Goshen College terminated the employment of Richard Brunson, former associate professor of music and director of the Goshen College Symphony Orchestra, on Monday, Feb. 12. He had been on administrative leave for six days.The college placed Brunson on leave on Feb. 6, one day after the publication of an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that detailed his resignation from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Marshfield in the wake of a sexual harassment investigation in 2022.
In a written statement provided to The Record and Goshen College, Michael Brown, Brunson’s lawyer, said, “Dr. Brunson, knowing he has done wrong, nonetheless prays and asks for patience, grace, and an opportunity to be heard. We ask that all Christians who encounter this information may please consider the concepts of mercy, grace, and love, and not solely view matters through a lens of condemnation.”
Brunson was hired at GC prior to the start of the 2023 fall semester. GC did not know about Brunson’s history at the time of his hiring; Brunson had sued UW to make the investigation private, and a judge did not release the documents until after he had been hired.
According to court documents obtained by The Record, he resigned from UW-Stevens Point after an investigation found he had sexually harassed students and deemed his actions “objectively offensive.”
The Record also obtained private messages between Brunson and several students at UW-Stevens Point, where he repeatedly made sexual remarks, often about masturbation. Additionally, documents detail one occasion where Brunson hugged a student and “grabbed him by the back of the head/neck and pulled him in and kissed him on the lips” through a mask.
Before those incidents, Brunson had been disciplined in 2018 by UW-Stevens Point after it was found he inappropriately touched a student; many of the messages were sent after he had been reprimanded and undergone training for sexual harassment prevention in 2018. The investigative report concluding in his resignation found that he had exhibited a “pattern of inappropriate sexual behavior” throughout his tenure, including with a student that he had known since eighth grade. Brunson had “recommended that [that student] pursue music at UW-Stevens Point.”
All of the reported messages and physical incidents occurred with male students; on Instagram, Brunson followed over 30 male-identifying GC students and alumni, including every male student in the orchestra (GCSO), and only five students that do not identify as male. He has since deleted his account.
Victor Vegas, a member of the GCSO, said that Brunson repeatedly requested to follow him on Instagram after Vegas declined his follow request. He also said that Brunson created an account on BeReal, a popular social media app, “to follow students,” which was echoed by a number of other orchestra students.
The chancellor of UW-Stevens Point recommended that Brunson’s employment be terminated, but Brunson resigned before he could be fired.
Between UW-Stevens Point and GC, Brunson worked at Medford School District, a K-12 public district in Wisconsin, which placed him on administrative leave in November 2022 after learning of the details behind Brunson’s resignation from UW-Stevens Point. Brunson resigned at the end of the 22-23 school year, and Medford wrote a “neutral letter of recommendation.” GC, however, was not aware that Brunson was employed at Medford during their hiring process, and so did not reach out to them for references.
Brunson’s references also included several people from UW-Stevens Point, whom GC reached out to during the hiring process.
Brunson accepted his offer letter for employment at GC in April 2023 (while he was still at Medford) and began his employment on July 1. Public records regarding Brunson’s investigation of sexual harassment at UW-Stevens Point remained under litigation (and not available to the public) throughout the employment process, starting December 2022 and concluding in late August 2023, when a judge ruled that the documents must become public.
According to Jodi Beyeler, vice president for communications and people strategy, GC did not receive any records during or after the hiring process; queries to UW-Stevens Point were met simply with a case number. When asked why nobody looked into the court files associated with the case number, Beyeler told Inside Higher Ed she doesn’t “have an answer for you on that.”
In the same article, Matthew Hill, chair of the music department, said he assumed the situation involved a dispute about tenure.
The school then received an email from the Journal Sentinel on Jan. 29 asking for a comment, and explaining that records the paper received “show Dr. Brunson was investigated for sexual harassment and resigned before the UW Board of Regents could fire him.” This was the first indication to GC that Brunson had a history of sexual harassment.
The article in the Journal Sentinel was published on the morning of Monday, Feb. 5, and Brunson was placed on administrative leave 24 hours later.
Following the initial inquiry, GC placed a request for the records from UW. GC eventually received the documents in the afternoon of Feb. 6, after Brunson had already been placed on leave, according to Beyeler.
One of the stipulations around Brunson’s leave was that he had no contact with students or staff; as such, Brown, his lawyer, was the only possible point of contact with Brunson. In a nine-page statement, Brown asked for consideration of two core questions: “At what point do ongoing punishments of Dr. Brunson become excessive (and unending)? … How, if at all, can Dr. Brunson ever have an opportunity to move forward with his career and community life and have a chance to prove he has changed, and is changing, for the better?”
Brianne Brenneman, professor of public health and adviser of Prevention-Intervention Network, said, “I believe in justice, and restorative justice, and forgiveness — but for me, forgiveness for someone who has harassed students in positions of power doesn’t look like giving them a position of power elsewhere.”
GC took only a week to reach a decision. In an email to faculty and staff on Monday afternoon, Beyeler and Marlene Penner, director of human resources, said “we take all reports of sexual harassment very seriously, including from previous employers, and have sought to act with both due diligence and speed. Effective this morning, we have terminated Dr. Brunson’s employment.”
The GC music department announced Feb. 7 that Brian Mast would step in to conduct the Concerto-Aria concert on Saturday, and is “checking his schedule to see if he can go till the end of the semester.” Mast is currently the director of facilities, a role he stepped into late last school year. Prior to that, he was the executive director of the Music Center and director of the GCSO.
In a meeting with the Student Senate, Penner noted some changes that are being implemented in the hiring process going forward.
“We have put a lot of responsibility on search committees [in the past] to do the legwork to pick candidates,” Penner said. “HR is realizing that’s a lot of responsibility for a search committee. We’re putting some steps in place that HR will do before we say ‘yes, you have a job.’”
One example of the new steps that Penner offered is being more intentional about reaching out to the HR offices of previous employers. Penner said that GC already conducts “criminal-history background checks” on new employees.
“We’ve already started doing that immediately with our current searches that we’re doing,” Penner said.
In the same meeting, Beyeler reflected on the impact of journalism in this situation, expressing “a deep appreciation that a journalist was investigating this,” referring to the Journal Sentinel investigation.
“I think what has and will be published is an important tool for campus to understand the situation,” Beyeler said. “Journalism has played an important role.”
This article was updated for the last time on Thursday, Feb. 15. No further updates will be made; for coverage of the GCSO, visit the “Arts” section of The Record.