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After sexual harassment from Spartan band director, student does not return to campus

February 9, 2017
Marching band director John T. Madden directs the band through the MSU fight song before the game against Brigham Young University on Oct. 8, 2016 at Spartan Stadium.  The Spartans were defeated by the Cougars, 31-14.
Marching band director John T. Madden directs the band through the MSU fight song before the game against Brigham Young University on Oct. 8, 2016 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans were defeated by the Cougars, 31-14. —
Photo by Carly Geraci | and The State News file photo The State News

Editor's note: This story contains information from documents that were given to The State News by a victim of sexual harassment. The name of the victim and names of those in relation to victim have been altered for privacy reasons. The student who was harassed by John T. Madden wishes to remain anonymous.

 “Pics of your dress are required … Discreetly of course,” John T. Madden, the director of the Spartan Marching Band, wrote in a text message to an MSU student on Feb. 20, 2016 at about 10:42 p.m. This information was found in documents obtained by The State News. The documents were given to The State News from a victim of sexual harassment. 

The student was a female member of the Spartan Marching Band, which Madden has directed for 27 years. He was asking for photos of her dress she wore to the annual Spartan Marching Band end of the year band banquet, called Huddle. 

According to the documents, Madden and the student maintained contact via text message because of her position in the band, but the "discreetly" text wasn't the first time Madden contacted the student with something she considered "more personal." It happened first on Nov. 10, 2015 at about 9:28 p.m. when he said, "When the season ends ... We're going ice skating! I'm an old hockey player!" and once more on Dec. 1, 2015 at about 8:07 p.m. when he asked, "Did I see you wearing Converse all-star high tops yesterday?" In a following text at 10:13 p.m., Madden told the student "You look good in them!" regarding the shoes. 

The student thought "it was odd that it seemed he wanted to do something personal with her or was trying to connect on that level" after the ice skating and shoe texts were sent in late 2015, according to the documents. But for the student, the conversation on Feb. 20, 2016 would only get more uncomfortable. 

She tried to "play it off" and sent a group picture of herself and other members of the band to Madden after his request for the photo of her dress, according to the documents. She was "thinking of her job and position in the band and didn't know how to respond," the documents say. 

Madden responded to the group photo via text message with "Blingy dress!! A+ I'm a fan. Yes ... Will be a good year," according to the documents. Madden missed the Huddle for the first time in 27 years, according to the documents. He was in Ohio guest conducting. 

After the "blingy dress" text, Madden confessed to the student he had been drinking and owed her an apology.

"Just finished my conducting gig ... Having a couple beers at a local bar ... Sorry for being a creepy texter," Madden sent to the student, according to the documents.

After the incident, the student "couldn't sleep or eat for an entire week and felt 'creeped out,'" according to the documents. She was afraid of seeing Madden if she walked by the music building and all she wanted to do was "forget about it and not speak of it again." 

One week later Madden asked the student to call him. According to the documents, she felt she had to "due to his position." Madden told the student it was inappropriate for him to ask her for photos or tell her he was drinking. He also brought up his wife and said "I'm working through some things right now," according to the documents. 

After the phone call, the student said the situation was "pretty messed up," according to the documents. The student previously trusted Madden and felt he was a hypocrite after the incident. The student needed "counseling and was going to the counseling center," according to the documents. The student also said in the documents she had to "tell somebody about what happened 'so it didn't happen to anyone else.'"

According to an investigative report, dated April 28, 2016 and written by Debra Martinez, a senior investigator in MSU's Office of Institutional Equity, Madden said he felt bad about the situation because he is supposed to be a "role model." According to the investigative report, Madden was also receiving counseling regarding the difficulty of being put on a pedestal by students. 

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The report also states Madden asked to sit down with the student for mediation to "assure her that my dependability still exists." Madden told the investigator he "would like to process this with" the student, to which he was told that "would not be appropriate or possible," according to the investigative report written by Martinez. 

The incident was originally brought forward by the student on Feb. 29, 2016. According to the documents, the student said reporting the incident was "the hardest thing to do." 

Stephanie, a senior at MSU whose name has been changed for privacy reasons and to protect the anonymity of the student sexually harassed by Madden, said she met the student and they became friends when she was a freshman at MSU. Stephanie said the student came to her for advice when she was filing her report with the Office of Institutional Equity. 

“She was really stressed out and really scared,” Stephanie said. “It was her dream to be in that marching band and she finally made it and then this is what had happened.”

Stephanie said Madden was playing with a power dynamic. He had the power over her and he abused it, Stephanie said.

According to an email sent from MSU's Dean of the College of Music Jim Forger to Jayne Schuiteman, a senior institutional equity investigator for MSU, the student harassed by Madden visited Assistant Director of Bands David Thornton and was "crying and visibly upset." The email obtained is part of the documents and states the student reported the text message exchange from the night of Huddle to Thornton as well as the following phone call Madden made to apologize. The email also states Thornton told the student she did the right thing in reporting the matter and he would be required to report what she shared with him. 

According to the investigative report written by Martinez, "the personal request and nature of the language used by Respondent (Madden) evidences an authoritative position and behavior of sexual or intimate contact. If Respondent (Madden) requested photographs due to  sentiment over missing the event as he suggests, there is no need for anything to be sent 'discreetly.'"

It was determined Madden's conduct toward the student was unwelcome behavior of sexual nature, according to the investigative report.

The investigative report written by Martinez also states, "The plain meaning of the text message is apparent and reasonably made a significant impact upon a  young undergraduate student who was in a subordinate position to his authority. Claimant (student) needed her job and placed great importance upon being part of the marching band." 

It was further found Madden's conduct altered the terms and conditions of the student's work and/or education experience and/or unreasonably interfered with her performance in an activity, the marching band. According to the investigative report, the Office of Institutional Equity concluded its report and referred further action "as warranted" to Academic Human Resources. 

In a letter dated May 22, 2016, Forger reminded Madden of the findings from the Office of Institutional Equity then told Madden “the actions you took in this matter were unfortunate, disappointing, and unacceptable. Your conduct in this case represents a serious lapse of judgement in what has otherwise been a long-time positive and productive career at MSU. Your actions, considering your position, stature, and leadership at this institution have been determined to be ‘severe.’”

Forger told Madden the disciplinary actions that were going to be imposed included: a one week suspension from May 27 to June 3, 2016, where Madden was not allowed to be on campus or represent MSU in any capacity, a delay of his promotion to a full-time professor until Oct. 1, 2016 and a ban from the 2017 Huddle. 

“John Madden, director of the MSU Spartan Marching Band, was suspended without pay May 27, 2016, to June 3, 2016, among other personnel actions," MSU spokesperson Jason Cody said in a statement regarding Madden. "The suspension came after an investigation by MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity into improper conduct the prior semester. While MSU does not discuss specific personnel actions or investigations, the Office of Institutional Equity’s investigation found Madden violated the Relationship Violence & Sexual Misconduct Policy. In addition to the personnel actions imposed, the university will continue its ongoing work with the Spartan Marching Band to ensure it provides a learning environment free from harassment.”

The suspension applied to the CBDNA National Athletic Band Directors' Conference, according to the letter. 

The dates of the suspension included a university holiday, Memorial Day. The university was closed for part of Madden's suspension on May 30, 2016, according to the academic calendar. 

The letter also said the student would be allowed to retain her position with the band in which she worked closely with Madden, but Madden would no longer supervise her position and “no retaliation (would) be tolerated.”

Forger also told Madden in the letter that during the fall 2016 preseason training in August, Schuiteman would address the full band about “issues of sexual harassment and good/bad traditions.” Schuiteman was also going to address the band's leadership separately. Madden was not allowed to be present for those discussions, the letter said. 

According to an email sent from MSU's Title IX Coordinator Jessica Norris to Cody, there was a gathering in which "Madden became emotional during his statement and left the room immediately after." The gathering also included comments from Forger "reiterating the expectations for an environment free of harassment and discrimination." Norris also gave a planned report during the gathering, according the email. The email obtained is part of the documents obtained by The State News. 

In addition, a statement in which it says "I am committed to my work with all of you as the Director of the Spartan Marching Band" is a part of the documents obtained by The State News. The statement says, "I had some text message exchanges with a member of the band. I exercised poor judgement and made a mistake doing so and I regret my actions." 

The letter from Forger to Madden outlining discipline also said Schuiteman worked with the Spartan Marching Band for the 2016 season and will continue to work with them to “assess the climate.”

The letter ended with a warning that if Madden is to be part of “any unwelcome actions of a sexual nature or other serious lapses in judgement,” his employment through MSU could be in jeopardy. The letter was placed in Madden’s personnel file.

A letter from Attorney Philip E. Cook, dated August 15, 2016, was sent to Theodore H. Curry II, MSU's associate provost and associate vice president for academic human resources. The attorney was representing the student Madden sexually harassed and wrote to "object to the 'discipline' imposed upon Spartan Marching Band Director John Madden for his sexual harassment."

According to the letter, the student decided not to return to campus. "After much thought, reflecting upon the extreme discomfort she experienced whenever encountering Madden (or even on-campus reminders about Band), she will not return to the East Lansing campus," the letter states. 

It notes the student would be finishing her degree online. The letter says Forger attempted to make Madden's punishment seem "significant and appropriate," but says the university did little more to Madden than the following: "Take one unpaid week of vacation, wait 3 months and we will promote you as planned, and skip a Band party next year."

Stephanie agreed with the student's lawyer and said the punishment Madden received was minimal. 

“Students should always come first," Stephanie said. “She was made completely vulnerable by someone who she trusted and who was in a position of power over her.”

A letter from Robert Kent, an assistant general counsel at MSU, that was dated August 30, 2016, was sent in response to the one from the student's lawyer. Kent's letter said the university remains committed to providing support for the student and continues to hold a place for her as a part of the Spartan Marching Band. The letter also listed support services the student would have available, such as "counseling" and "academic/extracurricular accommodations." The option to reach out to MSU's Title IX Coordinator for support was also listed as an option for the student. 

The letter from Kent concludes with the fact that if the student wishes to hold onto her special position with the Spartan Marching Band, she needed to let the university know on or before September 13, 2016. 

Stephanie said she knew the pain her friend went through during the harassment and through the entire process.  

“Despair is really the only word I had for it," Stephanie said. “To work for something for so long and finally make it and then have it blow up in your face in such a way."

As of Feb. 9 at 3 p.m., Madden responded via email to a request for comment. Madden said "thanks for the chance to respond" and attached his address he made to the entire Spartan Marching Band on August 31, 2016. The address is attached at the bottom of the story.

State News reporters Brigid Kennedy and Marie Weidmayer contributed research to this report.

To follow along with more Madden coverage, stay with The State News and subscribe to our daily newsletter or pick up a copy of The State News

An address from the Director of the Spartan Marching Band by The State News on Scribd


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