Dixie State University is under federal investigation and it's about damn timeThe Salt Lake Tribune reported this week that Dixie State University has become the fourth Utah school under federal investigation for sexual misconduct allegations. The article states that the other three schools — the University of Utah, Westminster College, and Brigham Young University — are specifically under investigation for allegedly mishandling sexual assault complaints from students. It should be noted here that the investigation into DSU is also for allegedly mishandling complaints by students, in particular the complaint Title IX complaint filed by Victoria Willard.

Willard alleges — among other things but most notably — that the the school did not follow its own policies and procedures in the handling of her case and that it used the very contents of her case to file a retaliatory case against her. Given the presumption of innocence the school is duly entitled to aside, it does not bode well at all for its case that it gave her a complimentary bachelors degree upon expelling her, one she neither wanted nor earned. Ask yourself why they would do this, and if the answer is “to shut her up,” you win a prize.

The article also notes a statement by DSU in response to the investigation. “The university is fully committed to complying with all policies and following all processes to protect its students, faculty, and staff,” the statement said. “Decisions are made with the best interest of the university community in mind.”

Given DSU’s track record with a growing litany of “mishandled” situations, it could be said here that decisions are made with the best interest of the university community in mind. But the glaring question here is, “Just who exactly is that community?”

Because it sure as hell is not students or faculty.

Just ask Professor Joel Lewis, who was summarily coerced by President Biff Williams and other members of the administration, including the then sitting president of the faculty senate, to leave the school with a payoff in lieu of being fired for allegedly encouraging students to think.

Just ask Professor Varlo Davenport, who upon being acquitted of allegations of wrongdoing in a court of law was summarily defamed and further damaged by the school that had already mishandled the incident he was accused of and without due process of any sort destroyed his professional career.

These are the most prevalent and recent examples, of course, and I don’t mean to exclude the many other incidents wherein the best interest of the university seemed to be conflated with something that had little or nothing to with the civil rights of the people involved. It’s just that in the cases of Lewis, Davenport, and now Willard, the school’s seeming inability to simply follow its polices as well as the law is a glaringly apparent pattern.

I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that it may be the university’s undoing. It appears to have been able to maintain some damage control with things like paying a salary to someone whose rights they may have violated to simply leave quietly. It was only a matter of time, however, before some people with a little fight in them lawyered up and resolved not only to right the wrong they believe they have suffered but to engage in a legal reckoning of sorts to see to it that what happened to them befalls no one else in the future — and to see to it that those responsible are held accountable.

I have been covering these and other incidents and cases at DSU for the better part of four years now, and there appear to be distinct patterns of behavior by the university and some of the same people involved in almost every case. And for some time now, I have been saying both in print and on the air that what is needed is for a federal entity to investigate this school and investigate it thoroughly.

Because that pattern of behavior is woefully egregious. In select cases for reasons outside of policy or law, DSU appears to exact with impunity the hostile personal agendas of members of faculty, administration, and perhaps even members of the board of trustees and with the enforcement of a police force under color of law. It has maintained, and may still maintain, a “whistleblower” site where complaints and allegations are fielded by individuals outside of what is stipulated in the policies and where anonymous allegations are given a veracity that defies the law. To what end? Use your imagination.

The former head of DSU’s campus police, Don Reid, currently has a complaint filed against him with the Utah Peace Officer’s Standards and Training council for two very serious allegations: false and unwarranted threat of arrest and filing a false police report, both of which are not only serious crimes but terminal offenses.

(Reid retired last month after 42 years of service. Sources who wish not to be named say he did so against his will.)

And all this contention, which will lead to years of litigation, is paid for by you, the taxpayer. Yours are the deep pockets DSU has to employ the Utah Attorney General’s Office to defend them as well as pay the salary of their general counsel, Doogie Hicks. (One has to wonder if the AG finds it disconcerting that the school has an attorney on staff that may still not yet be licensed to practice law in Utah.)

As a side note, keep this in mind: The Utah AG is bound by different standards than private council. He has a sworn oath to the people of Utah to uphold the law and is required to act accordingly if he becomes aware that his client has committed or is committing a crime.

This case is not trivial. Not in the least. It is a double-edged sword of sorts in that it has the potential to reveal not only some things about the school’s actions in Willard’s case but also serious concerns across the gamut of how the school operates as a whole. Investigations at the federal level can be isolated, or they can lead to more things of interest, and in this case those things might be how DSU handles the civil rights of individuals who work and attend there.

And as often happens, perhaps a domino effect will begin whereby other departments of federal agencies will take a keen interest into the handling of the school’s finances as well as the actions of the campus police, in particular intimidation tactics and their handling of evidence. Misgivings and misbehavior are sometimes the bedfellows of money. Follow the trail, they say.

But be certain of this: DSU is under at least one federal investigation, and it is fair to say that more may follow.

See you out there.

Authors Note: Since this article published, I have received emails and messages from individuals who allege some variation of sexual assault or harassment that occurred while attending DSU. They have all stated thus far, that the school did not handle their cases properly, and may have not reported the incidents, let alone investigated them. If you or someone you know had a similar experience, I would like to speak to you on or off the record. Contact me at dallas@suindependent.com

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Dallas Hyland is a professional technical writer, freelance writer and journalist, award-winning photographer, and documentary filmmaker. As a senior writer and editor-at-large at The Independent, Hyland’s investigative journalism, opinion columns, and photo essays have ranged in topics from local political and environmental issues to drug trafficking in Utah. He has also worked the international front, covering issues such as human trafficking in Colombia. His photography and film work has received recognition as well as a few modest awards and in 2015, he was a finalist for the Mark of Excellence Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Based in southern Utah, he works tirelessly at his passion for getting after the truth and occasionally telling a good story. On his rare off-days, he can be found with his family and friends exploring the pristine outdoors of Utah and beyond.