Part Six: Introducing the “Need for Speed” in the Illusion of Inclusion
Contributing Writer Juliette Daniels continues her in depth series on Law & Justice in Whatcom County
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Guest writer Paud de Armond has followed this issue closely.
Tuesday, May 26, Division One of the Washington Appeals Court handed down a ruling in the case of Perry Mills v. Western Washington University. It’s a long and complex tale: http://perrymills.blogspot.com.
The public record is mostly dominated by the university’s attempt to fire whistle-blower Professor Perry Mills and, failing that, to silence him. The ugly secret the university has tried to hide is the misappropriation of student course fees in the theater department. After blowing the whistle on his superiors, Mills found himself in hot water.
No criminal complaint has been filed, but state law is clear about diverting funds.
In March 2003, in response to a complaint from Mills, the university began an audit on the missing student course fees. Mark Kuntz, the department chair who diverted the money, was appointed to the audit committee and also to a committee to rewrite the university policy on student course fees. In May 2004, Kuntz wrote the first memo demanding Mills be fired. By July 2004, the cover-up was complete and the sanitized audit report was officially released.
It immediately drew fire from a former dean, who memo’ed the university auditor, “To have claimed, as the [Provost’s] response does, that no action will be taken because no policies were in place is absolutely false and misleading; I should think that there is a legal implication to this sort of denial.” The audit report pivots on the university ignoring the funds were earmarked by being collected for a single purpose and could not be used otherwise. In sworn testimony, Kuntz admitted the funds should have been returned to the students.
The apparent failure of the cover-up was followed by the university’s attack on Professor Mills career. In October 2004, Mills was suspended from teaching and escorted from campus by university police. Kuntz had once again manipulated the university by producing student complaints later found to be baseless. As successive accusations were knocked down, new ones were created.
The see-saw legal battle was initiated in 2005 by Mills suing Western in Federal Court for suspending him without disclosing any charges or holding a hearing to determine the facts. The university was directed by the federal court to hold such a hearing, which the university closed to the public by ejecting this reporter. The need for secrecy ultimately proved to be their downfall because closed hearings are illegal.
Here’s the story from the Whatcom Independent.
The state appeals court nullified the university’s actions and directed them to start over from the beginning.
The university has numerous options, including: appealing to the state Supreme Court to vacate the appeals court ruling; holding another hearing – this time open to public scrutiny; or reaching a settlement with Mills. Currently, they are weighing their next action. A public hearing will very likely dwell on the university’s alleged retaliation for Mills blowing the whistle on the financial irregularities.
Tuesday’s appellate ruling awards attorney’s fees to Mills and that number will probably have five or six digits. The award amount will be set by the court later.
The university’s attempted cover-up will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars when the bill is finally totaled up. It’s long past time to let a little sunshine into those ivy-covered halls.