Lawsuit alleges cover-up of “scandalous acts” at Ave Maria

By DAMIEN FISHER

NAPLES, FLORIDA —A well-regarded former professor at Ave Maria University claims he was fired for reporting a colleague’s “scandalous” acts to school authorities.

Michael Raiger filed a lawsuit Monday in the Collier County Circuit Court alleging, among other things, that the university and President James Towey violated his contract because he reported the actions of Professor Travis Curtright to school officials, including Towey and the school’s legal counsel. Raiger says school officials directed him to cover up the matter. Curtright is currently chair of the humanities and liberal studies at the university.

Raiger’s attorney, Herbert Zischkau, declined to comment when reached on Wednesday. Towey and Curtright have not yet returned messages.

According to the lawsuit, Raiger was first hired as a full-time teacher in 2009, serving as an assistant literature professor. He consistently received positive job performance reviews, and his initial rolling three-year contract was renewed in 2012. But soon after the start of the 2012 school year, Raiger fell afoul of the Ave Maria administration.

“[Raiger’s] conscientious services as an AMU Faculty Member included the reporting of seriously disruptive, scandalous, and disreputable behavior (the ‘Curtright acts’) by another faculty member, Travis Curtright, that was brought to [Raiger’s] attention on or about October 12, 2012,” the lawsuit states.

Raiger reports he went through the proper chain of command to report the “Curtright acts,” first speaking to Dean Michael Dauphinais, then going directly to Towey and to more than one of his representatives. The lawsuit contends that the “Curtright acts” were of such a “scandalous nature” that Raiger wanted to make sure Towey and others knew of them in order to protect the school.

“Given the seriousness of the legal repercussions to his employer, AMU, that could result if remedial action was deferred, [Raiger] also reported the Curtright acts to the appropriate legal officer of AMU, University Counsel, William Kirk, Esq,” the lawsuit states.

The exact nature of the “Curtright acts” are not yet public, but are expected to become part of the discovery process, and will then be public record as the court case moves forward.

In an early December meeting, Dauphinais and Kirk told Raiger to report what he knew about Curtright to the Faculty Evaluation Committee. However, in late December, that plan changed. Raiger was reportedly told not to speak with the committee. Instead, an ad-hoc committee of three people, who are unnamed in the lawsuit, was formed in March to investigate Curtright.

That committee performed an investigation, and then issued a report. Raiger’s lawsuit states that the committee did not give him a copy of the report.

Raiger’s lawsuit states that university officials told him the “Curtright acts” were to be covered up and never mentioned again. Raiger claims Curtright was never disciplined.

In 2015, Raiger met with Towey and new Dean Seana Sugrue. During the meeting, Towey threatened to take Raiger’s benefits away, in part because he reported the “Curtright acts,” according to the lawsuit. Towey was also allegedly angry about comments Raiger’s wife had made and about the behavior of Raigers’s children on campus. Towey also blocked Raiger’s contractually agreed-upon promotion to associate professor, according to the lawsuit. Towey suggested to Raiger that he might ban spouses from speaking about matters pertaining to the university.

The Raigers have eleven children.

At the time, Raiger was working under a three-year rolling contract that ran through to the end of 2017. According to the lawsuit, after he raised concerns to Sugrue about Towey’s threats, Sugrue told Raiger that his benefits would be protected if he signed a new, one-year contract for the 2016/2017 academic year. Sugrue told Raiger that under this contract, his employment would automatically renew through to the end of the 2017/2018 academic year, as long as the school did not notify him otherwise by Nov. 1 of 2016. Raiger received no such notice that November, but the school told him in May of 2017 that he would not becoming back — a violation of the new, one-year contract he had been induced to sign.

Towey served in the George W. Bush administration as the director of the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. He also served as president of St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Towey resigned from St. Vincent in 2009, a year before his contract there ended. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Towey’s tenure at St. Vincent was at times tumultuous.

In early 2008, 32 members of the faculty co-signed a confidential letter to the school’s board of directors, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, claiming that Towey’s actions as president were creating “an unparalleled crisis.”

The letter accused Towey of sanitizing St. Vincent’s self-study portion of the re-accreditation effort, and of using controlling tactics in the search for an academic vice president, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The letter claimed Towey had damaged the school’s academic integrity.

“The faculty at St. Vincent is gravely concerned about the current president’s systematic and pervasive disregard for collegiality and shared governance,” the letter states.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette does note Towey raised large sums of money for St. Vincent.

According to the online docket, the school has yet to respond to Raiger’s lawsuit.

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Image of President Towey from Ave Maria University

34 thoughts on “Lawsuit alleges cover-up of “scandalous acts” at Ave Maria”

  1. I took both professors when I studied at AMU. I would be more inclined to believe Raiger rather than Curtright. Curtright is very insincere. He only gets involved in what benefits him. He has a severe Napoleon syndrome. He has always sucked up to the administration and heads of school. He is jealous of anyone who is more successful than he is. I also have it on good authority that Curtright tried (unsuccessfully) to have another professor fired because of false allegations. He has been less than Christian towards other professors, spreading lies about them, which ultimately meant that they made a decision to leave Ave Maria. He is a very sad man. I don’t deny that as a professor he was pretty good. However on a social level he lacks confidence and feels the only way to get ahead is to tear others down. Very unChristian! Raiger on the other hand is confident in his abilities. He is cuttingly honest. I have no doubt that if Raiger would have been honest in this claim.

  2. I have experienced first hand the sting of unsubstantiated allegations…it is truly a terrible cross. I am sure Simcha would not want her husband to be named publicly in an accusation that has thusfar been unproven , especially because the plaintiffs themselves seem to be …..questionable. Honestly, Simcha – if I came up with some bizarre accusation against someone you loved – how painful would that dagger twist should a journalist ( Catholic , at that) see fit to print the whole affair , naming your loved one…..under the guise of investigative journalism…I would be careful of that Karma thing.. She’s a doozy.

  3. Concerned: lawyers take cases without merit all the time because simply the heat applied by bringing a lawsuit can result in a favorable settlement. This is especially true when the defendant is insured. The mere fact that a case was filed tells us literally nothing about the merits. I agree with you that prior to the discovery period (which is generally not public), speculation is of little value.

    As far as the various questions about how Damien Fisher became privy to the information in the lawsuit: court records are generally searchable for free. It would be very easy to merely search for a university’s name in a relevant county, and get a hit. There is no information in this article that suggests knowledge of evidence outside of the facts alleged in the plaintiff complaint. It seems that there were no responses or no comment on Damien’s calls to the parties and their representatives, including the plaintiff.

  4. The Curtright acts. What are they? If they are actually scandalous, then it’s a mercy that they are currently not explained. Has the devout Catholic plaintiff tried to address this privately with parties involved as the Bible requires? The complaint states that he has – and the same devout Catholic plaintiff has signed a sworn affidavit that the assertions in the complaint are true. This is how our system of justice works. A year ago the same defendants settled a lawsuit (which they had decried) and the acquiesced to every demand of the plaintiff, to include selling a K12 private Catholic school to the diocese for pennies on the dollar. The settlement came after a horribly bad defendant deposition. There is a suit. We don’t know how things will end up, but the plaintiff track record for lawsuits against the Ave Maria educational institutions is remarkably successful.

  5. It never ceases to amaze me just how high a threshold some Catholics have for a criticism of a Catholic institution to ever, ever, be legitimate.

    Always an “attack”; always “detraction”; always “you should shut up and wait for others to report all of the facts, down to the smallest detail, before you dare open your yapper with some statement that could conceivably reflect poorly on a Good Man’s reputation.”

  6. What offends me about this story is entitling it Lawsuit alleges cover-up of “scandalous acts” at Ave Maria and naming a professor who allegedly did such “scandalous acts.” “Independent Journalism” doesn’t absolve you from recklessly impugning someone’s good name.

    1. If Michael Raiger has filed a lawsuit alleging that “scandalous” acts occurred, naming the alleged perpetrator, and this article is meant to inform about the lawsuit and the allegations, how is that impugning someone’s name? Wouldn’t any newspaper do the same? Lawsuits are public, and the allegations they contain become so as well, unless I’m missing something.

      1. I would encourage you to take a look at this article – https://aleteia.org/2016/03/09/fatal-detraction-the-sin-no-one-talks-about/. The AMU story headlines unsubstantiated allegations by a dismissed AMU professor about a current professor, in good standing, even naming that professor. The later’s reputation is now publicly damaged. Do unto others, right? If you get sued and people can make whatever allegations they want against you in a lawsuit, should the media report on that? Legally the probably can, but its still wrong.

    1. Bob, this comment is not helpful. Are you being “ironic” or are you really anti-Semitic?

      I am more concerned with the utter lack of investigation in this article. It seems like blatant click-bait, mere content farming. The Naples, Florida byline seems really peculiar; there’s no evidence in the article that Mr Fisher was reporting from Florida! Seems like he was sitting in New Hampshire, either doing internet research or getting info fed to him remotely.

      It leaves a lot of questions and no answers.

      1. A guy,
        You under estimate the work that went into this. Just to clarify, it is common journalistic practice to put the location of where the story took place at the front to an article. Check out any article from the AP, and you will see this is the case. It is evident from the story that Damien researched the Florida County website to find the lawsuit. Likewise evident, he read through the legalese of the lawsuit to translate it into plain language for the average man. Additionally evident, he researched President Towry, as well as made numerous phone calls to the college, the lawyers, the plaintiff, and likely more.
        We could split hairs over whether this is “investigative journalism” or “journalism”, but considering this is an initial article on a just breaking lawsuit, I think the idea was to get out a story now to inform the public, and later follow-up with deeper investigation.

        The only question I would want answered is how he was tipped off to the lawsuit. Was this an inside informant? Does he have a tool that alerts him to when select Catholic schools are mentioned in lawsuits?

        1. I heard from a couple of students directly. Raiger contacted the Fishers to garner media attention for his lawsuit.

          1. And the “scandalous act” was the telling of a very mild joke (that Raiger didn’t think was funny) at a private BBQ off-campus.

          2. Both of these comments are unsubstantiated. Also it would be very imprudent for someone to jeopardize their own pending litigation by contacting a media outlet directly. And it would be similarly ridiculous for the Fishers to report on it were that the case.
            Finally, the lawsuit was publicly available on the Collier county records page a full day before this article was published. The Fishers could easily have found it themselves, or one of any number of concerned students or alums could have sent it to them.

          3. -Per students at Ave Maria-

            The Raiger’s previously filed two Title IX claims on behalf of their daughter-both were dismissed in court. That same daughter alleged (in another claim) that her mother (Mrs. Raiger) abused her so they haven’t had a lot of credibility (in the eyes of the students).

            Ave Maria has looked into Ragier’s “scandalous acts” claims and could not find any corroborating evidence as the claims themselves were so vague.

            The students believe that the Raiger’s contacted the media at this time (graduation) in order to draw as much attention to their case as possible.

          4. I really don’t think a lawyer would take this case on if it had zero merit. Why don’t we all just wait to see what actually comes out in the discovery process instead of speculating?

          5. I’ve applauded you guys before for bringing to light abusers. I think it’s a good thing that you have and media attention seems to be the only thing that gets policies changed and gets abusers removed (permanently we hope).

            Because of your history of doing this, readers would be inclined to think some sort of sexual abuse or seriously concerning behavior by a professor was happening at Ave Maria. Apparently this is not the case with regard to Curtwright and he can’t get easily his reputation back after damage like this is done.

            I just wanted to put another side to this story out there for the sake of fairness.

          6. Having read the lawsuit I would like to know what recommendation the committee convened to investigate the charges came to. Since it was not made public, and apparently not followed, the gravity of the alleged acts are not known publicly.

          7. Simcha,
            How were you tipped off to the lawsuit? Students? Faculty? Do you have a tool that alerts you when select Catholic schools are mentioned in lawsuits? Not asking you to burn a source, just curious if this was an self-initiated piece or, like your previous articles, a tip from a concerned person.

  7. Ottis your comment is chock full of unsubstantiated conclusions. If your going to give answers, you should show your math.

    I’d be interested to know if you are using your real name. The Raigers put theirs to public record.

    I personally have not read the aforementioned dispositions, nor do I know anything about the merits of this article. I just find your comment terribly wanting.

    1. No. When a newspaper journalist writes a piece of investigative journalism and chooses to publish it not in a newspaper but on a blog, one may reasonably wonder why. When the journalist in question is a Catholic, and the piece in question involves a Catholic university, and the blog in question is a fairly popular blog with a largely Catholic audience, the reason for the choice is not difficult to surmise. When the blog has repeatedly raised awareness of Catholics giving scandal, and sometimes gotten the attention of the very Catholics being called out, the reason for the choice should be fairly obvious. This venue is as likely as any other to get this story the attention it needs to get, and to effect the change it hopes to effect. See Matthew 18:15-17.

  8. Telling isn’t it, that when you go to the school’s website there is no list to be found of the faculty and their academic credentials. There is only one organizational chart tucked in an area which also had personnel resources. Having a child looking at colleges I’ve seen alot of college websites and have never seen anything like it. It is very odd that the only bio is the school president’s and even that doesn’t reflect much about the school and his vision for it but rather his personal accolades. Apparently it is all about him which is frankly disturbing and not a healthy sign.

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