Section: News

At Safety Office, a growing discontent

At Safety Office, a growing discontent

by Henri Gendreau

Several current and former officers have alleged that Kenyon’s Office of Campus Safety operates by an informal “old boy network” that subjects disfavored officers to intimidation, discrimination and harassment.

Two current officers, who spoke anonymously for fear of retaliation, described a department where officers outside a core “clique” were belittled and disciplined for actions other officers got away with.

“It sounds like the freaking mafia,” one officer said. “But for the people that have worked here for a long time, everybody knows what the deal is. You just have to watch out for yourself.”

 

A call for action

Earlier this year, unsigned letters describing a poor working environment in Campus Safety were sent to College officials and the Collegian office. One of the letters — sent to President Sean Decatur, Provost Joe Klesner, Ombudsperson Carrie Knell and Dean of Students Hank Toutain, and obtained by the Collegian — depicted a department rife with internal discord.

The letters, according to their autor, were anonymous “because of the retaliation that will surely follow should my name be mentioned.”

 

“The fact [that] Bob Hooper turns a blind eye when it comes to a certain few in the office and seems to get an enjoyment out of bullying, intimidating and just down right picking on others is getting very old,” one letter read, referring to the director of campus safety.

 

“I do know that the department as a whole is not behind this,” Hooper, who has been director since 2007, wrote in an email, referring to the allegations. “We are continuing to work on this as a department and have met multiple times with union representatives.” Hooper said he was unavailable to meet for an interview.

 

Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman, who oversees Campus Safety, said no formal complaints of the type described in the letter had been brought to his attention in the past year.

 

Decatur said, “Between the union and the ombudsperson and human resources, I think there are places to go outside of the department. … In my understanding, there was follow-up.”

 

Accounts of unrest

 

In April 2012, Safety entered into the Security, Police, Fire Professionals of America union because of fears the department would become a “part-time” office and put full-time positions in jeopardy, the first officer said.

Before the union, “it was made very clear to me that you don’t complain, especially in writing,” the officer said. “They will get even with you, and they will make your life miserable.”

 

But despite the protections offered by the union, “still everybody holds back,” a second officer said. “Because some things you can file grievances on, but the way they treat you and get even and retaliate against you, you can’t really file a grievance on that, because it’s basically nit-picking,” the officer said. “They will just dog you to death.”

 

On Aug. 16, 2013, Mike Reardon, a former part-time officer, was off-duty and working out at the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC) while the football team was lifting weights nearby. Reardon complained their music was too loud, and when it was not turned down,  a KAC staff member overheard Reardon saying he didn’t “need to listen to this n— jungle music.” After Hooper investigated the incident, Reardon was fired. Reardon maintains that the union didn’t fight hard enough to protect his job.

 

“I come from a different generation where that’s [just] a description to me,” Reardon said. “Same as you saying ‘I’m a redneck’ or ‘I like redneck music’ or something like that.” He insists he doesn’t have “an ax to grind.”

 

“You can forgive people, but you can’t forget,” Reardon said. “What’s fair is fair, and Hooper was very unfair.”

 

Reardon claims that second-shift supervisor Greg von Freymann “made a comment to a Mexican girl that was far worse than what I did. All I did was say it about music. Nothing happened to von Freymann.”

 

According to Reardon and the second officer, von Freymann underwent cultural sensitivity training after the alleged incident. Jennifer Cabral, head of the Office of Human Resources (HR), denied a request for the personnel files of the director and supervisors, citing privacy concerns. Von Freymann wrote in an email Wednesday night that he could not “make a statement in regards to any accusations without the consent of the Director of Campus Safety” due to office policies.

 

Reardon said before his incident at the KAC he had gone to HR complaining about the office environment.

 

“It’s so divided and the morale is so poor, I’m surprised that it even functions,” Reardon said, adding that a number of officers “are all pushed off to the side,” while the director, supervisors and others “pretty much do what they damn well please.”

 

Reardon claims HR then informed Campus Safety of his complaints — an allegation echoed by the two current officers. Cabral is on vacation and did not respond to repeated inquiries seeking comment on this matter.  Kohlman said all conversations with HR and the Office of the Ombudsperson Office are confidential.

 

The first officer said Kenyon’s complaint resolution process works well on paper, but not in practice. “It’s really pathetic, it really is, and most people know that,” the officer said. “Most [of] the times, you just grin and bear it because it’s just not worth the price you’re going to pay for doing it, not if you want to continue to work here, really. At some points, you just throw in the towel and say, ‘I’ll just put up with it.’”

 

A question of degree and inconsistency

 

Some officers also that said an atmosphere of mistrust surrounds Safety’s management. One officer said Hooper “holds himself out to have a bachelor’s degree” from The Ohio State University (OSU).

 

A spokesman at OSU said Hooper was enrolled at the Agricultural Technical Institute at Wooster from 1978-9, but did not complete his associate degree.

“I was not able to complete my degree due to a family emergency,” Hooper wrote in an email to the Collegian. “Life significantly changed and life needed to move on.”

 

The first officer said Hooper “has a problem with honesty and credibility, and that [example is] just one of many.” The lack of a degree “doesn’t preclude you from being a good director of campus safety,” the officer said. “The problem is he’s lied and lied and lied about it.”

 

Hooper said that in conversations with officers about “my college experience … people seem to add or take away what they wish to.”

 

Hooper is listed in Kenyon Course of Study catalogues from 2000-1 (when administrators’ degrees were first included) to 2010-11 (the most recent available in the College archives) as having a “B.S.” — a Bachelor of Science — from OSU. “I looked that up today and do not know why that is,” Hooper said in an email Wednesday. “I will have it corrected.”

 

Looking to the future

 

The second officer described Campus Safety as “just five people over there that can basically run the office and do what they want to do. If you’re not one of them, then your life’s basically going to be a living hell.”

 

Several other officers did not respond to repeated requests for interviews.

 

Teri Pokosh, a telecommunications officer, wrote in an email, “Are there some problems? Definitely. But I would have to say that my time working here (almost eight years now) has been the best job I’ve ever had.”

 

Jim O’Daire, a safety officer from 1989 until his retirement in 2007, said, “I think most parties felt that there was favoritism among officers.” He added that “certain people wouldn’t do their jobs. I went to higher-up people and nothing was ever done.”

 

One person with knowledge of the office, who spoke anonymously, described alleged favoritism and harassment in the office as nothing new.

“I think if there was just one or two angry people you could say it was a grudge,” the person said. “I say when it is the majority of the department over a long time with consistent complaints, you pass ‘grudge’ and become ‘common practice.’”

 

Hooper said in an email that he is “attempting to prepare for an external review” of the office next week, which will mark about five months after the letter sent to College officials warned of a fraying department.

 

“There is intimidation, fear, favoritism, bullying and retaliation,” the letter said. “I can’t stress enough the seriousness of this ongoing situation happening at the office. A total breakdown of this office is coming.”

 

 

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