The University of Minnesota spent more than $43,000 investigating a decade-old claim of sexual harassment against a member of the Board of Regents, according to documents released Friday in response to a Pioneer Press records request.
The U received the anonymous complaint on Sept. 23, 2015, several months after the Legislature elected Darrin Rosha to the university’s 12-member, unpaid governing body.
It alleged that Rosha was fired in 2007 as dean of students at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul for “sending sexually explicit text messages to an undergraduate female student and appearing in person at her music performances after being asked to stop.”
The university hired attorney Don Lewis to investigate and paid him a total of $34,110, billing records show.
Rosha also asked the board to pay for his own counsel. Dean Johnson, then the board’s chairman, approved up to $5,000 for that purpose. Attorney Mary Knoblauch’s bills came to $9,000.
Lewis could not substantiate the claims. According to his February 2016 report:
“The investigator concluded that the available evidence was insufficient to verify the specific allegations of sexually suggestive texts or other harassment. Nor could the investigator substantiate the allegation that Rosha’s departure from McNally Smith was a consequence of sexual harassment; the evidence suggested that his separation from McNally Smith was involuntary and due to professional disagreements and a change of leadership at the college.
“Finally, the investigator credited evidence that Rosha, in isolated instances, made comments that were insensitive to female staff members at McNally Smith.”
According to the report, Rosha said he clashed with McNally Smith leadership over issues including accreditation. The St. Paul for-profit music school, which closed in December, did not have regional accreditation, which would have enabled students to more easily transfer credits to other colleges.
Rosha told the investigator he left the school under a confidential agreement that included eight weeks’ severance pay.
According to Rosha’s LinkedIn profile, he worked for McNally Smith in various roles from January 2003 to September 2007 before returning to his private legal practice.
The U on Friday also released a letter from Rosha to the rest of the Board of Regents dated Tuesday. In it, he asserts that the harassment allegation is false and that he left McNally Smith on good terms.
“We must take allegations of misconduct seriously,” he wrote.
“However, it would be appropriate to confirm the existence of a bona fide complaint of misconduct before expending significant resources on a lengthy, broad-reaching effort to prove a negative. Otherwise, we establish a standard under which few people will be inclined to serve.”
University spokesman Evan Lapiska said in a written statement Friday that after receiving the anonymous complaint, “the University appreciated the seriousness of the issue and conducted a thorough investigation through outside counsel.”
APPLICATION OMITS SCHOOL
Rosha also served as a regent from 1989 to 1995.
When he sought a return to the board in 2014, Rosha’s application to the Regent Candidate Advisory Council (RCAC) did not note his work for McNally Smith.
The employment history section has room for three positions; he listed general counsel for a dermatologist, his own legal practice and military judge for the National Guard.
And in a written response to one of RCAC’s questions, he wrote that he had “experience working with organizations in business, service, medicine and law.”
McNally Smith also did not appear in Rosha’s bio on the U’s regents website until about one year ago.
According to the Internet archive Wayback Machine, Rosha’s regent bio as of March 24, 2017 said he was “an associate attorney at Briggs and Morgan before becoming a founding partner in the Rosha Legal Group in Long Lake.”
The next available archive, from June 24, 2017, says he was “an associate attorney at Briggs and Morgan, and served as Dean of Students at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.”
RCAC did not select Rosha for an interview in 2014-15 but lawmakers elected him anyway to serve the remainder of the late David Larson’s term.
Two years later, RCAC did interview Rosha and made him one of four finalists for the same position. Rosha again did not mention his four and a half years at McNally Smith in his regent application.
The Legislature elected him last year to full six-year term.
Lewis’ investigation into the 2007 matter was hampered by McNally Smith officials who refused to participate.
Besides Rosha, Lewis interviewed seven former employees, two former students and two other witnesses whose positions were redacted in the U’s public release of the report.
One of the unidentified witnesses called Rosha “extremely unprofessional” and said he’d comment about co-workers’ dress, weight, makeup and hair. She said he was “obsessed” with a particular female student and would show up to her vocal performances.
Rosha told regents the student in question was a close friend who had sold merchandise for his band Jug for three years before enrolling at McNally Smith.
“I consider it beyond reckless for anyone to mischaracterize that relationship as inappropriate,” he wrote.
According to the same witness, the IT manager was told by human resources to confiscate Rosha’s computer; the witness said inappropriate messages were found and that Rosha announced the next day he was leaving McNally Smith.
Rosha told regents that he “retained my office, computer and access to all facilities” during the weeks from his announcement to his actual departure.
A former director of music industries “was adamant that Rosha was ‘asked to leave’ in part because of complaints about his behavior toward women,” according to Lewis’ report.
But no one offered specific information to substantiate the allegations.
“There is substantial evidence, however, that professional disagreements were the driving force behind Rosha’s departure from McNally Smith,” Lewis wrote.
“Even the director of music industries, a Rosha detractor, stated that a faculty group alienated by Rosha had complained to the new president, resulting in Rosha’s departure.”
Further, Lewis wrote, it would have been unusual for an employer to award severance pay to an employee who committed sexual misconduct.
ELECTION ‘BRINGS RISKS’
Rosha has been among the more outspoken regents, routinely challenging President Eric Kaler’s administration on numerous issues, including tuition, transparency and sports personnel decisions.
He was one of two regents the football team asked to mediate its 2016 dispute over the suspensions of several players for an alleged sexual assault. Team members ultimately agreed to end their boycott of a bowl game.
The U’s report on the McNally Smith matter noted that many at the music school found Rosha hard to work with. Former co-workers described him as “driven” to the point of “pushy,” a supervisor with a “firm hand” and one who would “call people out” for poor performance.
Rosha, in his letter to colleagues this week, called the complaint against him a risk of serving.
“Election to a public office brings risks, including the risk of unfounded allegations and resulting investigations. While we don’t always know the motivation behind a complaint, the public must know they are handled appropriately,” he wrote.
The records released Friday were in response to a March Pioneer Press request for records related to an “accusation of sexual harassment” against a regent.
The newspaper made a separate request in May for records related to “alleged Code of Conduct or ethics violations” by regents. The only records the U released then related to a separate investigation into Rosha.
In that case, the U received two complaints alleging that Rosha in 2016 violated the regents ethics code by contacting Brooks Jackson, then vice president for health sciences, on behalf of dermatologist Charles Crutchfield, who employed Rosha as general counsel.
The U’s general counsel, Doug Peterson, concluded that while regents must be careful whenever they contact an administrator on behalf of a client, Rosha did not violate any policies.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the amount paid to Rosha’s attorney.
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