Chicago -- Eastern Michigan University has fired school president John A. Fallon III and two other top officials, less than two weeks after a federal investigation found that administrators broke the law by covering up the rape and murder of an undergraduate student.
Officials with the Ypsilanti, Mich., school announced yesterday afternoon that Cindy Hall, who headed up the school's campus police department, and school vice president Jim Vick, who oversaw the school's housing and campus police departments, were forced out.
A day earlier, the school's Board of Regents held an emergency telephone conference and unanimously voted to end Fallon's five-year employment contract. Regents said they spent weeks trying to negotiate with Fallon - to little avail - a suitable punishment for his role in the scandal over the death of Laura Dickinson.
Last December, Dickinson's body was found inside her dorm room at Hill Hall, naked from the waist down, a pillow covering her head and traces of semen on her leg. For 10 weeks, university officials told the Dickinson family, students and the community that no foul play was suspected.
Only when a fellow EMU student, Orange Amir Taylor III, was arrested on Feb. 23 and charged with the crime did school officials acknowledge the crew team member had been brutally murdered.
The firings come in the wake of a U.S. Department of Education report and an independent law firm investigation that concluded EMU staff had violated the Clery Act. The federal law requires colleges and universities to disclose information about campus crimes and warn students of threats to their safety.
Some university officials did not know there was a criminal investigation and unknowingly passed along misinformation, according to both reports. But others, including Vick and Hall, made a conscious decision to not warn students or tell the Dickinsons, in part to preserve the public image of the school.
Dickinson's death also underscored a systemic problem in how EMU reported campus crimes, ranging from downplaying serious crimes to neglecting to update daily police logs, according to the federal report. One key example: School officials labeled eight cases of sexual assault as "non-forcible" encounters in the EMU campus crime statistics - which are often used by parents and would-be students when weighing college choices.
"As a university, we've gone through enough pain," said Regent James Stapleton. "There was a breakdown in the fundamental governance of this school, and these staffing changes had to happen."
Regents have appointed Provost Donald Loppnow as executive vice president. He will act as the school's chief executive, as officials try to find an interim president before fall classes begin in early September, Stapleton said.
Vick said yesterday that he doesn't regret his actions.
"I didn't do anything wrong. I stand by what I've done," said Vick, 59.
Among other things, Vick told the Dickinson family that no foul play was suspected in their daughter's death. He also directed school staff to shred a police report about the investigation into Dickinson's demise, according to a 568-page report by the Detroit law firm of Butzel Long, commissioned by the school's regents and released last month.
Vick insists that he has become a scapegoat for the university's board of regents.
Fallon could not be reached for comment yesterday. He told the Ann Arbor News that he had relied solely on Vick for information about the case.
Hall did not return calls for comment yesterday. The Butzel Long report found that she told concerned school staff that they should not deviate from the assertion that no foul play was suspected. Instead, she told them to describe Laura's murder as a "death investigation" rather than a "homicide investigation" in order to not give out unnecessary information while officers searched for the perpetrator.
The subsequent fall-out from Dickinson's murder has stunned the community of Ypsilanti, a suburb of 22,000 located southwest of Detroit. One of the students' concerns is if, or how, the federal government will penalize the school. By violating the law, the university could face sanctions that range from fines to losing access to federal funds.
P.J. Huffstutter writes for the Los Angeles Times.