Bryan Crainer resigned from his position as the associate dean for Student Life as SVSU led an inquiry into whether he had an inappropriate intimate relationship with a student, officials say.
Officials confirmed the inquiry after emails obtained by The Valley Vanguard through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) showed Crainer admitted to having an intimate relationship with a woman after she graduated from SVSU.
The Vanguard led the FOIA request after Crainer’s resignation on July 2. University officials did not comment on the nature of Crainer’s resignation until after the Vanguard received the FOIA documents.
According to an email that Dean of Stu- dents Sidney Childs wrote to Crainer on March 26, 2018, Childs and Crainer had met earlier that day to discuss “allegations of [an] inappropriate relationship with a former student who was [a] member of a Registered Student Organization-Forever Red,” of which Crainer was the advisor. Childs wrote in the email to Crainer, “You admitted to having an intimate relationship with this student after she graduated from the University in May 2016.”
In an email to the Vanguard responding to a request for an interview, Crainer also acknowledged the relationship.
“The aforementioned relationship was a situation that I sincerely regret, but it was a personal matter, not a professional one,” he said. “My family and I have confronted the situation and worked through it.”
From inquiry to resignation
The email from Childs to Crainer quotes from the SVSU Operations Manual section 2.6-2, titled Personal Involvements, which discourages such relationships. Such a relationship, according Childs’ email to Crainer, also potentially violates the SVSU Sexual Misconduct Policy section 3.6-1, which “prohibits relationships by persons in authority.”
Childs’ email also states, “Finally, it is the responsibility of the University to investi- gate any allegations of inappropriate relationships and/or any violations of the sexual misconduct policy.”
The meeting referenced in Childs’ email was the first time an SVSU official told Crainer that SVSU would look into the allegations of an inappropriate intimate relationship with a former student, said J.J. Boehm, the director of Media and Community Relations.
“(The alleged relationship) was brought to our attention by a member of the campus community,” Boehm said.
An official inquiry into the allegation was then promptly conducted, Boehm said.
Ellen Crane Freigang, the director of Human Relations, led the inquiry.
“(To see if the relationship occurred before graduation) was part of the inquiry,” she said. “When I had the follow-up conversation with (Crainer), he resigned.”
Crainer’s resignation ended SVSU’s inquiry into the matter, Crane said.
“(The inquiry) didn’t come to a full conclusion,” she said. “We went through a series of interviews. I had a follow-up interview with (Crainer) and brought some information to his attention that triggered the resignation.”
In his email to the Vanguard, Crainer said his decision to resign from SVSU helped him to reevaluate his priorities.
“My resignation from SVSU was just that – a resignation,” he said. “The leave allowed me to separate myself from an unhealthy environment, devote more time to my family and reprioritize things in my life. That being said, I remain a huge fan and supporter of SVSU. I treasure the opportunities the institution afforded me and the great people I had the pleasure of working with.”
Since Crainer resigned, there was “no need to conduct additional inquiry,” Boehm said.
“As things were proceeding, (Crainer) made the decision to resign, and the university accepted his resignation,” he said.
Handling a ‘delicate’ matter
The university followed its standard exit procedures for a resignation, according to an email Crane sent on June 29, 2018, to several witnesses who appeared in prior meetings between Crainer and university officials. An email from Crane to Childs and Jeanette O’Boyle, one of the SVSU administrators who acted as a witness, indicates that the “termination” was “delicate.”
Boehm said the termination was not only delicate because of the nature of the inquiry during which Crainer resigned, but also because of the other parties involved, including the woman in question.
“There are sensitivities involving other parties that we wanted to do our best to be sensitive to,” Boehm said.
During the time period from the inquiry until Crainer’s resignation on July 2, Boehm confirmed that Crainer was not on leave, but he would not address other questions, due to employee privacy.
“Now we’re getting into some things that are personnel matters, and, as a general rule, we are not going to speak often about personnel matters,” Boehm said.
One major factor that Crane cited for the three-month gap between the inquiry and Crainer’s resignation was Crane’s involvement with the SVSU union negotiations that occurred during the time frame.
“A combination of wanting to do a good job talking to the right people, and thinking about next steps very carefully and weaving that into the union negotiations, was a dominant factor during that time period,” Crane said.
Had the university had evidence that student safety was at risk, Crane said, the situation would have been handled differently.
“If you look at the inappropriate relationships policy, it talks about being in a position of authority that could exert influence over someone else,” she said. “So, after graduation, if they’re no longer a student, then there’s no longer an inappropriate relationship. … If you dig into that policy, I think there is a broad continuum of relationships that exist, and you really have to look at who are the two people, their positions, what is the context of their relationship, what’s happening within the relationship.”
While a relationship between a former student and an administrator does not inherently break any SVSU codes, although it is discouraged, Boehm said that, under certain circum- stances, such a relationship could still be inap- propriate.
“We have an obligation to make sure the university and all its representatives are presenting themselves in an ethical, appropriate manner,” he said. “There are occasions where a former student may still have an affiliation with the institution in another capacity that could still make such a relationship inappropriate.”
If there was reason to believe the relationship was ongoing and involved a current student, the inquiry would have been handled differently, Boehm said.
“In a situation where there was information to believe that this may be a current situation, the university would act with a greater sense of urgency in a circumstance like that,” he said. “In this case, the information indicated a prior relationship that had happened years prior. So, while it was still important, it did not have the same sense of urgency if there was information to suggest it was a current situation.”
The university will not fill the associate dean position, Boehm said. Instead, Jason Schoenmeyer, the current associate director of Student Life, will take on most of Crainer’s former responsibilities. SVSU also created two junior Student Life positions to fill Student Life’s needs, as well; Boehm said that the two junior positions have been posted – coordinator of leadership program and coordinator of service and programming. Search committees have been formed, and the search process is underway.
Crainer’s former position as advisor to Forever Red was assumed by Jim Dwyer, the Director of Alumni Relations.
“Ironically, we had discussed the potential of me taking over Forever Red prior to (Crainer’s) leaving, in the sense that (Alumni Relations) is a natural place for this organization,” Dwyer said. “You think of Alumni Relations, and you think of what (Forever Red) is trying to accomplish as an organization, and there was a natural fit for it to transition here.”
Dwyer credited Crainer’s leadership in starting Forever Red as the reason why the organization is still successful.
“(Crainer) had done a tremendous job getting this RSO off the ground with the things he accomplished, but I think that there is a time now, with all (Crainer’s) other responsibilities, to naturally transition [Forever Red] into the Office of Alumni Relations.”
Moving forward, Dwyer hopes that Forever Red is more student-led than advisor-led.
“I wanted to empower the students,” he said. “… The executive team under (Forever Red President) Hannah Doederlein did a tremendous job stepping up their leadership during this transition. So, I wanted to empower them to continue stepping up with leadership skills to continue the Forever Red legacy that (Crainer) had created.”
The Vanguard contacted President Don Bachand, who asked Boehm and Crane to respond to the Vanguard’s questions, Boehm said. Crane said Bachand “did not have a lot of personal information about it.” He left Crane and other appropriate administrators to handle the situation, she said.
“His ultimate concern is … that we make sure our students aren’t taken advantage of in any way,” she said. “So, that was the purpose of the inquiry and what was front and center in my mind as I was pursuing questions. Had we found that there was something that was causing harm, we would have acted differently.”
Boehm said he hopes that students realize that the university took the situation seriously and was thorough with its inquiry.
“We understand our obligation toward the overall welfare of our students and other members of the university community,” he said. “I would hope that members of the university community would take some comfort in that.”
In light of the Larry Nassar sexual assault case, Boehm stressed that SVSU takes allegations of inappropriate relationships seriously.
“I know the state we live in and what has happened elsewhere,” he said. “Again, I would just hope people understand that at SVSU, when matters are brought to the university’s attention, they’re taken seriously, and there is a full and thorough inquiry to determine the facts, and then we make decisions based off of what facts are revealed.”
Reporting from Kaitlyn Farley, Vanguard Editor-in-Chief