A popular math teacher who was fired from Gonzaga College High School has accused the school’s president of implying that he had “inappropriate sexual or physical conduct” with a former student, an allegation the teacher and his attorney call “totally false.”
Shortly after Mike Davis was fired from Gonzaga this month, the school’s president, Rev. Stephen Planning, sent an e-mail to Gonzaga parents, in which he said Davis had “[failed] to maintain expected professional boundaries between a teacher and student.” Planning offered no further details and didn’t specify the nature of the contact between Davis and the student, who is no longer enrolled at Gonzaga.
After Planning’s e-mail was sent, Davis and his attorney, Martin G. Oliverio, sent their own e-mail to the Gonzaga 1981 graduating class, of which Davis and Oliverio were members. In it, they write that Planning “destroyed [Davis’s] integrity, jeopardized his career and abandoned him, via a blast email.”
The e-mail went on to say that Davis, who taught at Gonzaga for 25 years, is “deeply wounded and beyond bewildered.” The Washingtonian received the e-mail through a source close to the Gonzaga community.
Planning’s e-mail said that prior to firing Davis, he had contacted the authorities, who found no criminal behavior. Writing on Davis’s behalf, his attorney said, “Mike has assured me, and wants to assure all of you, that his conduct, personally and professionally, and specifically as it relates to his accuser, has been appropriate, moral, ethical, and professional.”
Davis, married and the father of two, taught math and AP calculus. Many parents have expressed alarm about the firing—because Davis was well liked—and confusion—because so little information has been provided. According to a source close to the matter, it involves a student who was at the school at least six years ago.
When The Washingtonian contacted Planning, he said via e-mail, “We have said everything that we are going to be able to say regarding this.” He did not respond to further requests for comment today.
The letter from Davis’s attorney urged recipients to contact members of the school’s board of trustees. He also hinted at further legal action. “We have been meeting with lawyers and law firms specializing in employment practice disputes.”
The full text of Oliverio’s letter is below.
Mike and I met for several hours Wednesday to discuss a wide range of topics involving his termination.
Many of you have expressed an interest in responding to Fr. Planning and Gonzaga administrators in the wake of the statement released last week. Please know that this should be your own personal decision. Mike has been profoundly moved by the support of the Class of ’81, and so many other people from the Gonzaga community, but he has no expectations or demands beyond that. Knowing Mike like we do, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
As many of you remarked, in response to the mass email communication from President Planning, the statement that Mike failed “to maintain expected professional boundaries between teacher and student” implies that there was inappropriate sexual or physical conduct between Mike and a student.
This is totally false.
Indeed, at no point in time did Mike ever violate any “expected professional boundaries” between himself and any student at any time.
Mike has assured me, and wants to assure all of you, that his conduct, personally and professionally, and specifically as it relates to his accuser, has been appropriate, moral, ethical and professional in his position as a teacher, a father, husband and gentleman. All of Mike’s actions were done in accordance with his Christian beliefs, and in the Jesuit tradition instilled upon him as a student and educator at Gonzaga. For 25 years he has adhered to the highest moral and ethical standards, and he has at all times fulfilled his duties and responsibilities with compassion and professionalism.
He is deeply wounded and beyond bewildered by Fr. Planning’s email. In a split second on February 17 the school that, outside his wife and two children, had been the center of his life from our high school days until now-- where he was respected if not revered by students, parents, faculty and administrators alike – destroyed his integrity, jeopardized his career and abandoned him, via a blast email.
I love Gonzaga. I always will. The Class of ’81 (and ’77, ’78, ’79, ’80, ’82, ’83—countless other classes) had such an enormously positive effect on my life—and still does. But all great institutions, at their core, are made great by the people who built them and the people who have sustained them. And people make mistakes.
I believe Fr. Planning and Gonzaga Administrators made a profound mistake in the way they treated Mike and, even more so, in the callous, reckless way they so cavalierly and publicly destroyed his career.
To be clear, we have been meeting with lawyers and law firms specializing in employment practice disputes. It never should have come to this, but Mike feels he has no other way to get his career, life and good name back.
Some of you have asked how you can help.
Fr. Planning in his mass email requested that “any concerns about this matter should be directed to my office.” I encourage you to reach out to him and other Gonzaga administrators to ask that they review this matter with a fresh set of eyes, consider the terrible damage they have done to Mike through a shameful marvel of public innuendo and insinuation, and apologize. I, like many of you, am still dismayed at the way Fr. Planning and Gonzaga administrators handled this matter. But, perhaps because I am a part and product of that place, I am genuinely hopeful they can correct this mistake.
If you do decide to weigh in, I hope that you won’t do it solely based on your anger or disgust at the way Mike and his 25-year career at Gonzaga have been treated. Rather, I hope it will have more to do with the fundamental lesson the Jesuits drilled into us about Christ’s teachings—that we cannot sit quiet when we see injustice in the world.
I have always liked the quote from Father Joseph McShane, the President of Fordham, in describing his students there: “We want them to be bothered by the realization that they don’t know everything and bothered by injustice.”
It bothers us that we don’t know everything here. I’m not sure anyone ever will. But we do know what that email implied; and with Mike’s far more direct and blunt words to the contrary, and his 25-year record of exemplary work as an educator, I think we know enough now to be bothered that an injustice has been done to him.
Feel free to add your voice to the chorus by emailing or contacting Fr. Planning and other Gonzaga Administrators on the list below. I can assure you that there are many others who have been doing just that—as you may have seen in the letters I forwarded to you already. I will keep you posted on developments, legal and otherwise.
If he hasn’t already, Mike will be contacting all of you in the near future to again express his deep gratitude for the way you have helped him and his family during this terrible time. I can’t tell you how proud he is to call himself a member of the Class of ’81.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, please keep Mike, Devon and their family, and Gonzaga, in your prayers.
I know some of you have been contacted by others about how they could help. Feel free to pass this info along to them as well. I attached the names of the Board of Trustees in case you want to reach out to them as well!