Central Michigan hires former U.S. attorney to investigate impact of Bucholz allegations

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Central Michigan University has hired former Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider to lead an investigation into university staffers' knowledge of sexual harassment claims against Lansing-based Vanguard Public Affairs owner T.J. Bucholz. 

The university removed two staff members last week from all duties and student contact after multiple allegations of sexual harassment were reported against Bucholz by young women who worked at his firm.

T.J. Bucholz, owner of Vanguard Public Affairs in Lansing

Allegations against Bucholz, the university said, "include a connection to a current CMU faculty member" and CMU had "received reports that a staff member may have been aware of the situation." 

Several women who worked at the firm were current or former CMU students. 

Bucholz told The Detroit News Tuesday that he's known the two suspended CMU staff members for 30 years. But the extent of his professional relationship included some speaking engagements, sponsorships and contributions for student publications and asking his "longtime friends" if they had qualified candidates for an internship, he said.

"There was absolutely no formalized internship pipeline with the university," said Bucholz, a CMU graduate. "I am personally offended by any insinuation that my relationship with my alma mater and its staff was anything less than appropriate.”

Bucholz said he didn't supervise interns directly and couldn't "even imagine myself saying something less than positive to an intern.”

Over the past several years, Bucholz has spoken to CMU journalism and public relations classes and sponsored the university's Journalism Hall of Fame dinners and the 100th anniversary celebration of its college newspaper in 2019, he said.

Having outside counsel investigate the matter is "critical," said Rich Studley, president and CEO for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and chairman for the CMU Board of Trustees.

“We are determined to be very transparent," Studley said in a statement. "We want to understand what policies, practices and procedures may need to be examined to ensure we have structures to protect our students when they are placed in workplaces meant to provide them with invaluable and practical experiences to successfully pursue their careers.”

United States Attorney Matthew Schneider announces a proposed settlement with the United Auto Workers in Detroit Monday afternoon.

The university hopes the investigation by Schneider will result in practices and policies that ensure safety for CMU students who participate in internships or externships, CMU President Bob Davies said. 

“We take the safety of our students seriously and will pursue fully any accusation that conflicts with our commitment to their health, safety and well-being,” Davies said in a statement.

Schneider, an appointee of President Donald Trump to the U.S Eastern District of Michigan, resigned from his role in January to join the law firm of Honigman, LLP. 

Women accused Bucholz last week of sexual harassment, including talking to them about the possibility of a threesome with his wife, making inappropriate sexual jokes and innuendos and relaying inappropriate comments on women's appearances. 

After the allegations emerged, Downtown Lansing Inc. announced Bucholz would no longer be serving on the board and the Central Michigan chapter for the Public Relations Society of America said Bucholz was no longer on its board.

On Tuesday, Bucholz said some allegations from women who worked for him are truthful, some are misconstrued and some are "patently false." He declined to comment further on the allegations.

"I have issued an apology for comments that may have made people feel uncomfortable," Bucholz said.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com