Walking on the Ledge
Chuck gets Chucked
This is another excerpt from my reporter’s notebook concerning the day Charles Carlsen voluntarily retired from JCCC amid allegations of unlawful harassment.
It happened at one of the board’s emergency meetings. I lost count of how many it had during that time. I didn’t go to it because I had to work in the library.
I don’t remember learning that Chuck resigned … er … retired until the next day. Yet, my log contradicts what I’ve thought of as the way I learned about it.
So let me tell you how I remember it and then you can read my log.
I remember being exhausted. With only 2-3 hours of sleep a night, I’d been a zombie since The Ledger published my story seven days earlier (April 13).
It was a Friday (April 21, 2006) and I didn’t have class that day or maybe I blew it off for some sleep. I don’t recall. I just remember I was so excited because I planned on sleeping for about 12 hours — no joke.
I awoke at the crack of noon when one of my sources called.
Honestly, the only reason I answered the phone was out of habit. During the investigation, I’d assigned my sources a special ringtone. Upon hearing it, I’d either answer or I check my email — even if I was half asleep.
In an excited voice, my source asked me if I’d heard the news about Carlsen. Well, of course, I had. Chuck announced he was taking a leave of absence the day after my story came out. Puh-lease, that news was sooo six days ago!
My source quietly said something like, “He’s gone.” At which point I thought, “Oh. My. God. He’s dead. I killed him. I killed Chuck Carlsen.” Then my source said something like, “He resigned last night at the board meeting. He’s gone!”
“How could you not know? You’re the reporter!”
It was like I couldn’t understand the language my source was speaking. I heard words but I didn’t know what they meant. I’m sure it only took a few nanoseconds for my brain to wake up and process what I was hearing but it seemed so much longer.
I met the source for lunch and we talked a long time about what happened and what was ahead. That’s when writing a book about this experience first entered my mind …
So that’s how I remember it happening. My interpretation of the entry below is that it seems as if I wrote it at work after the posting was delivered to JCCC’s listserv, Infolist.
So why the two versions? Maybe when wrote the entry, I got the date wrong and it was actually April 21 not April 20. I was very tired during that time and could have made that mistake. On the other hand, I was very diligent about noting the correct time/date for my entries as I thought I’d have to use them if I ever went to court. I don’t know. I’m confident that the version in my mind is the correct one because I have a source who can verify my … well … my cluelessness about Chuck resigning.
Again, this edited version is not an attempt to reframe history but rather an attempt to continue honoring a promise to my sources.
April 20, 2006
Sent: Thu 20-Apr-06 7:12 PM
April 20, 2006
Tonight the Johnson County Community College board of trustees met in special session regarding the letter below. The trustees accepted Dr. Carlsen’s request for immediate voluntary retirement.
Ms. Elaine Perilla
Board of Trustees of the Johnson County Community College
12345 College Boulevard
Overland Park,KS 66210
I am writing to advise you that I am taking voluntary retirement from my employment as president of the college. For the reasons described in this letter, I ask that the board of trustees make my retirement immediately effective pursuant to Section 417.01.0 of the Personnel Policies of the college.
The past two weeks have been difficult ones. On the one hand, I have a strong desire to establish what those who know me already know to be true: I have done nothing wrong. On the other hand, however, I have been pained to see the college distracted by issues that have nothing to do with its educational mission. My paramount concern now, as always, is that the college be able to continue to serve this community and provide outstanding educational opportunities for its students.
As I have talked to members of my family, I have also taken into account considerations relating to my health. I have had two heart attacks, an angioplasty, and quintuple bypass surgery. It is apparent to me from the stress of the last two weeks that immediate retirement is the appropriate step to take.
I am deeply honored to have been given the opportunity to serve the Johnson County Community College as its president for more than twenty-five years. I was privileged to work with trustees, administrators, students, and faculty and staff members who rendered wonderful service to the college over many years. I am profoundly grateful for the many members of this community who during my tenure as president rendered volunteer service to the college, made a donation to the college foundation, or simply served as one of the many vocal supporters of this institution.
While I will no longer serve as its president, please be assured that my love for the Johnson County Community College, and my commitment to its mission, will remain as strong as ever.
Charles J. Carlsen
I thought he would do it. I thought he would be a man about it and do it earlier. But then when he issued a press release calling for a third party investigation, I knew he’d fight it to the end. I thought he’d wait until we were out of school and slip away over the summer.
His lawyers must have persuaded him to leave sooner.
This doesn’t end my 13-month investigation. We still have employees and the chair of the board of trustees who allegedly knew about the investigation and did nothing.
I feel like crying because I slew the dragon. I walked into the lion’s den and stared him down – me — a little Mexican kid who used to work in the fields for $1.25 an hour. I took on the most powerful man in Johnson County.
I’ll never again doubt my ability. I’ll never say, “I can’t do that.” I’ll never be afraid. I’ll never give up. I’ll never forget those who supported me. This doesn’t belong to me. This belongs to every journalist I’ve ever worked with – the good ones and bad ones. This belongs to every program, every mentor, and every scholarship that supported me.
I believe in the power of the individual. But I also know that no one ever walks alone. A single voice can change the world. Integrity. We have a chance to restore our integrity as an institution and as individuals.
We’ve got to keep hitting them hard. The first impulse will be to slide back into bad behaviors. It will be easy to dismiss this as an individual’s error in leadership. No, this took place because as an institution and as people, we allowed it to happen. We must stand in our integrity and reclaim our campus. Sweeping changes must come. More people must resign. [I note correspondence with new sources on campus who have stepped forward about the harassment scandal and another scandal that I am investigating. I note concern on having to investigate two big stories simultaneously while continuing to go to school and to work.]
I’m still in a bit of shock. I know this needs to be reported but … how? What do I do know? I still have all this [unpublished] information [on the harassment story]. There’s got to be a use for it still. What can I bring to this coverage that no one else can?
Scope. I can bring scope. They’ll be reporting the result. I investigated the action.