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Niagara dean of students cleared of rape cover-up accusation but will leave post

LEWISTON – Marjean C. “Carrie” McLaughlin will leave her post as dean of students at Niagara University, although an investigation concluded she did not attempt to cover up a rape allegation against a member of the university’s men’s basketball team.

McLaughlin had been on paid administrative leave since Dec. 7, after she was targeted in an online petition demanding her dismissal. Niagara student Sarah Joslin, a third-year social work major, started the petition and accused McLaughlin of taking the player’s side after a female student alleged that a player had raped her.

No such report ever was filed with law enforcement agencies in Niagara County. The university’s announcement said federal law will not allow it to comment on whether a rape allegation was made.

No date has been set for McLaughlin’s official departure.

Attorney Barry N. Covert investigated and wrote the report, but it was not released.

“After carefully reviewing all of the relevant information over a two-month period, our investigation team determined that the university fully investigated each of the sexual assault matters raised in the petition and its accompanying comments,” Covert said in a statement.

In an interview with The Buffalo News, Covert added: “My investigation was widespread. I was given full access to all of the relevant files, electronic communications, access to individuals I would want to interview. We conducted well over 50 interviews and we found that in the cases where there were allegations relating to Title IX, that the university fully followed all of the Title IX statutes and procedures set forth in those statutes.”

Joslin’s petition on the website drew 1,489 signatures, as she accused the dean of telling the alleged rape victim that by making that claim, “she was trying to ruin (the player’s) career.”

Joslin posted a statement on the site a month ago, declaring, “Victory!” and asserting that McLaughlin, who held the job for four years, would not return as dean. Last month, Niagara had named Jason Jakubowski, director of residence life, as acting dean of students. He will now continue in that capacity.

“The university’s primary concern is always the safety and well-being of our students and the entire campus community,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, Niagara’s president. “We consider all student allegations and concerns seriously, and we remain committed to our Title IX obligations. We abide by and exceed guidelines presented by New York State’s ‘Enough Is Enough’ legislation and we will continue to work with our students and the campus community, as well as with our external partner agencies, to educate our community in an effort to provide a safe living, learning and working environment.”

Scores of comments on the online petition by current Niagara students and recent graduates, many of them signed, portrayed McLaughlin as “arrogant,” “stonewalling,” and causing “the lowest morale possible.”

“As a part of the Student Hiring Advisory Board for the dean of students, I clearly remember the vocal apprehension our committee shared with administration on Carrie upon her interviewing,” wrote alumnus Andrew Gala of Medford, Mass. “Fast-forward through the year of undergraduate studies I endured with her in position, I can only further echo the sentiment of many shared here. Note to administration, this could have been avoided well in advance if you simply listened to your student body … For a university with such a decline in enrollment, half the problem would be solved by hiring a Dean of Students that had a semblance of care and respect for the students.”

Becca Bailey of Buffalo wrote: “Maybe it’s a generational thing, but she did absolutely nothing to improve the campus or support the student body whatsoever. If anything, she was more like the gestapo wielding her power off campus to shut down parties. She belongs as an admin in a middle school or elementary school at best, not overseeing grown adults.”

Joslin, who went through a 40-hour training course as a rape crisis advocate at the YWCA of Niagara last year, charged in the petition:

“Many students heard about this situation, and since then have refused to come forth about their own situations regarding sexual harassment and assault. We cannot have someone in the position of dean of students who does not make survivors feel safe and comfortable in telling their stories.”