By Tyler West
Brockport Beat Copy Editor
Life during the COVID-19 outbreak is strange. It’s easy to forget what life was like before it. Almost like being congested, and you realize you can’t remember what it’s like to be able to breathe through your nose. Life before the outbreak seems like a distant dream, and it’s easy to forget some things.
Leading up to the outbreak, there was turmoil among the students, faculty and administration.
The event that provoked said turmoil was the firing of Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Cephas Archie. Dr. Archie was hired in August 2017. His responsibilities included leading campus efforts on equity and inclusion within the institution.
Officials from SUNY Brockport said that the firing was a “confidential personnel matter”. Students began to protest, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren criticized the college for firing Dr. Achie and the SUNY Chancellor Kirstina Johnson called the situation disheartening and unacceptable.
Within a few weeks, one employee at the college resigned from her position, and one filed a discrimination complaint against the college with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
And this wasn’t the end — it was then discovered that the campus police chief, Daniel Vasile, allegedly tried to “dig up dirt” on Dr. Archie, according to Archie’s lawyer. This was after Dr. Archie was no longer employed at the college.
According to Andrew Burns, the lawyer representing Dr. Archie, Chief Vasile contacted a former colleague of Dr. Archie in order to “dig up dirt.” That colleague, Dr. Sabrina Lewis, had worked with Dr. Archie in Texas before he moved to New York to work in Brockport.
Here’s what Dr. Lewis said in a statement written by Burns.
“He stated he [chief Vasile] did not want to say what it was on a voicemail but asked if I would call him back,” said Dr. Lewis. “After further discussion with chief Vasile, it was obvious to me Chief Vasile wanted me to provide him with disparaging information and dirt regarding Dr. Archie. When I informed Chief Vasile that I never observed or heard about any instance
where Dr. Archie acted in an inappropriate manner, Chief Vasile quickly ended the call.”
Students found out about this through a vague email from university officials which read:
“The President’s Office recently received an anonymous voicemail from an individual who claimed to have information about a former employee of the College. Because of the nature of the allegations, the voicemail was shared with our chief of police for his records. While the police chief did look into this allegation, our own review revealed that since this employee no longer works for the College and the allegations pre-date their employment, the inquiry should not have occurred. The President has ordered the chief to cease this inquiry.”
Chief Vasile did not reply to a request for comment by deadline.
SUNY Brockport junior Max Riley said he felt the administration was not being as transparent as they should.
“There’s just a lot they’re leaving out, it’s like they’re keeping us in the dark. And maybe it’s on purpose, maybe it’s not. But hiding things or glossing over them isn’t going to do anything to fix the relationship between the students and administration right now,” said Riley.
So what repercussions did Chief Vasile face for opening this investigation? An investigation that hinged on an “anonymous voicemail”? Why did Chief Vasile open an investigation about Dr. Archie when he wasn’t instructed to? If the “nature of the allegations” was enough to share the voicemail with Chief Vasile, why did he ask Dr. Lewis if Dr. Archie had fired her in Texas, where he wasn’t even her supervisor? What didn’t Chief Vasile want to say on voicemail?
These are some questions students may never get the answers to.
Vice President for University Relations David Mihalyov said no records exist pertaining to any consequence Chief Vasile faced for opening the investigation.
Kristin O’Neill, who works for the New York State Committee on Open Government, said that if no records exist, this means that Chief Vasile either did not face consequences or if he did, there were no documented meetings.
“I can’t speak to any consequences one way or the other,” said Mihalyov, who has served as the College’s spokesman in his role as Vice President for University Relations. “All I can report is that we have no records that respond to your request.”
On the SUNY Brockport website, the duties and responsibilities of the University Police are outlined. This investigation Chief Vasile opened does not match any of the criteria to be the responsibility of the University Police.
“I think Chief Vasile was looking to benefit himself more than the majority,” said Brockport student Maranda Meisenzahl. “I think he was wrong for getting involved in the first place.”