BY WATCHING ADAMS STAFF – 10/30/15
On October 28th, ASU Chief of Police Paul Grohowski sent an open letter addressed to the staff, faculty and students of Adams State University. The only contents of the email were justification for banning Watching Adams publisher Danny Ledonne from campus (see McClure Bans Ledonne from Campus, Ledonne Responds). Ledonne has published his response to this letter here:
October 30th, 2015
Open letter to campus staff, students, and faculty:
On October 28th 2015, Adams State University Chief of Police Paul Grohowski sent an email addressed to all staff, faculty and students, making untrue public statements about me. By doing so, he broke ASU’s own confidentiality rules and breached my privacy rights. I feel that I must respond to these statements and it is entirely within my right to do so.
Let me start by stating that Mr. Grohowski had never met with me about this issue prior to arriving at my home to deliver President McClure’s letter banning me from ASU, threatening to arrest me should I step onto campus. It is clear from Mr. Grohowski’s accusations that he has done no investigation into the claims asserted in this letter. Since June 2015, I have requested to meet with President McClure and the Board of Trustees and subsequently offered a neutral mediation service at the October 2015 Board of Trustees meeting, but I have had no response to these offers.
It is entirely inappropriate for a chief of police to issue an unsolicited message to the entire campus rather than communicate directly with me. The actions that ASU have taken are retaliatory and designed to suppress my ongoing effort to redress the string of procedural failures since attempting to resolve this matter through the proper channels.
Police Chief Grohowski has almost everything either factually incorrect or simply backwards. I will re-state his claims here and respond to them individually.
CLAIM: Mr. Ledonne created a post-Columbine video game that recreates the horror of the Columbine HS shooting massacre.
FACT: In 2005, I created “Super Columbine Massacre RPG!” a free role-playing game designed to understand the Columbine school shooting by using the videogame form as a lens of examination – the same medium that was largely blamed for the attack to begin with. The crude early 90’s graphics are designed to undermine the “glamour” implicit in first-person shooting games. As summarized on the website’s artist statement, my goal in creating the game is to help everyday audiences understand the world of the killers because in doing so, I felt we might move closer to understanding and reaching actual solutions to the ongoing epidemic of school shootings. The game has been featured in numerous art installations and game festivals around the world and is now taught in game theory courses throughout the country.
In 2008, I produced the feature length documentary “Playing Columbine” to examine the controversy behind SCMRPG and future of videogames as an artistic medium. The film premiered at AFI Fest in Los Angeles, debuted at many other festivals including in Boston, Philadelphia and Denver, and is now available on Amazon and iTunes for anyone to view. I have presented on over a dozen college campuses as well as industry events to discuss videogames and free speech, game ethics, and media violence in society. While at ASU, I have presented in Dr. Ben Waddell’s Social Psychology course for several years now.
It is obvious that Mr. Grohowski has never played the game or watched the documentary, or any of the many academic publications that have examined my work.
ASU was fully aware of this when I was hired and have given me strong evaluations for four years. No mention was ever made and no concern was ever brought to my attention in this regard. In addition, ASU Theatre produced “Bang, Bang, You’re Dead” by William Mastrosimone in February of 2012 – a play that examines the very same topic as my videogame. Could anyone involved in this production be construed as a “threat to campus safety” for the same reasons? What about someone who published a book, wrote an article, or produced a film about a school shooting? What if a faculty member wrote a violent short story or maybe just an erotic novel under a pseudonym? Would that person be the next potential “threat to campus safety” by the same reasoning? This is a grave threat to freedom of expression and to academic freedom.
CLAIM: Mr. Ledonne was hired as a temporary employee at ASU in the 2014-15 school year. During said time Ledonne applied for a full-time position at the university and a more qualified applicant was selected.
FACT: Mr. Grohowski is mistaken. I was employed at ASU beginning in May 2011 when I moved back to Alamosa from Washington, DC at then-ETC department chair Dr. David Mazel’s invitation to create a video production program. I applied, in 2013 and 2014, for a full time teaching position to perform the work I was already doing – with “meritorious” performance – in a part-time capacity.
I have high regard for the professor who now holds the position I sought; I’ve had positive relations with him during his time here and I wish him every success.
CLAIM: Mr. Ledonne’s behavior while at ASU has made numerous members of faculty and staff uncomfortable by his actions, words and behaviors.
FACT: The only matter brought to my attention was a June 2015 Facebook conversation with a person whom I later learned is a member of the Svaldi family. This person has persisted in initiating contact with me against my wishes. A review of this correspondence by Mr. Ken Marquez concluded: “In consultation with the Campus Health and Safety committee we do not find an actionable threat at this time.”
If any other words or actions have made anyone feel uncomfortable, it was not brought to my attention in any way. Further, if ASU bans everyone who might bring another person feel uncomfortable—even in passing, the campus will soon be sparsely-populated.
CLAIM: Mr. Ledonne filed a complaint with the ASU EEOC office, claiming the hiring process was flawed. An investigation was completed and no wrong doing was found.
FACT: OEO Director Joel Korngut’s initial investigation in April 2015 found no evidence of unlawful discrimination. However, in May 2015 I was able to obtain my own application score sheets and identified a number of procedural, factual, and technical problems with the hiring process. Mr. Korngut agreed that there were indeed flaws in the search and I have documentation to prove this. Hence, my many attempts to have these concerns addressed.
Office of Equal Opportunity investigations are supposed to be strictly confidential. The campus police chief has breached this confidentiality in an email to the entire campus. Students, staff and faculty are now justified in thinking that ASU does not honor its pledge to protect their privacy.
CLAIM: Mr. Ledonne was unsatisfied with the decision not to hire him and attempted to rally support for himself. Ledonne continued to vocalize his displeasure with this decision and has become disruptive to the campus staff, administration and board of trustees.
FACT: Mr. Grohowski fails to understand the issue. It is not the decision that I object to but the process by which that decision was made. I am merely attempting to have my concerns addressed.
A letter of support for my application of employment, signed by 80 students, faculty, staff, and community members, along with many other letters of support, teaching evaluations, CV and cover letter, was delivered to the Board of Trustees in May 2015. The “vocalization of displeasure” is protected under the First Amendment and the right of any individual who believes they were treated unfairly by their place of employment.
I have never been cited on campus for any form of disruptive behavior and no documentation has been provided to substantiate this claim. To date, ASU has yet to cite a single policy I have violated, which is curious given the hasty efforts for ASU to pass a Persona Non Grata policy (for retroactive application to me).
CLAIM: Mr. Ledonne took his protest to former President Svaldi in mid-2015 and again dissatisfied with the university’s decision not to hire him, began to harass members of the Svaldi family on social media sites.
FACT: Mr. Grohowski has his facts backwards here. I met with President Svaldi in June 2014 and again twice in April 2015 to outline ongoing hiring concerns. Concluding the June 2014 meeting, President Svaldi shook my hand and stated, “I think things will work out for you at Adams State.”
In June 2015, someone responded to a post I made on Facebook about transgender rights. I messaged this person to thank them for their response. This person then proceeded to raise the issue of my employment status at ASU and asked for more information. At this point, they identified their relationship to the Svaldi family. The conversation became more contentious and we agreed to disagree.
This person reported the conversation to ASU Campus Health and Safety. Mr. Ken Marquez met with me to review this correspondence and concluded: “In consultation with the Campus Health and Safety committee we do not find an actionable threat at this time.”
This individual continued to contact me on Facebook against my wishes and I informed them not to contact me further. This individual has threatened legal action if I were to actually publish this conversation in its entirety. I have these exchanges fully documented.
CLAIM: ASU seated our current President McClure, and true to his form, Ledonne sought a new audience with Dr. McClure to vocalize his displeasure, additionally filing a second complaint with the new ASU EEOC investigator. Again, no wrong-doing was found in the decision not to hire Ledonne and again Ledonne could not accept the simple decision that was made not to hire him.
FACT: In June 2015, at the advice of former OEO Director Joel Korngut, I did contact President Svaldi, President McClure, and Board Chair Salazar upon receipt of an email from Salazar on which Svaldi and McClure were copied.
Salazar stated that there were no actions the Board would take to create an additional position at that time. Salazar complimented me on the “respectful and constructive tone of [my] presentation” during the May 2015 Board of Trustees meeting in which I offered to work with the university to find a mutually-beneficial solution. Salazar continued: “I would encourage you to continue to be a part of the University community. I also want to thank you for your contributions to the community and hope that we can continue to work together.” In my response email, I reiterated my intention to find some solution to my hiring concerns and that I believed there remained many issues with the hiring process that had not been addressed. I never received a response to this email and did not contact them further about this matter.
In August 2015, my ongoing contracted video work with the university, which began in 2011, was terminated without explanation. Also at this time, I contacted the new OEO Director, Ms. Ana Guevara about my existing complaint which remained unresolved upon Mr. Korngut’s retirement. I never filed a “second complaint” nor made any statements to that effect. Again, I have this documented.
Mr. Korngut encouraged me to “be persistent” regarding my concerns. However, Ms. Guevara refused to meet with me, even after I explained that my case was unresolved and a number of flaws in the hiring process had arisen since the initial April 2015 report was filed by Mr. Korngut. Ms. Guevara explained that she could not meet with me because I am not a current student or employee. However, the historic role of the OEO at ASU has also included meeting with job applicants, prospective students, and community members. It seems the university urgently wishes for my case to be closed and for me to go away because they know that a number of flaws in the search process have never been addressed.
I also offered, at the October 2015 Board of Trustees meeting, to engage with a local mediation service so we could resolve these ongoing matters. I stated during the public comment period that I believed this would be the most “community-minded” solution to the problem. This offer was ignored.
CLAIM: On October 14th, 2015 Ledonne withdrew, on his own accord, to participate in the upcoming film festival here at ASU, severing his last and only tie to the ASU campus community. As a result of his withdrawal from our campus community, coupled with his continued irrational behavior I served Ledonne a trespass warning, banning him from our campus and campus activities.
FACT: The order of events as claimed by Mr. Grohowski does not add up.
On October 13th, when President McClure banned me from “administrative meetings,” she did not specify which meetings were “administrative.” I requested clarification and received no response. I contacted the Southern Colorado Film Festival committee to tell them I wasn’t certain if the ban might affect my ability to work freely on festival preparations. I offered to re-assign my duties to ensure the festival would run smoothly and without the distraction of this controversy.
I have no understanding as to what my involvement as director of the film festival has to do with an order banning me from campus; why would a ban follow rather than precede my existing plans to appear on campus? If I were truly a “threat to campus safety,” why would the administration wait to ban me until after my duties with the film festival had concluded? This claim by Mr. Grohowski is a distraction, do not be deceived.
Further, Mr. Grohowski nowhere explains why he considers my behavior “irrational.” I have engaged in a series of “respectful and constructive” communications (in the Board Chair Salazar’s own words) to attempt to use the university’s channels to solve my hiring concerns. How can my commitment to due process be construed as “irrational?”
On October 14th, when Police Chief Grohowski served me with the notice banning me from campus, he said that he could not discuss the justification of the letter but was merely delivering it. Now, it appears he is taking full credit for the decision to ban me from campus. So is Mr. Grohowski making this determination on his own or is he simply delivering a message on behalf of President McClure, the signatory of this letter?
During this meeting, Mr. Grohowski also claimed that ASU is privately owned by “shareholders,” which is a flatly false statement. Further, the letter banning me from campus directed me to file an appeal with Assistant Attorney General Jessica Salazar. On October 27th, upon receiving my appeal, Ms. Salazar informed me that the letter incorrectly identified her as the appellant reviewer and directed me instead to Mr. Kurt Cary, to whom I sent a modified appeal letter that same afternoon. This administration does not appear to know what it is doing with regard to this process and appears to be making up the rules as it goes along.
Tellingly, Mr. Grohowski concludes his email stating, “Although, Mr. Ledonne’s behavior has not yet breached the realm of violation of our laws, my recommendation to ban him from campus is sound, rational and errs on the side of public safety.” My behavior has been a professional resolve to address my grievances concerning a public institution using the civil channels available to any citizen. Since I haven’t broken any law nor has ASU cited a single policy I have violated, Mr. Grohowski’s recommendation cannot possibly be “sound” or “rational.” Or justified.
I have lived in Alamosa almost my entire life and have been setting foot on the Adams State campus since I was a toddler. I have taken a dozen classes at Adams State, starred in three theater productions at Adams State, filmed ten years of Mountain Valley Dance recitals at Adams State, and taught for four years at Adams State. It is deeply upsetting that a police chief who has recently arrived from Florida and a university president who has just arrived from Albuquerque have made a determination – without legal foundation – to ban from campus a lifelong resident and active member of the San Luis Valley community.
I have filed an appeal to this decision and urge the ASU campus community to make their own determination as to whether or not I am a “threat to campus safety.” Mr. Grohowski has issued his accusations without waiting for the appeals board to consider my defense and arrive at an even-handed decision. ASU continues to show institutional disregard for their own process.
So will it stop here? Or will others who attempt to have their grievances redressed also be threatened with physical force simply for walking onto campus? This is a national issue and faculty across the country are under great threat for speaking out about the exploitative policies and practices at their institutions. Many faculty and professional associations across the country have been reaching out to me in solidarity for this reason. Sadly, the college campus I grew up on is quickly becoming famous for all the wrong reasons again.
Danny Ledonne, MFA