Association sues university, makes accusations of forgery

By Gus Bode

A dispute between the university and the Ulysses S. Grant Association that began with charges of sexual harassment against the group’s executive director has grown to include allegations of forgery and other inappropriate conduct, documents obtained by the Daily Egyptian show.

The documents trace correspondence between Dean of Library Affairs David Carlson and association representatives, who allege that someone at SIUC forged payment documents and that Carlson repeatedly acted unprofessionally.

Correspondence from association President Frank Williams and his lawyer show university officials have known about plans to move the nationally renowned historical institute out of SIUC since shortly after John Y. Simon, the group’s executive director, was accused of sexual harassment and removed from his office in January.

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Most of the letters were dropped off at the Daily Egyptian office in an unmarked envelope. The correspondence has been verified by multiple sources.

The ownership of “priceless” works that Simon and others compiled during 44 years at the university is now in dispute, with both sides claiming ownership, according to court documents.

The lawsuit states that the university has wrongfully detained materials that belong to the association. Carlson disputed this claim in letters to association members sent before Aug. 26, when the university’s legal counsel received a notice to appear in court.

Phyleccia Cole, associate general counsel for the university, referred questions to university spokesman Rod Sievers.

Sievers said he did not know about the forgery allegations and said the ownership issue would be settled in court.

“I think it’s clear that some of those materials actually do belong to the Grant Association, and I think it’s also clear that some of those materials belong to the university, so it’ll probably take some court decisions to figure that out,” Sievers said. Carlson used profanity toward members of the board at a St. Louis meeting after he was rebuked for bringing two of Simon’s accusers in the sexual harassment case to the meeting, the letters show.

Carlson later apologized in a letter in which he said his conduct was inappropriate.

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Carlson declined three requests for an interview, writing in several e-mails that he could not discuss specifics of the case because of legal action.

Williams also declined to answer questions about the case when asked in person after Simon’s memorial service Aug. 24. He did not return several messages left with his assistant since.

The dispute began when sexual harassment charges were brought against Simon. Williams said the allegations were unfounded, and the university failed to follow due process in responding to the claims.

Williams wrote that Carlson’s behavior, which included repeatedly trying to serve on the group’s board of directors, had severed the relationship between SIUC and the association.

Simon died July 8. He was negotiating a return to the university after receiving a letter in May informing him he was fired.

Board seeks new home for Grant works

Association members first voted to seek a new university to house the Grant works at a May 2 meeting in St. Louis, according to a letter from Williams to Carlson. Williams, who is also chief justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, wrote that Carlson’s proposal to create a vision for the future of the project was unrealistic.

He also blamed Carlson for the termination and suspension of federal and private money that funds the project.

Grants given to the association from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission total more than $2 million since 1976, according to the National Archives Web site.

Carlson attempted to join the association’s board of directors many times but was never granted the position, according to Williams’ letter.

Previous Library Affairs deans have held positions on the board. Carolyn Snyder, Carlson’s predecessor who retired in 2001, continues to serve on it.

Williams criticized Carlson for “inappropriate conduct” at the May 2 meeting. Carlson brought two of the staff members who had filed complaints against Simon to the meeting, even though he had instructed Simon four months ago to stay away from those people, according to Williams’ letter.

This move, Williams said, put the association and Simon in jeopardy.

The association was potentially liable for this action, association attorney James Williams said in a letter to Carlson. He also said Carlson’s behavior at the meeting – which included tossing registration materials onto a table, refusing to attend the meeting and using vulgar language – was inappropriate and embarrassing.

“When you told me that my admonition to you that the staff members would not attend was ‘fucked up,’ I was surprised at your lack of vocabulary given the fact that you are a Dean of Library Affairs,” James Williams wrote.

Carlson apologized in a brief letter dated May 13.

“It was inappropriate and unprofessional of me. I used language that I shun in both my personal and professional life but I am not always successful. This does not excuse my conduct and, again, I apologize,” Carlson wrote.

Sievers said the incident was known to university officials and there were no formal repercussions.

“The guy blew up, he lost his temper and he apologized for it. It had nothing to do with the lawsuit,” Sievers said. “What do you expect, for him to be fired? Probably people advised him that he shouldn’t have done that, but no, there’s no repercussions.”

Carlson declined to comment on his correspondence with the association.

“I don’t know what letters you have but I’m guessing they present a very limited and restricted picture of a complex set of issues and communications. These letters surely touch on matters that I cannot discuss from a legal and policy perspective,” Carlson wrote in an e-mail.

“No, I will not meet,” he wrote. “I am not going to conduct a debate in the DE.”

Association concerns started early

Frank Williams told interim Provost Don Rice in a letter dated Feb. 18 the relationship between the university and the association was “at great risk” because Simon was locked out of his office “without warning and without due process.”

Simon was never informed of problems involving his “inappropriate verbal communication” and was never given a chance to change his behavior, Frank Williams said in the letter.

He questioned Carlson’s motives, saying the dean had a “self interest in the outcome” of the case.

Rice said he would not comment on the matter because the university is involved in litigation with the association.

In response to Frank Williams’ letter, Carlson wrote Feb. 28 that he was taking measures to ensure work at the association would continue, including urging Simon to correspond with staff members through e-mail, phone and fax about the progress of the work.

Frank Williams said the measures were not enough to make up for the lack of guidance left by Simon’s absence. He said the association was “considering a move” to another university as a result.

The association’s attorney, James Williams, wrote to Carlson April 9, raising concerns that someone had forged Simon’s signature on payment documents from the association.

“We expect your prompt attention to this matter because someone is signing Dr. Simon’s name without his authority,” the attorney wrote.

In an April 14 response, Carlson said he asked two association employees if they forged Simon’s signature. Both said no, and one indicated that she had watched Simon sign the documents in question.

Harriet Simon said her late husband denied signing the documents. She said he was not satisfied with Carlson’s investigation into the matter.

“They didn’t do a thorough job of that,” she said.

Carlson also said the library was committed to advancing the relationship with the association but recognized the association’s “right to manage its affairs and independently determine its future.”

Carlson went on to dispute the removal of any works from the university, citing a 1965 letter between the parties that stipulated the library “will become the permanent depository for all source materials that may be purchased or received as gifts in conjunction with the project.”

Harriet Simon said it was an informal letter of understanding and not a contract. An earlier letter, dated Aug. 3, 1964, established Simon’s desire to remain separate from the university, according to James Williams’ reply to Carlson.

Simon wrote the letter to the association’s then-president, Ralph G. Newman, as he prepared to move the Grant works from Ohio State University to SIUC. Simon wrote that it seemed important for the association to remain independent from the university so it could continue to look for support outside Illinois.

Project funding threatened, in question

More than $95,000 that funded the project was in danger of being revoked in April, according to a letter from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The commission awarded the money to the association in May 2007.

In the letter dated April 15, the acting executive director of the commission said she was concerned the project was not performing the work for which it received the money. If the association did not submit a report detailing its progress, it would be required to return the money, the letter said.

The letter also mentions the transfer of nearly $24,000 that was given to the association but not transferred to the university to use in the project.

Frank Williams, president, replied that the association was trying to develop a new chain of command in light of problems with Carlson and the SIUC administration. He said the association was prepared to move to another university.

Frank Williams said he could not hand over the reports immediately because Simon was recovering from an April 19 surgery.

On its Web site, the commission lists the association’s project as “in progress.”

More than $1.8 million had been given by the commission directly to the association since 1976, according to the Web site. More than $200,000 had been given to the Southern Illinois University Press to help publish the Grant papers. That grant lasts through 2008, according to the Web site.

According to the lawsuit, the value of the Grant works is “priceless.” This assertion is based on the number of hours workers put in to prepare the works, James Williams said.

SIU President Glenn Poshard said he could not talk about specifics of the case because it was a legal matter.

But he said he had confidence in the university’s sexual harassment policy and the results of the investigation into Simon’s actions.

“I trust the investigation to come up with the truth of these matters and that, in the end, the truth will prevail,” Poshard said.

Allison Petty contributed to this report.

Sean McGahan can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 254 or [email protected]

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