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This is the thirty-fifth post in an ongoing series as we file Missouri Sunshine Law (RSMo 610) requests and investigate the non-renewal of the contract of University of Central Missouri President Aaron Podolefsky. Links to previous coverage are below the fold. BG and MB

This

Greg Hassler: …The University of Central Missouri. End of an era.

Marion Woods: Uh, huh.

Greg Hassler: Aaron Podolefsky. Out. We’ve talked about it for a long time….

….The, the thing that really upset me, that kind of got [garbled] going originally was, for years there was a Christmas tree lit at Selmo Park. Remember that?

Marion Woods: Yep.

Greg Hassler: Drive by. He stopped that. I mean I think every religion should be able to celebrate, uh, in their own way, but, I mean we do live in Warrensburg, Missouri. This is America. You know. Let’s bring that back. How ’bout that?

Marion Woods: Wasn’t that the Christmas tree at the quadrangle?

Greg Hassler: No, there was also one at Selmo Park.

Marion Woods: Oh, okay.

Gregg Hassler: In the, in the yard, area there, so. I mean, I don’t know, it’s jus… It, it was a bad fit from the get go. It’s, it’s over…

…is not compatible with this:

Missouri Constitution

Article I

BILL OF RIGHTS

Section 7

Public aid for religious purposes–preferences and discriminations on religious grounds.

Section 7. That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.

Article IX

EDUCATION

Section 8

Prohibition of public aid for religious purposes and institutions.

Section 8. Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other municipal corporation, shall ever make an appropriation or pay from any public fund whatever, anything in aid of any religious creed, church or sectarian purpose, or to help to support or sustain any private or public school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other institution of learning controlled by any religious creed, church or sectarian denomination whatever; nor shall any grant or donation of personal property or real estate ever be made by the state, or any county, city, town, or other municipal corporation, for any religious creed, church, or sectarian purpose whatever.

In case anyone was wondering, the University of Central Missouri is a state institution. Let’s spell it out – the view that anyone should put up a sectarian symbol on state property isn’t exactly endorsed by the Missouri Constitution.

Shortly after the remarks above were made in a radio broadcast, Benoit Wesly, a benefactor of the institution asked the President of the University of Central Missouri Board of Governors what they were going to do about it. The issue wasn’t addressed at the October 29, 2009 board meeting, as it was assured to be in the reply.

So, earlier this week, we asked if there was further correspondence on the issue among the same parties:

[….] date: Tue, Dec 1, 2009 at 1:27 PM

subject:Request for information – RSMo 610

Under RSMo 610 I am requesting the following information:

1. Any communications or documents sent to the President of the Board of Governors, the members of the Board of Governors, or the President of the University by Benoit Wesly subsequent to October 25, 2009.

2. Any communications or documents in reply to those communications or documents (cited above) by the President of the Board of Governors, the members of the Board of Governors, or the President of the University.

Thank you. [….]

We received the following reply yesterday afternoon:

[….] date: Fri, Dec 4, 2009 at 3:48 PM

subject: Re: Request for information – RSMo 610

[….]

Pursuant to  your request of December 1, 2009, in which you request 1) Any communications or documents sent to the President of the Board of Governors, the members of the Board of Governors, or the President of the University by Benoit Wesly subsequent to October 25, 2009; and 2) Any communications or documents in reply to those communications or documents (cited above) by the President of the Board of Governors, the members of the Board of Governors, or the President of the University, attached are two .pdf files containing these communications.

Sincerely,

[….]

A letter was sent by Edward Baker, a member of the board, to Benoit Wesly on November 9, 2009:

[….]

November 9, 2009

[….]

Dear Mr. Wesly,

I know you only through your history of generosity to the University of Central Missouri and your moving graduation address in May of 2008. Your contributions to the university have been greatly appreciated.

Being on the Board of Governors, I have been made aware of your concerns regarding our decision not to extend the contract of President Podolefsky and the allegations that anti-Semitism played some role in this determination. I have served on the board since April of 2007 and have never heard any board member or anyone else for that matter, refer to President Podolefsky’s religious beliefs in any context, derogatory or otherwise. It has simply not been a topic.

As for the implication that members of the board harbor prejudices of this nature that would influence their actions, I am deeply offended. My wife and I are partners in a hotel company whose principal owners are Jewish. We have worked closely with these people for 24 years and consider them family. To have rumors and innuendo suggest that we would embrace the bias suggested on the internet saddens and appalls us.

Furthermore, had I been in a situation where others were engaged in this behavior, I would not have tolerated it. The comments by the radio personality were inappropriate, and I voiced my disapproval upon learning about the incident. However, this man has no connection to the board and his comments should have no reflection on the members of the Board of Governors.

It is unfortunate that this accusation has been inserted into the contract renewal decision. Negative attention is drawn to the university once again, impeding a smooth transition for both UCM and President Podolefsky. The board was very careful to take every possible measure to allow Podolefsky to pursue other career opportunities. We all wish him the best in his future endeavors.

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with you, should you still have concerns.

Sincerely,

s/

Edward L. Baker

We sympathize with being victimized by impertinent people on the Internets pointing out uncomfortable things. Oh, wait.

“…The comments by the radio personality were inappropriate, and I voiced my disapproval upon learning about the incident. However, this man has no connection to the board…” Really?

Benoit Wesly replied on November 16, 2009:

[….]

Maastricht, November 16, 2009

[….]

Dear Mr. Baker,

I did receive your letter dated November 9, 2009 for which I thank you.

I am impressed that you send me this letter in your capacity being a member of the Board of Governors of that fascinating ins
titute. I am very grateful that you took the time to send me this letter and it makes it clear to me, that there seems to be some confusion.

In my letter of October 21, addressed to Mr. Richard Philips, President of the University of Central Missouri Board of Governors, I requested information regarding a text of a radio interview between Mr. Greg Hassler and Mrs. Marion Woods with the possibility of a so-called anti-Semitic undertone. I received on October 23 an e-mail letter from Mr. Richard Philips, which was followed up by my letter of October 26, 2009. Mr. Richard Philips promised to bring the issue to the attention of your board meeting on October 29 and he will get back to me any action taken. So far I have not heard from the President of your board.

To make it clear; I am not interfering in the decision not to extend Mr. Aaron Podolefsky’s contract. I respect your opinion and I do not want to deal with this matter, as I feel to be an outsider. Mr. Greg Hassler, who works for a company that has a close business relationship with the university, made a statement as earlier indicated. Secondly he indicated in a later stadium that he is not familiar with the word anti-Semitic. I do not believe that Central should co-operate with such a person, but I will wait till I hear the outcome of the investigation I requested.

Before the Second World War 6 million Jews had friends with all types of religions. After the war those friends were still living, so you do not need to be offended at all.

Once again thank you very much for your letter and I hope to meet you in case I will return on campus.

Awaiting the reply of the President of the Board of Governors I remain with my best personal regards,

s/

Benoit Wesly

[….]

On November 23, 2009, Benoit Wesly wrote the President of the Board of Governors, in part:

[….]

Maastricht, November 25, 2009

[….]

Dear Mr. Philips,

I would like to draw your attention to the following.

[….]

I am deeply shocked and disappointed with the behavior of the Board of Governors. I wrote you twice a letter dated October 22 and October 26, 2009. In your letter dated October 23, 2009 you promised me to contact me with a response. So far I have not heard from you since then. [….]

Sincerely yours,

s/

Benoit Wesly

On December 2, 2009 the President of the Board of Governors replied:

December 2, 2009

[….]

Dear Mr. Wesley:

Thank you for the opportunity to visit with you over the telephone the morning of December 1, and again on December 2, 2009. I am extremely pleased to talk with you as we continue to resolve some of the concerns you have and that the twenty five year relationship between you and our University will continue.

I was saddened in learning of the events that have taken place with your family and have a deeper sense of appreciation and understanding for your concerns.

As I stated to you during our visits, I have spent a great deal of time talking with a variety of folks to examine these issues. I am sorry if you felt I was neglecting you but I wanted to continue to review these matters before reporting to you and I had been told you were out of your home country and did not want to interrupt you on your trip. I felt it would be better to visit with you after you had returned home. During our recent telephone conversations I believe you understand I was not neglecting you, I would not neglect anyone.

One of the recent findings during previous visits with folks is that the Star of David that appeared on a faculty member’s door and referenced, in a blog, was done so by a Jewish faculty member. You also had determine that was the case and we both agreed it was most inappropriate.

After our morning conversation on December 1, I rearranged my schedule and again drove to Warrensburg to continue my visits with people who are in leadership positions in the community and on campus. I also visited with the radio personality we spoke about and informed him of your concern. I am convinced this person did not mean to hurt anyone. What is clear to me in this case is that, words that may be spoken by an individual in what they may think is an innocent manor may be hurtful to others and raising the level of awareness in these matters for all concerned can be a positive outcome of this issue.

I will continue to speak with the appropriate individuals in this matter and will get back to you by December 15, 2009.

You remain a trusted and honored friend of our University and I greatly appreciate your time in talking about these issues. It is clear to me we share many of the same values and beliefs in cultivating a positive learning environment for our University that is based on mutual respect for all people. Please be assured that our Board has tremendous respect and gratitude for the partnership between you and our University.

Sincerely;

Richard Phillips

[document as provided by the University, unsigned and on plain paper]

“…most inappropriate…” Did anybody bother to talk with that individual? Just asking.

“…After our morning conversation on December 1, I rearranged my schedule and again drove to Warrensburg to continue my visits with people who are in leadership positions in the community and on campus…” And just who would that be? Just asking.

We wonder if they get it. We understand that the board of Governors may address the radio broadcast at their December 11, 2009 meeting. We plan on being there.

Our previous coverage of the issue:

Three steps behind, and to the right (January 25, 2008)

Three steps behind, and to the right, part 2 – a microcosm of our universe (September 21, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”? (October 15, 2009) (transcript of a portion of the live radio broadcast)

It wasn’t just about a tree (October 21, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement?”: I heard it on the radio (October 21, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement?”: let’s not get cut out of the will (October 22, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement?”: $87.75 will get you one sheet of paper (October 23, 2009)



“A Gentleman’s Agreement?”: They’re not playing hardball, they’re playing cat and mouse
 (October 23, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement?”: a cola and some scoreboards (October 24, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement?”: a few more pieces of the puzzle? (October 28, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: your silence means consent (October 29, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: let’s not get cut out of the will, part 2 (October 30, 2009)

Old media irony impairment (October 30, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement?”: I heard it on the radio, part 2 (October 31, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: where everybody knows your name (October 31, 2009)

Methinks that someone is paying attention! (November 2, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: Bond, Stadium Bond (November 4, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: where everybody knows your name, part 2 (November 4, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: I heard it on the radio, part 3 (November 5, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: nothing succeeds like success (November 6, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: your Friday news dump (November 6, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: nothing exceeds like excess (November 7, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: a grade for Accounting 101 (November 7, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: there ought to be a law (November 8, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: there’s gotta be a contract around here somewhere (November 9, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: there ought to be a law, part 2 (November 10, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: Garbo speaks! (November 12, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle (November 13, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”? Follow the money and it reveals the timeline (November 14, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: the new president search consulting contract (November 18, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: a march on a cold and rainy day (November 18, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: raise their voices (November 19, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: great moments in radio reporting (November 21, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: Oh, my! (December 3, 2009)