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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 report found that no one reported harassment directly to CMU employees -- though they did get close.

For example, a student who worked at Vanguard told a CMU staffer that Bucholz was “was a ‘creep’ or ‘creeper’ and kept a handgun in his car or office,” but the university employee didn’t follow up, so the student never explicitly identified behavior that met the legal definition of harassment.

The law firm recommended that CMU improve its training for staff to help them recognize misconduct and fully anonymize the process for reporting abuse.

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.

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