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Letter to the editor: Chair of trustees has full confidence in President

To the Grinnell community,

As chair of the board of trustees, I was dismayed by the personal hostility expressed in the recent letter to the editor from Cid Standifer ’07, and the lack of facts to support Standifer’s request for President Kington’s resignation.

Standifer asserts that “Grinnell administrators under [Kington’s] tenure have deliberately tried to prevent sexual assault survivors from speaking out about their experiences with the administration.” Her primary basis for this charge is her claim that the head of student media fired a GUM editor, “seemingly at the administration’s behest.” In fact, the GUM editor was fired by SPARC, a student organization, and I have found no evidence that President Kington or any other administrator played a role in SPARC’s decision.

Other charges in Standifer’s letter are contradicted by facts related in the Huffington Post article about Grinnell, or the national media coverage that followed. For example, Standifer derides Grinnell’s decision to seek technical advice from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights on March 2, 2015, as “sleight of hand,” implying that the College must have known that several Grinnell students had already submitted a complaint to the OCR. But the students’ own legal adviser, Rebecca Stout, confirmed to the Iowa City Press-Citizen two days later that she had not informed the College about the existence of the student complaint.

Standifer also claims without citing a source that President Kington “told a survivor that [he didn’t] want to hear her voice and that [he was] ashamed a student like her would graduate from Grinnell.” I must assume that Standifer’s reference is to a Spring 2012 interaction between President Kington and several survivors. As board chair, I am versed in the facts of that exchange and find no support for Standifer’s allegation.

The interaction actually comprised two meetings. In the first, four students who identified as survivors met with President Kington. During that meeting, one of the students became very angry and raised her voice. Her comments could be heard through his closed office door and throughout the first floor of Nollen House. Even so, President Kington continued the discussion and wrapped up by promising the group that the College would look closely at its Title IX practices.

Later that night, one of the other students involved emailed President Kington to apologize for the tone of the conversation. He thanked her for raising such an important issue and assured her that there was no need for her to apologize based on her conduct in that meeting.

The next day, the President and Title IX coordinator Angela Voos met with the student who had spoken angrily the day before. During the meeting, President Kington explained to the student that he was disappointed by her disrespectful manner the previous day. He noted that the seriousness of her concerns did not give her the right to be rude or hostile. She did not respond, but made it clear that she was not interested in listening to his perspective. He ended the brief meeting by explaining that if she spoke to him in a similar manner in the future, he would ask her to leave his office.

Over the next few days, President Kington learned that the student was telling people that he had threatened to have her dismissed from the College. This was not the case. He wrote her the following email to reassure her that this was not true (the text is verbatim; the student’s name is redacted to protect her privacy):

“XXX—I wanted to clarify a comment I made during the time you were in my office last week when I was accompanied by Angela Voos. At the end of my comments, I informed you that if you spoke to me disrespectfully in the future, I would ask you to leave. I meant that I would ask you to leave my office. I have neither the desire nor the authority to expel or suspend you from the college or to in any way harm your future based on one conversation. I do realize that you are seeking to address an extremely important issue, and I do wish you the best in your efforts as you close out your tenure here at Grinnell.”

The facts shows that President Kington responded to a difficult situation appropriately, while expressing compassion for students who were clearly angry and in emotional pain. Consistent with his role as the president of an educational institution, he viewed it as his responsibility to educate students and model for them how to initiate discussions on difficult topics. As board chair and Dr. Kington’s ultimate supervisor, this is the kind of conduct my board colleagues and I expect from our President.

President Kington has been the driving force on campus for review and reform of campus policies and procedures related to sexual assaults. In the spring of 2012, he commissioned an independent audit of the College’s policies, procedures and practices with respect to sexual violence.

Since that time, the President has continued to exercise leadership, appointing a Title IX Coordinator who reports directly to him; remaining engaged in the effective design of structure, policy and resources; and critically questioning what we do and how we do it, instead of being satisfied with the status quo. As stated in his March 2015 letter, “if Grinnell has fallen short at any point, I want to know about it now, continue to address the problems, and make things right for our students.”

My fellow trustees and I have full confidence that President Kington will make good on his promise and that Grinnell will be a place where students feel welcome, safe and treated fairly and compassionately.

Clint Korver ’89

Chair, Grinnell Board of Trustees

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  • L

    LongtoothApr 20, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Does trustee chair Korver speak for himself or is this letter representative of a unanimous trustee sentiment?

    Colleagues on the search committees for Kington, Osgood and Ferguson have observed to me the trustees were singularly focused on Ferguson, feigned collaboration over Osgood and desperately clung to Kington as other finalists bailed.

    I understand better now why the trustees gave Ferguson so much budget freedom, let Osgood run amok and now are timid with Kington — the president must succeed to validate their choice. To hell with what is right or best.

  • G

    Grin alumApr 13, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    These responses to Korver’s letter are so muddled and poorly constructed that it is hard to believe they were written by Grinnell students and graduates.
    The tenor of the responses are strikingly reminiscent of the “believe the victim” mania that we saw during the wave of false child molestation accusations in the 1980s.

  • R

    Robert McGeeApr 11, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Standifer made a request to the president and the chairman of the board responds. Was there a fear that the president would mishandle his response? It seems like every time someone says something, the school goes up a weight class and punches back.

    I, personally, don’t understand why ANY college thinks they have dominion in the realm of serious criminal activity. This quasi-legal system is absurd. A system designed to deter plagiarism has no business passing judgement on sexual assault cases. You found someone accountable of “nonconsensual penetrative intercourse.” If that wasn’t your moment to step back and ask the question, “Have we gone completely insane?” then I don’t think you’ll ever get it.
    Stealing research notes or improperly citing sources may warrant apology letters or probation. Crimes belong in court, and clearly Grinnell is one of the schools interested in obfuscating that process to protect their image.

  • C

    Cid StandiferApr 10, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    So what you’re telling me is, Grinnell’s current Title IX coordinator passively participated in verbally intimidating a sexual assault survivor. And you’re ok with that.

  • L

    LongtoothApr 10, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    Still trying to wrap my head around this…

    We all hear the scuttle about RSK’s very thin skin and bellicose temper behind closed doors — I just never imagined he was also so insecure that he needed the BOT Chair to respond to one measly letter to the editor in the S&B (with respect, not really a widely read or relied upon news source).

    To say this letter is outre is just part of the problem, far larger is that both president and BOT chair devoted time and high priority to a response.

    Methinks those victims of assault and other such heinous behavior would appreciate commensurate attention to their issue as well.

  • A

    A WitnessApr 10, 2015 at 11:54 am

    I was one of the students in the room who witnessed this event. Though it was three years ago, I will never forget it. A survivor who had experienced multiple counts of sexual assault while at Grinnell described these incidents to the President, and said that the College had not done its part to protect her and other women. She had every reason to be upset. The President yelled at her, made her cry, and expressed his dismay that students like her would graduate from Grinnell. I was only a first year at the time, but I was absolutely horrified that the President of a reputable institution would display such a woeful lack of professionalism and empathy.

    I encourage members of the campus community to privilege the voices of student survivors, past and present. Why would they share these damning stories with the campus community if they did not stem from real concerns? Of course the College and its Board of Trustees has every interest in covering up the President’s missteps. As this letter to the editor makes clear, Corver wants to protect Grinnell’s image and can only do so by further silencing survivors and their allies. Perhaps the question we should be asking is: When will the campus community start to believe the survivors?

  • M

    MonaApr 10, 2015 at 2:41 am

    There are many deeply offensive lies in this letter, and one that can be dispelled right away is: “In the spring of 2012, he commissioned an independent audit of the College’s policies, procedures and practices with respect to sexual violence.” Please learn more about who these “independent auditors” are: They do not demonstrate Grinnell’s pro-active approach to sexual assault, but rather highlight how its priority is first its institutional image. (Also note the tone of Kington’s email–should the President really be talking about the “disrespectful” affect of a survivor who felt she was not receiving adequate support from the college?