Hennepin Technical College President Merrill Irving Jr. resigned Monday after accusations surfaced that he allegedly harassed and discriminated against employees.

"This past week I realized the longer I stay in my role as president of HTC the more of a distraction it is to our college community," Irving wrote in an e-mail to students and employees Monday. "The driving force for the attention HTC receives should be the success of our diverse student body, our strong industry partnerships that sustain the local economy and the good people who work diligently for the institution's continued achievement."

Irving was investigated by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system last year for allegedly belittling employees who had disabilities and making sexually inappropriate comments toward co-workers, according to investigation reports the Star Tribune obtained through a public records request. But Irving was allowed to remain on the job because Minnesota State system leaders determined his "derisive statements about individuals of a protected class" violated respectful workplace procedures but not the system's harassment policy.

A former Hennepin Technical College employee who felt the system did not appropriately address the situation filed a discrimination complaint against Irving with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in January.

Minnesota House Republicans called for Irving's resignation last week in response to a Star Tribune report that detailed Irving's alleged conduct.

Jessica Lauritsen, Hennepin Technical College's vice president of student affairs, will take over as acting president, Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra announced in an e-mail to college employees Monday. The system will soon begin searching for the college's next president.

The chancellor said he will attend upcoming workshops at the technical college to "listen and learn" and will consult with students and employees about the leadership transition.

"I express my deepest regrets that Hennepin Technical College wasn't always a respectful place to work," Malhotra said. "I've heard from you about the hurt, frustration and pain it has caused, and for that I'm truly sorry."

Irving will not be unemployed, however, as Minnesota State leaders have reassigned him to a position in the system office, according to system spokesman Doug Anderson. Irving will be Minnesota State's "special assistant for workforce development projects" until his last day of employment on July 1 and will retain his presidential salary of $232,000, Anderson said.

The Minnesota State system investigated Irving's behavior twice in 2021, once with the help of an outside lawyer.

"A general consensus among the people whom I met with in connection with this investigation is that Dr. Irving frequently belittles people about their physical characteristics, idiosyncrasies and tendencies, and frequently makes sexualized jokes, innuendo and comments," the lawyer concluded in June.

Several employees told the lawyer that Irving made disparaging comments about co-workers' appearances, weight and disabilities. They also accused Irving of mimicking an employee's foreign accent, publicly humiliating a co-worker who questioned him and asking colleagues about their sex lives, among other things.

Minnesota State system leaders decided last year the lawyer's findings did not support a violation of the harassment policy because Irving's inappropriate comments about employees were not made directly to them, but to their colleagues. Malhotra met with Irving after the investigations concluded to outline his expectations but took no further disciplinary action at the time.

Irving was appointed president of Hennepin Technical College in 2015. Faculty at the college raised concerns to Minnesota State system leaders even before the 2021 investigations.

In a September 2020 letter to Minnesota State's Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Eric Davis, faculty warned that "extremely high rates of turnover at the college" were contributing to enrollment loss. Hennepin Technical College's enrollment declined 25% between fall 2016 and 2021, according to Minnesota State system data.

"Over the last five years, 26 administrators have left, either of their own choosing or not," the faculty letter said, describing the churn that occurred during Irving's time in office. "These administrators range from deans to directors, vice presidents to provosts, and from departments and divisions across the college.

"And with each departure and resulting reorganization, information is lost, workflows are disrupted, previous progress too often scrapped and redirected, and our ability to meet our mission is hampered," the letter said. "All is definitely not well at HTC. And, we need help."

State Rep. Marion O'Neill, the Republican lead on the House Higher Education Committee, said in a statement that Irving's alleged conduct never should have been tolerated by Minnesota State system leaders.

"The system failed the staff, faculty, and students of Hennepin Tech, and should never have allowed this abuse to continue unabated for six years," said O'Neill, who led the call for Irving's resignation last week. "We all need answers from the Board and the MNState system leadership about how this president was allowed to continue his behavior through three contracts over six years with no evidence of discipline whatsoever."