Former Gov. Douglas Wilder’s VCU contract renewed during sexual harassment investigation

Hannah Eason, News Editor

Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder’s contract has been renewed after an external investigation found him responsible of kissing a student more than 60 years his junior without her consent.

Wilder’s contract was renewed on May 31, three months after the beginning of the sexual harassment investigation, and more than two years after Sydney Black, a former VCU student, says Wilder kissed her in his condo without her consent after a birthday dinner. 

The contract states Wilder will hold a part-time position as a distinguished professor for the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. 

The $150,000 contract, which began July 1 and ends June 30, states Wilder cannot teach more than nine hours during the spring semester, nine hours during the fall semester and six hours over the summer. 

Wilder’s contract does not clearly state what Wilder will teach, but he does not have any courses listed in eServices, an online portal used to register for classes, for fall semester. 

The document was signed by the L. Douglas Wilder School’s interim dean, Susan Gooden.

Political science major Megan Blackwood said that women who step forward in Virginia with sexual assault allegations aren’t taken seriously. 

“I think it’s a travesty of justice,” Blackwood said, “but if you look at Virginia politics, it’s on par.”

The junior said she believed the system should be fair and just, regardless of political party. 

“To blatantly disregard people who come forward against members of our own party because it makes us uncomfortable,” Blackwood said, “it’s a cop-out.”

The investigator hired by VCU, attorney Jody Shipper, found Wilder responsible for non-consensual sexual contact, and cleared him of sexual exploitation, sex-gender based discrimination and retaliation. 

Wilder released his response contesting the investigation’s findings on his personal blog, Wilder Visions, on July 22.

“I have stated that the allegations were proven to be untrue and that the ‘truth will out,’” Wilder stated in the post. “I do not accept responsibility for any non-consensual sexual contact and have filed a ‘contesting statement’ outlining the violations, bias and inherent flaws in the investigation.”

July 23, Wilder posted his official statement contesting the findings in an attachment to the blog post, stating there were inconsistencies in the evidence referenced in the investigation, as well as Black’s statement. 

Wilder further states in an attachment to the post that the evidence used in the investigation was “false, lacks credibility and reflects glaring inconsistencies.”

“We are pleased the investigation has validated Sydney’s report to VCU about Mr. Wilder’s conduct,” Black’s attorney, Jason Wolfrey, said in a statement to The Washington Post in July.

Elizabeth Gersony, a social work major, said she understood why VCU made the decision to renew Wilder’s contract, but it has its faults.  

“The investigation was still going, they hadn’t arrived at a conclusion yet,” Gersony said. “At the same time, they didn’t have evidence confirming he was not someone who had participated in sexual harassment behavior.”

The freshman said she wished there was less skepticism associated with sexual assault victims.

“Although it is feasible for someone to try to use a sexual assault charge to come at a person of power,” Gersony said, “it’s also extremely feasable for someone in a position of power to actively use their role to get away with that kind of thing.”

Emily Anderson, a homeland security and criminal justice major, said by renewing Wilder’s contract, it could cause other sexual assault victims to feel like they’ll be “overlooked.”

“It kind of shows that VCU is supporting the mistreatment of students by hired professionals,” Anderson said. “He’s done a lot for the city of Richmond, but knowing about the investigation makes me sad.”

Photography major Joe Castellucci said that a suspension of Wilder while the investigation was undergoing would have shown VCU was taking the situation seriously.

“I think he should have at least been suspended,” the junior said. “We have too many people in power like that.”

VCU spokesperson Michael Porter said in an email that the university could not release the investigative report on the allegations against Wilder due to privacy concerns.

“VCU takes seriously any allegations of misconduct and all parties’ rights to a fair and impartial process that provides a full opportunity to be heard,” Porter stated. “VCU policy contemplates both an investigation and an opportunity for parties to contest the findings of an investigation before the process is complete.”

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