CMU washes hands of Vanguard affair through its report


After a several-month investigation, Central Michigan University concluded there was no evidence to support employee participation in a potential pipeline between the university and Lansing-based Vanguard Public Affairs, the site of numerous sexual harassment claims.

At an expense of $550,000, the university called on the Honigman law firm to explore allegations surrounding Student Media Adviser Dave Clark, CMU journalism instructor Steve Coon and journalism internship Professor Jim Wojcik.

Comments suggested the faculty members were aware of Vanguard furnishing a “toxic” and “uncomfortable” work environment but continued to allow students and recent graduates to pursue career opportunities with the firm.

“Our analysis began with a straightforward question: What did any CMU employee know about the mistreatment of CMU student interns at Vanguard, and when did they know it?” the report reads. “We found no evidence that anyone at CMU knowingly encouraged a CMU graduate to work in a hostile, dangerous, or sexually harassing environment at Vanguard.”

The political public relations firm was run by CMU alumnus TJ Bucholz, who in Spring 2021 became the source of troubling sexual harassment claims. The events retold included requesting female workers to touch his handgun “in a sexual innuendo way” and inviting them to have a threesome with him and his wife.

Additional stories featured one of Bucholz gifting a female contractor with jewelry and lingerie, explaining her dress code would consist of “lots of cleavage — little clothes in the summer” and expressing his desire to have sex with her.

Honigman zoomed in on four CMU students who interned at Vanguard from 2016 to 2019. No student participated in a Vanguard internship after November 2019.

In total, Honigman interviewed 53 witnesses — including former CMU students who interned at Vanguard or later became Vanguard employees — and assessed 42,000 electronic documents, such as email and text messages.

In or around October 2019, a Vanguard employee and CMU graduate had shared with Clark that Bucholz was temperamental, facilitated shoddy business practices and was a “creep” or “creeper.” She explained Bucholz would request her to drive him around in his car, regardless of deadlines, and would occasionally keep a handgun in his vehicle or his office.

The graduate described Bucholz as a “jerk” and a thrower of “temper tantrums but didn’t illustrate incidents that were sexual in nature or violent.

Clark had a similar conversation with an intern afterward — also not featuring experiences of harassment or discrimination. The young woman said she would ride with Bucholz in his car, which Clark considered “weird,” while emphasizing her internship was a waste and a “disaster,” according to the report.

Coon served under Bucholz from May 2014 to June 2017 as the director of creative services for Vanguard, but Honigman “found no evidence to support a conclusion that Coon knew about Bucholz’s mistreatment of women at Vanguard until the time of Coon’s leave of absence in March of 2021.”

As for Wojcik, WCMU Public Radio published a story on March 31 highlighting a story from 2016 Vanguard intern Tess Francke, who cried in Wojcik’s office and expressed, “I’m very uncomfortable in this internship.”

Francke would later tell MLive that Bucholz had asked her to “call him daddy and to only refer to him as daddy” and that he commemorated Vanguard as the “Hooters” of PR agencies. However, in her conversation with Wojcik, she did not use the words “sexual harassment” while disclosing her tales of discomfort and workplace toxicity.

She said Wojcik advised her to “stick it out. You need it to graduate. T.J.’s a great guy, he will give you a good grade, it will all work out.”

“The student did not tell Wojcik information amounting to sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, or workplace violence,” the report reads. “We likewise found no evidence that Wojcik was put on notice of Bucholz’s sexual harassment or mistreatment of CMU students or alumni as defined by relevant laws or CMU policies, or that he failed to report it.”

In a letter, CMU President Robert Davies illustrated the investigation as a “necessary expense,” as the case involved “serious” allegations related to sexual harassment and trafficking.

“This was a challenging situation for our community. Now it provides an opportunity to closely review many of our processes and practices, and to identify areas for growth and improvement,” the letter reads, adding the university will work to better equip employees for identifying misconduct and eliminate barriers when it comes to reporting sexual misconduct.

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