The University of Minnesota spent $34,000 investigating an anonymous complaint that a member of the board of regents had lost his job in 2007 due to accusations of sexual misconduct.
The university also agreed to cover $9,000 in attorney fees for the regent, Darrin Rosha, who denied any wrongdoing.
The three-month investigation, which ended in December 2015, concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations against Rosha, a 49-year-old lawyer from Independence, Minn. The university released its investigative report on Friday in response to public records requests from the Star Tribune and other news organizations.
Rosha, who has served on the board since 2015, expressed frustration that a vague, anonymous accusation could set off such an aggressive investigation.
“It wasn’t grounded in anything,” he said Friday.
The investigation was sparked by a complaint filed in September 2015, on the university’s anonymous online reporting site, UReport. It claimed that Rosha had lost his job in 2007 as dean of students at the McNally Smith College of Music, a private school in St. Paul, for sending sexually explicit text messages to a female undergraduate.
Rosha says he was stunned to learn of the allegation. “At first I thought maybe they were kidding,” he said. “In my life, no one has ever alleged that I have said or sent something to that person that would be harassing. ... It did not happen.”
In response to the complaint, the university hired a private Minneapolis attorney, Donald M. Lewis, to look into the allegations.
Lewis, in a confidential report to the board, wrote that his investigation was complicated by the fact that McNally Smith officials declined his request to talk about Rosha’s tenure at the school or why he left after one year.
Rosha, who is a musician, was an administrator and part-time instructor at the music college from August 2006 to September 2007. He says he left McNally Smith because of a leadership change at the school and a desire to return to legal practice. (The college closed abruptly in December 2017 and has since filed for bankruptcy.)
11 people interviewed
Lewis said he interviewed 11 unnamed witnesses, including former employees of McNally Smith, and that none of them was able to corroborate the original accusations or identify the woman who was allegedly harassed.
Two witnesses complained about his workplace behavior, saying Rosha had made inappropriate comments about co-workers’ dress and physical appearance, according to Lewis’ report. “The investigator cannot easily dismiss the allegations that Rosha occasionally made comments that his female subordinates viewed as inappropriate,” he wrote, noting that Rosha admits “he may have counseled employees on dress code and professional appearance.”
But Lewis wrote that he found no evidence that any misconduct had led to Rosha’s departure. Instead, he concluded, it appeared to be “due to professional disagreements and a change of leadership at the college.”
Typically, the university does not provide lawyers for students or employees accused of sexual misconduct. But the board of regents chairman, Dean Johnson, notified Rosha in October 2015 that the U would cover his legal fees “in light of these unusual circumstances.”
Rosha says he understands that the university must take allegations of sexual harassment seriously. But this case, he said, was based on nothing but unfounded rumors. “I don’t think it was handled appropriately for the nature of the claim,” he said.
In a letter to the board this month, he argued that “it would be appropriate to confirm the existence of a bona fide complaint of misconduct before expending significant public resources” on an investigation.
U says it followed policy
The university, which has been struggling to get a better handle on sexual misconduct on campus, says it followed its policy in responding to the anonymous complaint.
“The University appreciated the seriousness of the issue and conducted a thorough investigation through outside counsel,” the university said in a statement released Friday. The school said it was releasing the documents now, following multiple media requests, because it was required to do so under the state’s open records law.
Rosha, who is also a lieutenant colonel in the Minnesota Army National Guard, is on his second stint at the board of regents. He was elected to his first term as a U student from 1989-1995, and after returning to fill a temporary vacancy in 2015, he was re-elected by state lawmakers in 2017.
Rosha said he understood the university’s decision to release the investigative report but called it painful. “When someone’s name appears in the paper ... when it’s like this, it still has an impact,” he said.
“When you run for public office, you realize that’s a risk. It doesn’t mean you have to like it.”