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11.20.2004

Defamation

This is a statement written by a former Taylor student. I had originally decided against publishing it, but I since we're talking about full disclosure tonight...

I'm keeping the author's name out unless they say it's okay to use it. The author graduated from Taylor in the Spring of 2003. Remember, this is a third-party statement. I have no reason to question its accuracy; the details, to my knowledge have been verified by at least one other party. Similar incidents have been described to me by other people, as well.

One Evening in the early Fall of 2002 my friend and I were talking with Wesley English, then co-editor of the Taylor Newspaper: The Echo. He was sharing some of his frustrations at the paper with fellow students, as most leaders divulge these to their friends. Later, the conversation turned to missing equipment from the department, specifically a camera. I suppose it came about because Wesley knew I was acquainted with Justin McLaughlin. As it was presented to me, Justin had used the camera, had access to the camera, and so clearly had stolen the camera. Wesley stated it so quickly as if it were fact. I was shocked and questioned him, knowing that Justin was away for the semester and curious to how this could have happened.

Though I do not remember the exact conversation, it was made clear to me that “everyone in the department” was sure that Justin had taken these items. As I pushed further, Wesley was hesitant to talk about details claiming “he couldn’t say why” but Justin was “the only person who could have done it.” Concerned, I questioned his and the faculty’s actions, asking if anyone had spoken to Justin about the missing equipment. I found that no one had even approached Justin about the missing items, though I know that he was available as professors did contact him throughout the semester. When I asked if someone would sometime in the future, Wesley just shrugged it off. Later, talking to my friend who was also present for the conversation I remember wondering from Wesley’s demeanor if he truly knew any facts, or was simply talking about this verbatim from what he had heard from others in the department.

Later I brought the subject up again, troubled that an entire department would accuse someone without even speaking with them. I found that no further steps had been taken though “everyone was sure it was Justin.” I suggested that Wesley himself contact Justin, or ask a professor to, because I was sure that Justin wouldn’t steal something and if he was responsible for missing equipment it was probably a misunderstanding. Wesley was reluctant to listen to my suggestions and was clearly ignoring the real need to find evidence about the cameras whereabouts, though maintained that everyone in the department was sure it had been Justin. I do not remember if Wesley was sure that Justin was guilty or not, but am sure that he said what he needed to end the conversation.

I myself was the one to tell Justin of his guilt. I thought that surely someone had spoken to him about it by then, but he was unaware of any missing items from the department, let alone his guilt.

Though I am unable to remember the exact details of these conversations, I distinctly remember the message: Justin stole this stuff and everyone knows it. Had I not known Justin, I would have walked away and, as is human nature, told someone else about a horrible stealing student, I’m sure. It was only after probing that I heard the greater crime: no one was doing anything about it. However, obvious action WAS being taken – everyone was told (I suspect without any evidence as I was) that Justin had in fact stolen these items. A the year progressed a stolen camera, or any missing items, were never presented to the student body. I never should have known that anything was missing, and I certainly should not have been told that Justin was a suspect, let alone that he had in fact stolen them. Yet, I was. The disturbing part is that I am sure countless others were and think it to this day.

It still baffles me that students in leadership and faculty would not only sit idly by while valuable items were missing from a department, but would choose to blame – or at the very least allow others to blame – an individual who had never been questioned, even casually, about the items. If professors did not initiate or encourage the rumor they certainly turned a deaf ear to it, an abuse of leadership.

So. What I need to understand here, is how does telling people that you're a thief not harm your reputation? If someone will explain that to me, I'd be grateful. And the author of this statement wasn't the only who came to me saying they'd heard similar things from Wes.

Another told me, "He totally tried to turn me against you." Still another said, "I told him, Justin wouldn't still a camera..." And one of my first tip offs in January 2003 that not all was well is when Wesley said, before letting me into the Echo office to retrieve some old clips, "You're not going to rob us blind, are you?" At the time, that was a confusing statement. It's pretty clear now.

Also, just because I haven't had time to write about something doesn't mean I'm trying to hide it. I only have so much time. I'll get to as much as I can, I promise. And before I go:
"to constitute slander actionable per se, there must be an imputation of an indictable offense involving infamy or moral turpitude..." Restatement (Second) of Torts § 558
I'm not going to say much more about this. Just that that means when you accuse some of committing a crime without qualified privilege, they don't need to plead actual (money) damages when they sue you. The damage to a person's reputation is presumed by the courts, and enough for them to award damages.


Life Together

The conversation here has taken a turn I well expected. Loyalty and the expectation of loyalty to Taylor are fierce powers.

I remember being overly offended one day, as I listened to a mass communication major complain about the school (and in that department, we had mucho to complain about). "I believed the admissions lies," she said to me.

Wait. I work there. I work hard there. I love working there. We don't lie. At least I didn't. At least, not until the end. By my last summer on campus I found it nearly impossible to give tours. The thought of telling one more group of people how wonderful Taylor was made me literally want to cry. I wanted to tell them how I hurt -- how I'd been hurt. How I suffered trauma that I will undoubtedly carry with me in some form for the rest of my life. Yet I sucked it up and took the art of spin to new heights. I'm glad I'm a good actor. After all, apps were down that year and I had a job to do.

All that to say, I understand the defensiveness. As students, most of us got to see the school through rose colored glasses. My rose colored glasses got trampled, and that's probably a good thing. Take yours off and look real hard. Reality has a way of just sneaking up on you, so be careful. Don't do it unless you're prepared for the truth.

And yeah, there's something to be said for turning the other cheek, I'm sure. Some of you seem to be telling me to do that, as if it's the first time I've ever heard it. Well, I turned the other cheek so many times at Taylor that I started spinning in circles.

Yes, people are sinful. I know that. People make mistakes. I know that. We all get hurt. I know that. And I can forgive all that. I have forgiven all that.

But then, there's how we respond to those we've hurt. I'm not going to repeat the Life Together Covenant, here. We all know what it says. I know it by heart, I read it over and over again to hundreds of families that passed through Taylor's doors.

I guess, I just expected Taylor to live up to the ideal that it crams down its student's throats. The notion of community and life together. I guess I didn't expect them to toss out the LTC when I started to apply it to them. When I decided that I would hold them accountable, that I'd confront them in love, the gloves came off and the LTC was no where to be found.

But then, I think my copy of the LTC was defective. It must've been incomplete because I'm still looking for the clause about calling in your lawyer when a conflict arises. I can't find the part about issuing criminal trespass orders to people who challenge you, either. I didn't notice that there was a part where when/if someone may have done/did something wrong we spread that information behind their back to everyone we can think off. I also missed the section that says we're to disrespect the privacy rights and sacrosanct communications to make ourselves feel better. I'd love to read the part about subjecting each other to medical tests against our will.

This is my obligation to Taylor and its community. I will fulfill it. Ask yourself why you're angry with me. Because I'm disloyal to the school? Or, is it because I actually have something to be disloyal about?

11.18.2004

Denial of Access

I can't do my job without records. Having access to them is important. I spend my days collecting records, most of which will never lead to anything. I mine them for the smallest piece of information, something that will hopefully lead me to a human source. And people are much more willing to talk to reporters than you might think.

Recently, I stumbled across a small notice that someone in town was transferring a liquor license. No big deal, until I mentioned it to someone who knew the owner of the license. Their response prompted me to look further -- I discovered he was transferring his license to a part of town that already had 8 bars in a 3 block area. I kept digging, and discoverd multiple liquor law violations, and several thousand dollars in fines on that one license. The most astonishing, his last bar garnered 90 police dispatches in about two year's time. With my reporting, the residents in that area are now fighting to keep at least one bar off their streets. The LCB recieved a record number of complaints about the license transfer.

All that came about because I had unhindered access to records and the cooperation of those keeping the records. Usually, special projects reporting like that is much more difficult. But they were willing to cooperate, in part because of the law, but also -- because they had no vested interest in the contents.

It's not so at Taylor. When it comes to their campus police reports, they seem to have great interest in keeping them secret. I'm surprised that no one but me wants to ask them why.

This is a detailed report from Indiana's public access counselor erroneously declaring Taylor's police force to be a private entity, even though they possess statutory police powers. Be clear about this, Taylor's police can arrest you and carry weapons, but you can't read their reports if they don't want you to. Grant County's sheriff's deputies have the exact same powers, but they're captured under the public access laws.

In short, the PAC is wrong. He rejected most of Ice Miller's woefully inadequate legal reasoning, but still fails to interpret the law correctly. The law says it's to be interpreted broadly, but he instead interpreted it narrowly. He prejudged Taylor as a private institution and then applied the provisions of the law -- having already decided the status of Taylor's police force.

It's clear to anyone reading, that Taylor's police force is firmly captured under the law's provisions. Taylor, Ice Miller and Michael Hurst (the PAC) are the only one's who can't seem to understand that.

This is one fight that is far from over. Far. There's a new public access counselor in the state now; hopefully she'll be able to interpret the law correctly.

The Church or Academia?

Where does Taylor's real problems lie? Is the way it treats some of its students a symptom of the toxic churches and legalistic Christianity or of a decaying system of higher education in which schools are given overwhemling and unreasonable control over their students?

Probably both -- and that makes it worse. Many schools treat their students the way I was treated at Taylor; but the guilty at Taylor believe they were doing it in the name of God.

This creates an arrogance that most secular schools don't have. Taylor employees don't make mistakes like this, because they're Taylor employees. They don't treat people poorly because they work for Taylor. The school's reputation, however deserved or undeserved, preceeds it -- and it speaks all we should want to know. Nothing that I say here could be true, because I say it happened at Taylor. And if it is true, I'm exaggerating, because, after all, we're talking about Taylor. Things like this don't happen at Taylor.

This arragance is visible in the church at large and Taylor has inherited it. But then, they've inherited a cancer permeating secular schools across the country: the denial of due process.

Maybe, Taylor's taken to denying due process because of that arrogance passed down from the church. The employees are older than the students, charged with doing God's work, so they know best, right? They can do whatever they want.

At Taylor, I've been tried, convicted and punished without knowing most of my "crimes" or being given the chance to mount a defense. It was done around me, in secret. That's cowardice.

But they don't believe they've done anything wrong. In their eyes, I'm more wrong for speaking out. I've been called bitter and angry by at least one person here. I've been told to just "pray" about it, because obviously I haven't been for the past two years -- or I wouldn't feel the way I do.

Silence is an enemy here.


The Chronicle's Response

I'm pleasantly surprised by this letter from the Chronicle-Tribune's editor. Their response is world apart from how Taylor generally responds to criticism. This arrived several days ago, but I've just now had the chance to get to it.

Mr. McLaughlin.

Thanks for your note. You make some good points for us to consider.

As you know, Jim Garringer's work is always accompanied by a statement letting readers know where he works and why he is aware of the events going on at Taylor University. As you point out, it's always possible that someone might be confused. In order to avoid any confusion or appearance of a conflict of interest, we will identify Mr. Garringer's future work as a periodic column for the Chronicle-Tribune. This is an opportunity that is given to several other local people in the newspaper's ongoing efforts to inform readers about community happenings and present diversified perspectives and voices.

Thanks for your interest and readership.

Sincerely,

Tammy Pearson, Managing Editor
Chronicle-Tribune, Marion, Ind.
That's an excellent idea that will help to eliminate any confusion from readers.

11.16.2004

"The campus is fine"

In the course of my time at Taylor I had my privacy walked on and systematically violated as if I were a small child and the "adults" at Taylor were my parents. I've tried very hard to rationlize why this is okay -- why, "the campus is fine" in the eyes of so many. Why things I describe here, which have happened to more than just me, aren't enough to turn the stomachs of everyone who reads them.

In the course of my time at Taylor I had my personhood diminished to point near no-return. I felt absolutely wortheless because of the things that were constantly said to me and about me by people who should've known better. Things that were so utterly far from the truth it not only hurts to hear them, but it astonishes me to know that they're about me. And it was constant beating, a constant barrage of flaming-arrows that demeaned me and burned away my self-confidence, from more than one person.

And in the midst of that, the very people launching those arrows were using my counselor as if he were their personal information service. They, at the very least, questioned him about me routinely. I told him things that I didn't want to tell them, that I wouldn't tell them -- so they went above my head.

And this is the chilling effect. They didn't think twice about it. They did it over, and over, and over again. They did it to me and there's no reason to believe they wouldn't do it to others.

I once told my counselor, "It bothers me a lot that she talks to you all the time," speaking of the Youth Conference co-director who did her best to undermine my sense of self-worth. His response, "It should."

Yet, "the campus is fine."

By the end of Youth Conference (2002), I was so beaten up that I almost didn't make it through the ordeal. A week before, my counselor came to my room at 1 am -- I was sitting on the couch, crying.

"I hate her more than I've ever hated anyone in my life," I told him -- speaking of the Youth Conference director. It was a phrase he'd later repeat to me, to remind me of how I once felt. The hatred passed quickly. After the stress of Youth Conference was gone, it became clear that she wasn't worth the time or frustration I'd felt for almost 9 months. Not even close.

"I don't want to do this anymore," I said to him, speaking about leading the conference. He replied, saying that he could easily have me relieved. No one would have to know it was my decision and it could all be over. I told him I couldn't. I would've quit in January (4 months before) had I believe the cabinet would've continued under the director's leadership. And my leaving a week before couldn't have been good. I owed the some 500 people coming to the conference and all those who worked with me a lot more than that.

I spent that night in the health center, the rest of the week checking in with my counselor daily. He stuck his neck out for me quite far that week -- telling the administration that removing me from the conference at that point would've been distasterous for all involved, including myself. He was right.

The conference went great. Other than being extremely sick, I couldn't have asked for a better weekend.

But the damage was done. My melt-down the week before was the culmination of nine months of emotional abuse and convenient timing.

A few days before, I was called to a meeting with Mary Rayburn, the director for TWO. I had sent an e-mail to the Dean of Students asking for his help with the conlflict with my director. I shared it with my student co-director and she in turn shared it with Mary Rayburn -- whom of course (I assume) told the conference director.

I received no help, but rather thinly-veiled threats to not go over their heads again. In an hour-and-a-half meeting, Mary Rayburn told me that she, and several others on campus (the conference director, Richard Allen Farmer, Walt Campbell and probably more that I don't know about) had a meeting. And in that meeting, based on the director's testimony and "some of (my) e-mails" decided that I was insubordinate, disrespectful, etc., etc. Mary Rayburn's words were, "be careful."

"Of what?" I asked, not quite sure how to take a warning like that.

"I'm telling you to be careful," she said. She proceeded to explain to me how I'd failed the conference, the school and all the youth that were coming. That my voluminous "mistakes" over the last nine months had placed the conference in peril. The message was clear, I was worthless, hadn't done anything right and she didn't like me going over her head (though my co-director and I had come to her numerous times before that for help). They would've have been better off removing me from the conference earlier in the semester, but had been "convinced not to" by someone (she wouldn't tell me whom).

If all that were true, this might be a different story. But in reality, my marketing plans for the conference increased attendence to heights it hadn't seen in many years. I did a lot for the conference and Mary Rayburn would tell me on the phone later that summer that I "showed tremendous vision." Still, I started to believe the things they were saying to me. I'd been degraded to a point where I wasn't able to clearly perceive my own self-image. That happened a lot at Taylor.

I stood up for myself though. I said, "I believe I've been treated very poorly and nothing you've said here changes that."

"Okay," she replied.

And then I left. It was 5:30, she had talked for a half-hour. I went back to my room. I sat on the couch and burst into tears. I was so drained that I couldn't even think clearly. By 6:00, I pulled myself together and went to the admissions office to prepare for the CREW meeting. I was one of the CREW interns and it was the one place on campus where my superiors built me up instead of tearing me down, where the student staff worked well together, where I was treated like a person as opposed to a stepping stool.

I called my supervisor in admissions to ask her a question about that night's meeting. We had talked earlier that day and she knew about my earlier meeting with Mary Rayburn. I asked my question but she ignored me and asked how the meeting went. I started to tell her, but decided I couldn't relive it all over the phone.

"Can you come over?" I asked her. She did, immediately. She sat down on the couch beside me and asked, "Well?"

I started crying again. I cried more that year than I've cried in my entire life. I laid my head on her shoulder and cried for nearly half-an-hour. She said to me later, "You're amazing, do you know that? Don't let them make you think you're not, because you are..." Her words still ring in my ears.

When the other CREW intern came in, she looked at me, frowned and gave me a hug. I didn't even have to tell her how the meeting had gone.

But, I pushed all that aside for the coming week. I had a large small-group leader meeting on Wednesday and a conference of prayer on Thursday to get through. I had to be strong. I had to manage -- and I did -- until the weekend.

I held everything together until Sunday night, when my counselor found me in my room -- completely broken and devestated.

Yet, "the campus is fine." I wish the person who made that comment could tell me that I was the only one to experience something like this -- but I know I wasn't. I wish he could say that I never asked for help or tried to work out the conflict, so I deserved what happened. But I did ask for help -- and was ignored. I did everything in my power to work out the conflict and still plan a very successful conference at the same time. I wish he could say that I am all the things they said I were -- that I were horrible, acted poorly, made bad decisions and completely disrespected those in authority. But I know I didn't. I wish he could say that I've run into these problems throughout my entire life, that when there's a major issue I really am the source. But I had never been treated like that before, and I haven't been since. I wish he could say that Taylor handled the situation correctly, stepping in bodly and decisively to correct it and see that it never happened again. But they didn't.

I wish I could believe the campus is fine, but I know it's not.

PS -- the conference director was quietly relieved of her position that summer. She was replaced by the person who let me cry on her shoulder.