Widow: Simon never saw full report of sexual harassment allegations

By Gus Bode

John Y. Simon never saw a full report of the investigation into accusations of sexual harassment against him before he died, said Harriet Simon, his widow.

Investigations into allegations of sexual harassment that led to the firing of Simon and the possible removal of the Ulysses S. Grant Association from SIUC have been in dispute. Supporters of Simon have said the university failed to follow due process in its investigation, while others at the university have defended the process.

Simon, who spent 44 years at SIUC before he died July 8, went to work as usual on Jan. 11 when he was called in to a meeting with David Carlson, dean of Library Affairs, his widow said. He was shown that allegations of verbal sexual harassment had been made against him by co-workers, but was not given documentation of these charges until several weeks later, she said.

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After the meeting, he was accompanied to the Grant Association office, where he picked up a box of materials and was escorted out, she said. He was informed security would be called if he showed up at the office again, she said.

The letter of charges provided to Simon weeks after he was locked out of his office included roughly 12 examples of verbal exchanges from two workers in the office, Harriet Simon said.

She said most of the incidents were jokes, while the rest were “deliberate misinterpretations and twisting of his words.”

Harriet Simon said she would not provide a copy of the letters or give any more specifics about the accusations because it might compromise potential legal action she could take in the future. She said she has not decided whether she will pursue legal action in the matter.

In e-mails in which he declined interview requests, Carlson said he was concerned about erroneous statements that had appeared in previous reports by the Daily Egyptian.

One example that he cited included former Faculty Association President Marvin Zeman, who helped represent Simon in a grievance filed against the university about the way he was treated, saying that Simon never knew the accusations against him.

Carlson said this is “completely false.”

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“At the very start of the process, he was given a copy of the formal complaint and he participated directly and personally in the investigative process,” Carlson wrote.

Zeman said Simon and the union representatives were given parts of a report of the investigation against him, but were never given the full story.

“We wanted to see the testimony, what it was that was told to them, not just a summary of what happened written by the two-member panel,” Zeman said.

Library Affairs Associate Professor Howard Carter, who conducted the investigation, said the probe into the accusations was thorough.

Carter wrote in a letter to the editor that he and the other investigator, coordinator for diversity and equity Carmen Suarez, interviewed 19 people, including Simon and the complainants. Carter said the team submitted its investigative report to Carlson, who forwarded it to interim Provost Don Rice.

Carter declined a request for an interview, saying he wanted to be sure his statements were presented in a proper way because of the ongoing legal situation.

Harriet Simon said her late husband was never given a fair chance to respond to the allegations. He did not know whom Carter and Suarez interviewed or what they said, so he could not defend himself against it, she said.

“Yes he was given an opportunity, but it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t honest, it wasn’t impartial. It was rigged,” she said.

She called that a violation of due process.

Improvements to due process were one suggestion included in a review of the sexual harassment policy commissioned by former Chancellor Walter Wendler in 2006. If these recommendations were enacted before Simon and another dismissed professor’s removal, the university could have been spared lawsuits, Zeman has said.

A lack of due process in the sexual harassment policy was one of the complaints in a federal lawsuit filed against the university Aug. 12 by Cal Meyers, who was removed from campus after allegations of sexual harassment.

Carlson defended the process through e-mail.

“There may be a disagreement about what is appropriate due process in any situation but the charges against Dr. Simon were not accepted at face value and without investigation. Dr. Simon was provided due process as called for in the sexual harassment policy of the University,” Carlson wrote. “In my judgment, the process that was followed was appropriate, balancing the rights of Dr. Simon to investigation and due process while also protecting those who made the accusations.”

Failure to protect people making accusations has been a shortfall in coverage of the Simon case, Carter wrote in an e-mail.

He said the policy exists to protect those who are victims of sexual harassment, which is a real threat.

“They are reluctant to come forward because they don’t think they will be believed, they won’t be taken seriously, or nothing will be done and the situation will get worse because they came forward. Then, if they are taken seriously and something is done, they have to stand by and watch the person who has made their lives miserable for so long portrayed daily as the victim,” Carter wrote.

Zeman said considerations need to be made for victims to prevent retaliation from those they accused.

The association has maintained these matters should be as confidential as possible, Zeman said, but people should still have the right to know who their accusers are.

Generally, the accused would already know who brought about the complaint, he said.

“If I were to harass somebody and I was guilty, I would know who it was I harassed,” Zeman said. “If it turns out that I get a complaint against me and I don’t know who it is, something’s wrong.”

Through e-mail, Carlson said he regrets that the discussion came after the death of Simon, whom he called “an outstanding scholar and extraordinary teacher.”

“It tarnishes his legacy and I will do my best not to contribute to the public discussion. We can and should have a campus debate about sexual harassment but we do not need to have it while dragging in the personal specifics of a man who has died,” Carlson wrote.

Harriet Simon said her late husband would have been in favor of anything that fought the charges against him.

“There’s been a lot of emphasis on keeping things confidential and not disparaging the university. I think it’s a lot more important to fix the problems, to improve the due process system, to fix the policy – in this case it’s the sexual harassment policy – instead of hushing it all up and kicking it under the rug,” she said.

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

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