Yesterday, the student newspaper on my campus, The Post, told an amazing story that reveals once again how upper-level administrators are shielded from the consequences of wrongdoing, while whistleblowers are punished. It’s an old story, but the details are freshly repellent with each retelling.
Howard Lipman was VP for University Advancement (aka fundraising) before he left earlier this school year, returning to his old employer, Florida International University. (This and subsequent facts come from the The Post’s account.) But evidently he thought one of the job’s perks was the chance to act abusively toward at least one of his subordinates, Molly Taylor-Elkins, who is now filing suit with the EEOC. The Post reports:
Molly Taylor-Elkins spent almost two years as Lipman’s executive assistant. She says she felt harassed and bullied by Lipman and that on multiple occasions he made inappropriate sexual comments to her and other female employees.
A university investigation conducted last year agreed Lipman created a hostile work environment but couldn’t find enough evidence to substantiate the sexual harassment claims.
The investigators didn’t find that Taylor-Elkins had fabricated the sexual harassment claims, only that there was not evidence of them being “pervasive” enough to rise to the standard of creating a hostile environment. The investigators determined that Lipman’s bullying behavior violated university policy on workplace violence. He is accused of shouting at employees and belittling them. The Post provides detail on an encounter after Lipman’s yelling reduced Taylor-Elkins to tears:
Elkins says Lipman approached her desk and said: “Some people make up by having sex and since we can’t do that let me buy you lunch.”
She says she denied the offer.
In his interview with the OIE investigator, Lipman acknowledged that he was frustrated after having worked an 18-hour day. He said he was disappointed Elkins defied his orders not to schedule or cancel meetings without his approval.
But Lipman insisted he never made the comment about make-up sex.
At FIU, Lipman makes more money than he’d earned here at OU. His old salary here was a measly $232,000. He was never suspended or put on leave while the investigation was underway. He never faced any substantive consequences before he left for FIU.
Taylor-Elkins was first put on administrative leave, but then moved onto sick leave, which – if I understand The Post’s article correctly – has been unpaid. This switch was made directly after Taylor-Elkins took her case to the EEOC last July.
Her son, who had been admitted to a grad program at OU, had his admission revoked after his mother filed her original, internal complaint. Taylor-Elkins has letters to substantiate this, according to The Post.
This is absolutely stunning. I have never heard of admission being revoked unless there were a proven charge of fraud or cheating in the application. You really have to wonder who brought pressure to bear on the faculty who’d admitted Taylor-Elkins’ son, and what form the pressure took. No faculty would be willing pawns in a game of revenge.
The whole thing stinks. I do not know if Lipman is guilty of everything as charged. I do not know him or any of the other principals in this personally; the chief investigator is an acquaintance, and I know enough about her that I would not impugn her integrity.
At the very least, Lipman was a first-class bully at a top-flight salary. He came in for a soft landing. Meanwhile, a vulnerable female employee who blew the whistle on his bad behavior has suffered. There aren’t many other employers in this town, apart from Wal-Mart and a couple of wonderful tech start-ups that mostly require tech skills.
I know rotten things like this happen all the time. It’s how Wall Street works. Our universities are supposed to stand for loftier ideals. Instead, they are aping the corporate structure, giving sweet deals and institutional protection to a small and not necessarily deserving elite, while janitors, secretaries, and adjunct faculty are losing their jobs. Blatant mistreatment like Taylor-Elkins alleges is just the whipped cream on top of this sundae of inequality.
(Actually, if we’re going to wander into food metaphors, “pigs at the trough” might be more fitting, but the next thing you know, we’ll be talking about making sausage, and I feel grody enough already after writing this post.)