Home Education St. Norbert trustee sues grad for defamation over Title IX

St. Norbert trustee sues grad for defamation over Title IX

St. Norbert trustee sues grad for defamation over Title IX


A former administrator who’s now a trustee at St. Norbert School is suing a graduate for allegedly defaming him in 2018 whereas criticizing his response to sexual assault on campus.

The trustee, the Reverend Jay Fostner, served as vice chairman for mission and pupil affairs at St. Norbert for 9 years earlier than his place was eradicated in a reorganization in 2020. On the time, the faculty was below fireplace for its dealing with of sexual assault complaints. Fostner, particularly, was accused of being dismissive of sexual assault allegations on campus.

Margaret Uselman, a 2018 graduate, was a vocal critic of Fostner, blasting his alleged callousness in a Fb put up and native media interviews. Now, that public criticism is the topic of Fostner’s defamation lawsuit. Fostner filed the swimsuit in December; final week a decide set a jury trial for subsequent September.

An Ugly Battle

Considerations about how St. Norbert—a non-public Catholic faculty with about 2,000 college students in Wisconsin—dealt with sexual assault on campus got here to a head in spring 2018, when greater than 100 college students signed a letter to the then president arguing that such instances had been mishandled or ignored, in line with native media stories.

In his pupil affairs function, Fostner bore the brunt of the complaints—unfairly, in line with his authorized counsel, who instructed Inside Increased Ed that whereas Fostner was concerned within the faculty’s Title IX course of, he was not an investigator in sexual assault instances.

Within the fall of 2018, Uselman helped arrange a second letter, which garnered greater than 300 signatures from college students and alumni calling for an investigation of Fostner. The faculty responded in January 2019 by launching a third-party evaluate of the way it dealt with sexual assault complaints; officers mentioned the evaluate confirmed that its processes had been sturdy however burdened by character conflicts and departmental clashes, which wanted enchancment.

The faculty confronted criticism for by no means releasing the total report back to the general public. Officers insisted the report didn’t replicate wrongdoing by any workers members, together with the embattled and oft-criticized Fostner.

Within the aftermath of the report, Uselman expressed disappointment in an interview with an area TV station, telling Fox 11 Information she discovered it was disturbing “that nobody is being held accountable.” She mentioned on the time that she knew of not less than 25 others who had raised issues about Fostner’s response to sexual assault claims.

Uselman additionally claimed, in a 2018 Fb put up, that Fostner sought to silence victims of sexual assault.

College members weighed in on the controversy, casting a no-confidence vote in fall 2019 in opposition to Fostner “persevering with in any place” on the faculty, in line with native media stories. The vote got here whereas Fostner was on a yearlong sabbatical that started in July 2019. In January 2020 his place was eradicated.

By July 2021, Fostner was again at St. Norbert School, this time as a trustee chosen by the abbot of St. Norbert Abbey, the non secular order that sponsors the faculty. The bylaws of the faculty require that the abbey appoint a sure variety of trustees.

All of the sudden, the person who college felt should not have any place on the faculty had extra energy.

Amid criticism of his appointment, Fostner’s supporters took to native editorial pages, proclaiming he was a sufferer of cancel tradition, wronged by a smear marketing campaign that mischaracterized his function and obligations at a school he had served faithfully.

Jordan Loeb, authorized counsel for Fostner, took the same place in an interview with Inside Increased Ed, noting the uproar at St. Norbert got here within the midst of the Me Too motion, when criticism of sexual misconduct was magnified. He mentioned the Me Too motion and clergy abuse scandals turned conflated with points at St. Norbert, resulting in unfair criticism of his shopper. Loeb argued that the general public has a misunderstanding of Fostner’s function within the controversy and that the previous administrator was by no means a Title IX investigator. Loeb solid Fostner as a handy scapegoat for the missteps of then president Brian Bruess, who resigned in 2022.

Loeb described the authorized battle as “the venue of final resort” as a result of “the story refuses to die.” Waxing biblical, Loeb mentioned that “turning the opposite cheek doesn’t work” on condition that his shopper’s popularity has suffered irreparable injury and he has misplaced skilled alternatives because of the controversy.

“The defendant on this case made very public and really false allegations in opposition to Jay Fostner that not solely did he mishandle Title IX investigations, however he intentionally protected not less than one individual, and maybe usually, people who find themselves accused of sexual assault on campus,” Loeb mentioned.

Loeb was additionally important of St. Norbert School, arguing that the establishment may right the damaging perceptions of Fostner by clarifying his function in its Title IX processes. As a substitute, the faculty has remained largely silent, he famous.

Attorneys for Uselman didn’t reply to a request for remark from Inside Increased Ed, however Uselman denied defaming Fostner in a GoFundMe put up searching for $40,000 in donations for her authorized protection.

“Throughout my time on campus, I sought to enhance quite a few the faculty’s insurance policies and procedures associated to sexual assault on campus. A few of my efforts overlapped with Rev. Dr. Jay Fostner’s tenure at St. Norbert School. On December 7, 2022, Fostner sued me in Brown County Circuit Court docket for alleged defamation and punitive damages. Rev. Fostner alleges that sure feedback I made up to now defamed him. I strongly deny Rev. Fostner’s allegations and intend to defend myself in Court docket,” Uselman wrote on the crowdfunding web site on Aug. 8.

A school spokesperson declined to touch upon the litigation and defended the establishment’s Title IX processes in an emailed response.

“St. Norbert School is pleased with its efforts to repeatedly enhance Title IX associated insurance policies, practices and efforts to successfully assist survivors of sexual assault (and different gender-based violence),” the spokesperson wrote, pointing to “revised reporting and response procedures” and numerous different modifications.

Officers at St. Norbert Abbey didn’t reply to requests for remark, nor did Bruess, who’s now president of the School of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s College.

An Unusual Conflict

Non secular orders incessantly appoint monks from inside their ranks to governing boards of the establishments they sponsor, famous David Rowe, senior vice chairman and managing principal of AGB Consulting. Such appointments are a approach “to keep up the mission of the order” and ensure an related faculty adheres to the values of the sponsoring group.

However sure parts of the St. Norbert School case are unusual, he mentioned.

First, Rowe famous that it’s uncommon for a former administrator to step into the function of trustee—significantly if that worker had been pushed out of the faculty in a roundabout way.

Second, it’s unusual for a trustee to sue a graduate, he mentioned, including that such authorized battles can ship waves of negativity via faculty communities, significantly at small establishments.

“Typically, it may be troublesome for a college to handle these sorts of intramural authorized disputes, whether or not it’s a trustee suing a pupil or graduate or different actors inside the establishment,” Rowe mentioned. “Submitting fits in opposition to different individuals inside the establishment, I feel that may be troublesome, significantly for a small establishment to handle. By way of optics, I additionally assume it might be terribly disruptive to the material of the group itself.”

Rowe added that in a case the place a trustee brings a lawsuit in opposition to a graduate or different group member, it might be finest apply for them to step away from the board, which Fostner has achieved on this case, taking a short lived go away of absence amid the authorized battle.



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