Prichard resigns as resident director

Derek Prichard

Southeast Resident Director Derek Prichard submitted his resignation after his first semester on the job Dec. 10, 2019, two weeks after his supervisor talked with him about accusations that he showed favoritism to a friend on the staff.

Prichard did not cite those issues in his letter of resignation, which The Valley Vanguard obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

He graduated from SVSU in May 2018 with a major in athletic training. Prichard told The Vanguard he gave his 30-day notice Dec. 10, and his last day as an RD was Jan. 8.

In his resignation, Prichard wrote that he “should have gained experience outside of SVSU before coming back.”

“I do not feel as though I will be able to grow by staying here where I am comfortable,” he said in the letter.

Prichard’s resignation letter refers to SVSU as a “nice a caring environment” and states that his decision was “not a reflection of the University, or Department.”

His resignation came roughly two weeks after Associate Director of Residential Life Tamika Smith gave him a memo that outlined Southeast residential assistants’ accusations that Prichard favored a friend on the staff.

Smith’s Nov. 27, 2019, letter, which The Vanguard attained through FOIA, outlined three major concerns:

• A “platonic but inappropriate relationship with a staff member that [Prichard] supervised and showed possible favoritism towards;”

• Prichard’s “reaction to [his] staff during [his] November 19, 2019 staff meeting, where [he] addressed [his] staff’s concerns about [his] relationship” with an RA on
his staff; and

• “The limited staff meetings and one on one’s.”

In the letter, Smith said she met with Prichard Nov. 26, 2019, to discuss those concerns. She states in the letter that Prichard and the RA in question “admitted to having a friendship” before Prichard started as an RD.

“It is still imperative that you have clearly defined and communicated boundaries with your staff members that allow you to effectively do your job,” Smith wrote.

To help set boundaries, Smith’s letter states that Prichard should not drive his staff in his personal vehicle, take staffers off campus unless the event is RA-related or host staff members at his apartment.

Southeast is a living center on campus, which holds roughly 720 students.

It offers a mix of four- and five-bedroom apartments as well as double and triple efficiencies. Prichard supervised eight RAs.

Sidney Childs, associate provost for Student Affairs and dean of students, said it is not uncommon for students and staff members to have friendships.

He said Smith’s letter outlined steps Prichard “could take to protect himself and colleagues from future allegations.”

“When conduct or activity falls in a gray area, we need to remind our staff of the policy to ensure that their actions and relationships do not lead to questions involving this policy,” Childs said.

He said SVSU cannot comment on the specific actions RAs cited as possible favoritism, but Childs said supervisors are expected to “avoid relationships and circumstances that may create an appearance of showing unfair treatment toward individuals they supervise.”

“Concerns can arise from one specific action or a series of activities that alone are not cause for concern but taken together can lead to a concern about an inappropriate relationship,” Childs said.

In a statement to The Vanguard, Prichard said he did not show favoritism toward any staff members.

“I had a set of expectations and guidelines that I held all my staff to and expected them to follow,” he wrote. “I showed no favoritism towards any of my staff members.”

Smith’s letter went on to note Prichard’s behavior during a Nov. 19, 2019, staff meeting, where he “created a hostile work environment and retaliated by using inappropriate language and directly threatening (his) staff’s employment status.”

Smith said Prichard must create a plan to “restore the trust and cohesion” of his staff for Smith’s approval before his next full-staff meeting.

Childs said Residential Life was made aware of the concerns the day after the meeting and “worked quickly to look into the issues raised.”

He said Smith met with Prichard on Nov. 20, 2019, declining to elaborate about what happened at the session.

The last concern Smith’s letter addressed pertained to a lack of staff meetings and one on one’s, which Smith said Prichard could fix by working with “each staff member to figure out their individual meeting needs and also having them add” to staff meeting agendas.

Smith closes her letter to Prichard by citing SVSU’s Anti-Harassment/Discrimination and Personal Involvements Policies.

Prichard’s letter of resignation does not cite the concerns mentioned in Smith’s letter or the Nov. 19 staff meeting as reasons for leaving.

Childs said it would have been “too severe” to remove Prichard as RD of Southeast without letting him act on Smith’s recommendation to design a plan to regain his staff’s trust.

Prichard’s position has not yet been filled. His responsibilities have been divided between the remaining RDs until his position is filled, Childs said.

“The well-being of our residents is a chief concern for our entire Residential Life staff,” Childs said. “That’s why we invest the time and effort in training that we do, and we regularly hear from students that they appreciate our work on their behalf.”

Kaitlyn Farley

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