Seeking to quell growing campus outrage over the mysterious February firing of one of the school’s most popular teachers, Gonzaga College High School’s Board of Trustees issued a joint statement Monday saying, “There was no other choice.”
The firing of math teacher Mike Davis—communicated by an e-mail to the school community from Gonzaga President Rev. Stephen Planning, which said Davis had “fail[ed] to maintain expected professional boundaries between teacher and student”—created widespread confusion and disbelief among students and parents and led to a Friday protest by hundreds of Gonzaga boys.
School officials and board members will not discuss the exact nature of the accusations, which, according to multiple sources, involve a student who attended the school six or seven years ago. In a letter to Gonzaga alumnae last week, Davis’s lawyer, Martin Oliverio, wrote that the school’s lack of clarity “implies that there was inappropriate sexual or physical conduct between Mike and a student. This is totally false.” Planning did say in his e-mail that there was no criminal conduct involved in the complaint.
Davis, a 25-year teaching veteran at Gonzaga, was beloved by a generation of students. On Friday, students staged a silent protest by wearing jackets and ties to the Jesuit all-boys school, where the dress code is not formal. Two of the organizers, in a message to The Washingtonian, said, “The button-down and tie day went well. There was big turnout across all classes, and some teachers even caught on.”
Students also created two Facebook pages for posting statements of support for Davis.
The thrust of today’s letter, signed by the board chair, Jack Vardaman of Williams & Connolly, as well as all the other board members, is that they are on firm ground in their action. It says Davis’s firing “was carried out after a two-month investigation assisted by an independent investigative firm retained by the school.”
Oliverio called the letter “misleading in several key respects,” but did not elaborate. He said he would have more to say “in coming days.” Contacted by The Washingtonian last week, Davis, who sounded at ease and upbeat, referred all questions to a New York crisis communications manager, who took up his case pro bono.
The board says Father Planning consulted with “select members of the Gonzaga administration, legal counsel, board members, and individuals with significant experience in similar matters.” But the letter does not explain who those individuals are and what their experience is. A call to Vardaman was not returned.
The charges against Davis were brought to the school’s attention late last year, when he was asked to take administrative leave. He was fired by Planning on February 17. One of the Facebook pages created last week, called “Gonzaga Alumni for Mike Davis,” had 422 members as of Monday afternoon. Among the 177 messages were calls to create a defense fund for Davis. One of those involved with the page, Luke Lavin, wrote: “Please feel free to post or share stories about what an amazing person Mike Davis is and what he meant to you. However, let’s try to keep this in good spirit and avoid unsubstantiated bashing of the Gonzaga administration. You all are above that.”
Here’s the letter from the Gonzaga Board of Trustees, sent March 5.
Dear Gonzaga Community:
As a result of recent press accounts, a statement made by the attorney for Mr. Mike Davis and recent correspondence, the Board of Trustees of Gonzaga believes that it is important to write to you concerning the situation involving Mr. Davis’ termination. We want the Gonzaga community to know that we are well aware of the concerns raised by this difficult situation.
Mr. Davis’ termination was carried out after a two-month investigation assisted by an independent investigative firm retained by the school. When the matter first arose, Mr. Davis was made aware of the specifics and representatives of the school met with Mr. Davis and/or his attorney on four separate occasions. During the investigation, Fr. Planning consulted with select members of the Gonzaga administration, legal counsel, Board members and individuals with significant experience in similar matters. The final decision was made knowing Mr. Davis’ long history with Gonzaga, his high standing with students, parents and alumni and knowing full well the hardship it would cause to many. It is as painful for us as it is for all in the Gonzaga community.
The Gonzaga Board is made up of alumni, parents of alumni, Jesuit priests, some of whom taught at Gonzaga, and friends and supporters of the school. We, like you, love the school and seek only to do what is in the best interest of Gonzaga and those who make up the Gonzaga community. We want you to know that we stand with Fr. Planning and that he acted only after careful deliberation and consultation with the Executive Committee of the Board and the Board itself. We believed then and believe now that, as the leader of an institution educating young men and responsible for their well-being, there was no other choice for the school.
Mr. Floyd Adagio
Mrs. Katie Ryan Brady
Rev. Timothy Brown, SJ
Mr. Christopher J. Donatelli*
Rev. Harry Geib, SJ
Mrs. Michelle Honey
Mr. Dan Knise
Rev. Lucien Longtin, SJ
Mr. Mark Matan*
Mr. J. Paul McNamara
Mr. William G. Miner*
Mr. R. Scott Pastrick
Mr. Kevin F. Reed*
Mr. Louis J. Rubino, Jr.*
Mr. James Smith
Rev. Timothy J. Stephens, SJ
Mr. Reginald A. Taylor*
Mr. Jack Vardaman (Chair)
Mr. Wayne Wyvill*
An earlier version of this story quoted a letter from Gonzaga that was dated February 5. That letter was in error. The correct date was March 5.
Update (3/6): On Tuesday this statement was sent to Washingtonian by Martin Oliverio, the lawyer for Mike Davis, after we asked for a comment regarding the Board of Trustees letter.
Monday’s letter from the Gonzaga College High School’s Board of Trustees to the Gonzaga Community is factually misleading, omits several key facts, and compounds the false portrayal of Mike that appeared earlier in Father Planning’s February 17th email to the Gonzaga Community. Mike and I were never presented with any evidence from any investigation that supported a finding that Mike had engaged in any misconduct. This is because Mike at no time ever engaged in any misconduct, contrary to the patently false implications and innuendos of both Father Planning’s February 17th email and the Board’s recent statement. There was no fair and equitable due process for Mike, and a brief interview with the school’s hired investigator falls far short of any reasonable due process. Neither Mike nor I have ever seen an investigation report, let alone had a chance to address one. At all times Mike cooperated fully, openly, and honestly throughout this ordeal, which is entirely consistent with his long and impeccable 25-year track record as a teacher and a man of integrity. The Board is right that the school’s actions have caused hardship for many, and unnecessarily so. We should all recognize that whatever pain we have felt as members of the Gonzaga Community pales in comparison to what Mike and his family have been made to endure due to the false portrayal of Mike and his character made publicly by Father Planning. It is simply false, and outrageous, for the Board to state that its actions have been fair, thorough, and done out of love for Gonzaga. It is hard to fathom how devastating a good man’s reputation and career in the public square could ever be seen, or validated, as an act of love.