the college. Speaking generally though, Hartman said “very rarely” does the firm miss such issues.

The allegation of retaliation by top administrators at UW-Plattville came from Sabina Burton, a criminal justice professor at the school.

Burton filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the university that was dismissed but she filed an appeal on Sept. 27, 2016, and that appeal is before the U.S. 7th District Court of Appeals.

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About three months later, on Dec. 19, interim provost Elizabeth Throop and Melissa Gormley, interim dean of the college of liberal arts and education, sought to have her dismissed. In their complaint letter to Shields, the two administrators say Burton disclosed “personal, confidential employment information about her colleagues contrary to university ethics practices.”

Burton has chronicled her case on the website, which contains links to documents and articles about the ongoing situation.

Throop, Gormley and Burton were not immediately available to comment on Thursday.

Shields said on Wednesday that he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit or allegation that his administration retaliated against the professor. UW-Platteville spokesman Paul Erickson provided a prepared statement on Thursday when asked to comment on the allegations.

“The University of Wisconsin-Platteville respects the opinion of others and strives to ensure all students, faculty and staff have an environment where they are comfortable and free in expressing themselves. We do not comment on a pending personnel matter; we will let the earlier court cases and the chancellor’s letter speak for themselves,” the statement read.

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Shields is still considered a candidate but the allegations will be considered in the decision making process, Fecher said this week. The search committee was unaware of the allegations facing Shields’ administration when he was named a finalist but knew by the time he visited campus last week, Fecher said.

“I think it’s an important issue,” Fecher said. “We have no intention in bringing someone to campus who would not be healthy for the campus.”

The WSU board of trustees is scheduled to meet in executive session at 4 p.m. Feb. 13 to discuss the presidential candidates, Fecher said.The committee, Fecher said, would like to conclude the search as soon as possible.


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