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.