September 20, 2007

Opinion: Lee Leaves JCCC - part 1

Walking on the Ledge:
She taught me that sometimes Walking on the Ledge means standing in truth
I sent an e-mail asking if the college planned to give her a going away party.

I wanted -- I needed -- to stand with her again and we'd celebrate instead of strategize. A few days later, I read the posting on Infolist, the college’s electronic mail server.
As some of you may be already be aware, HR Manager Teresa Lee has been offered and accepted the position of director of human resource services for John Knox Village in Lee's Summit, Missouri. Her last day at the college will be Thursday, September 20. To acknowledge and bid her a fond farewell, the HR department will host a reception for Teresa Wednesday morning, September 19, from 10 to 11 AM in GEB 240. Please come by to say goodbye and wish her well.
Of course, we already heard. How could we not know that the woman who made the allegations of unlawful harassment against Charles Carlsen, then president of Johnson County Community College, was leaving?

When the day of the reception arrived, I stood in my bedroom and cried.

I loosened my tie, kicked off my dress shoes and put on my usual college wardrobe of cargo shorts and a t-shirt. I wouldn’t be going to the reception.

I’ve never been good at goodbyes. But I struggled with this one in particular because, I felt it was wrong.

Why should she have to leave?

Carlsen took a leave of absence April 14, 2005 -- the day after my story detailing the allegations broke. He resigned a week later.

Susan Lindahl, vice president of College Information and Strategic Initiatives and Carlsen’s right hand, who admitted knowing of the allegations and not acting on the complaint resigned March 19, 2006.

Elaine Perilla, Board of Trustees chair, who denied knowing of the allegations, did not seek re-election to the board and skipped out on her last board meeting in June.

Dorothy Friedrich, then director of Human Resources and Lee’s direct supervisor, also admitted taking no action after learning of the allegations. Yet since the allegation became public, Friedrich received two promotions. The first made her vice president of Human Resources and the next, announced 10 days ago, makes her Vice President of Policy and Strategic Initiatives. Apparently, she has Lindahl’s old job.

Friedrich, who violated college policy, now oversees the same policy? Why don’t we just hire a child molester to run the daycare center?

It’s disgusting -- and that’s why I stood and cried.

In my 13-month investigation into the allegations against Carlsen, I forged a unique relationship with Teresa. We tortured and supported each other.

I had never experienced that kind of truth with a member of the administration. At that moment, I knew our campus would change forever.

An anonymous source made her the object of my reporting. A 22-page narrative detailing her harassment fell into my hands. A few months later when I finally summoned the courage to take on the story, I asked Teresa about the narrative. She stood in her truth and confirmed its validity. I had never experienced that kind of truth with a member of the administration. At that moment, I knew our campus would change forever.

Over the next few months, I dragged Teresa on to the record because I knew using her name would make the story credible and it would ultimately protect her. I also learned of the mistrust she had for those who betrayed her -- and the college -- when they chose to protect Carlsen. At times, I had to stand in her anger because I was the only safe outlet she had for it.

At times, we frustrated each other but inside we knew that we were really testing one another.

Everyone who knew about Carlsen’s harassment could have stopped him but they didn’t. And when I learned about it, Teresa waited for me to betray her like Lindahl, Friedrich and Perilla had. But I didn’t.

In her, I saw my sisters. I saw the women in my family and my female friends. If this harassment had happened to one of them, who would stand with them and who would betray them?
So you see, I had to write her story.

I stand a better man because of Teresa Lee.