‘Inappropriate relationship’ led to 2016 leave

Andy Swihart

A Title IX investigation of psychology professor Andy Swihart in July 2016 led the university to put him unpaid leave for an academic year.

The Title IX report obtained by The Vanguard through a Freedom of Information Act request stated that members of a redacted organization made SVSU aware on March 22 of allegations of misconduct involving Swihart. The report stated that the allegations involved possible violations to SVSU’s policies on sexual misconduct, harassment, Title IX and “inappropriate personal relationships.”

“When this investigation was brought to a close in 2016, I committed to discussing it no further,” Swihart wrote in a message to The Vanguard. “There were several reasons for doing so, reasons that remain valid today. Hence, I will decline participation in an interview. I do genuinely appreciate your offer, however.”

Provost Deborah Huntley said SVSU informed Swihart of the complaints within a week of SVSU being informed of the complaints. The case was forwarded to The Office of Academic Affairs “for review and a determination of the imposition of appropriate sanctions against Dr. Swihart,” the Title IX report stated.

“Swihart was placed on unpaid leave for one academic year,” Huntley said.

His personnel file, obtained by The Vanguard in a separate Freedom of Information Act request, shows Swihart was on leave from Aug. 7, 2016, to June 26, 2017.

He did not return to his role as Roberts Fellows adviser upon his return to the university.

“The nature of the complaints triggered a full investigation through the Title IX process,” Huntley said. “Swihart was removed from certain duties which may have put him in contact with the involved student(s) while the investigation was in progress.”

Title IX is a federal law mandating that no one be discriminated against in the education system on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The July 2016 Title IX report stated that the allegations involved SVSU policies governing sexual misconduct, anti-harrassment/discrimination and personal involvements.

Investigators met with the alleged victim, Swihart and witnesses. The report stated that 14 witnesses were interviewed, including Swihart, the victim, two reporting parties, six graduates and four other witnesses whose identifications were redacted.

According to the report, the Title IX investigation focused on “several events” from the 2015-2016 academic year involving Swihart and a student. The events and allegations were redacted from the Title IX report received by The Vanguard.

In the first page of the four-page report, seven of 21 lines of text were redacted in copies the university provided to the newspaper. Thirty of 34 lines are redacted on the second page, while 19 out of 30 lines are redacted on the fourth page. The final page has about one line out of 9 redacted.

Universities black out information that violates a student’s expectation of privacy, as protected by the Federal Education Right to Privacy Act.

A footnote on the first page of the report states, “During the investigation some witnesses indicated that Dr. Swihart engaged in similar conduct in the past, with other students [information redacted].”

Investigators met with Swihart on July 13, 2016, according to the report. He denied the allegations, the report stated.

According to the report, the standard of evidence SVSU uses to determine whether a person has violated the Sexual Misconduct Policy is the preponderance of the evidence standard – that is, the evidence demonstrates that it is more likely than not that the conduct occurred.

“It is more likely than not that Dr. Swihart engaged in the alleged misconduct at issue. … In fact, there was substantial corroborating evidence, provided by the witnesses and [redacted] that support this conclusion,” the report stated.

In the report, Thorns concluded that Swihart violated SVSU’s policies concerning sexual misconduct, harassment, Title IX and personal relationships.

“It is important to point out that Dr. Swihart was not only a professor of [redacted] during all these events, he was also responsible for and integral to [redacted],” the report also stated.

Faculty Association President Deborah Bishop declined to comment. Psychology Department Chairman Travis Pashak could not be reached for comment.

Swihart became a professor at SVSU in 1998 after first serving as an SVSU neuro-psychology lecturer in 1993. He currently serves as a psychology professor.

Huntley said students Swihart advised or taught were not notified of the investigation.

“This was not a situation where widespread notification was warranted,” she said. “Students who had a need to know were informed through the investigation process.”

Huntley said SVSU addresses student concerns seriously and promptly.

“The university takes student concerns seriously and does due diligence to stop inappropriate behavior and to reach a fair and accurate conclusion,” she said.

Kaitlyn Farley

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