An alleged victim of sexual harassment by fired Wheaton College chaplain, Tim Blackmon, says she’s not a victim, and that an allegation published by the college earlier this month is false.
In addition, Blackmon’s former administrative assistant, Aaron Hann, has resigned from his position in protest over the college’s handling of Blackmon’s case. Hann says the investigation into the allegations against Blackmon was poorly conducted, unfair, and inconsistent with Wheaton’s Community Covenant.
Allegation “Factually Incorrect”
The alleged victim, Leslie Weinzettell, was a witness in the Title IX investigation that led to Blackmon’s dismissal by the college, which was announced July 3. On July 9, Wheaton detailed the allegations against Blackmon. But according to Weinzettell, one of the allegations involved her and was “factually incorrect.”
In a letter on Monday to Wheaton College President Philip Ryken and Board of Trustees Chairman James Goetz, Weinzettell, who worked as Blackmon’s administrative assistant from 2015—2017, writes:
In the public statement sent out on July 9, 2020, Dr. Ryken asserts Rev. Blackmon “suggested in a staff meeting that a female employee sit on his lap and complete a sexual harassment online training for him as a way of mocking the training.”
Your description of this event is not factually correct. I am the female employee referenced in this allegation and you must know Rev. Blackmon never invited me to sit on his lap. He made an ironic comment that you have misconstrued. Throughout my employment at Wheaton College, Rev. Blackmon only treated me with utmost respect.
Weinzettel ends her letter by asking Ryken and Goetz to share her information “publicly to immediately rectify this error.”
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I emailed Ryken and Wheaton Director of Marketing Communications Joseph Moore for comment, but neither one responded.
Blackmon’s Assistant Resigns in Protest
From the beginning, Blackmon has maintained that the allegations against him were taken out of context and that his case was not “fairly adjudicated.”
Aaron Hann, who served as Blackmon’s administrative assistant and observed much of the investigative process, told me he agrees with Blackmon’s assessment. Hann resigned on June 17 after his letters to both President Ryken and the board of trustees, complaining about the investigation, failed to produce any result.
Hann, who previously worked as a paralegal for a law firm, said Wheaton’s investigation in to Blackmon’s alleged “inappropriate comments and actions of a racial and sexual nature” lacked proper accountability and due process.
According to Hann, interviews for investigations normally are recorded and transcribed by a court reporter. In addition, there are usually two attorneys present for interviews—both the attorney for the defendant and the plaintiff.
Hann said he had talked to Blackmon, Weinzettel, and another witness who was involved in Wheaton’s investigation and all of them indicated that their interviews were not recorded or transcribed. Hann added that witnesses also were not given an opportunity to read and correct their testimony before their testimony went into the investigator’s report.
Hann said he specifically asked Weinzettel if she was allowed to read the portion of her testimony that went into the report and she told him no. Hann said both Weinzettel and another witness told him they didn’t even know what the allegations against Blackmon were.
I reached out to Weinzettel for confirmation of Hann’s account, but she did not respond.
However, Blackmon confirmed in an email that none of his interviews were recorded.
“The investigator indicated several times that recording was not his modus operandi,” Blackmon wrote in an email. “He took notes on a laptop.”
Blackmon added that the investigator’s report did not include transcripts from any of the interviews with witnesses but had “random quotes from unnamed witnesses sprinkled throughout.”
Blackmon said the only person, other than the investigator, who was present for his interviews was Wheaton’s Title IX coordinator. He said the coordinator was present for the majority of his first “intake meeting but only a few moments for each of the subsequent meetings which were the actual investigative interviews.”
The investigator hired by Wheaton to conduct the Blackmon investigation was Bruce Melton of Aequitask, a company that specializes in “conducting workplace and campus investigations at a predictable cost.”
I spoke with Melton, who confirmed that he had conducted the Blackmon investigation for Wheaton College. However, Melton declined to answer any questions about how the investigation was conducted.
I also reached out to Ryken and Moore to comment specifically on the allegations concerning Wheaton’s investigation process, but neither responded.
Hann Says Investigation Violated Community Covenant
Hann, who described Blackmon as “the best boss I ever had,” said what especially concerns him about Wheaton’s investigation is how it violated the college’s Community Covenant. This is a commitment to biblical principles to which all students, faculty, and administrators at Wheaton must adhere.
According to the covenant, Christians are supposed to hold each other accountable by “confronting one another in love.” The covenant further states, “Such loving acts of confrontation are at times difficult, but when performed in the right spirit (Gal. 6:1), they serve to build godly character for both the individuals involved and the community as a whole (Matt. 18:15-17).”
Hann said it “disgusts” him that the allegations against Blackmon were from 2015-2016*, but neither the complainant nor administrators confronted Blackmon until recently. And even then, Hann says the college didn’t try to resolve the issues with the parties involved, but instead hired an investigator.
Hann said he believes Wheaton overreacted because the college knew it had mishandled earlier allegations of sexual misconduct by former New Testament Professor Emeritus Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian.
Wheaton rescinded Bilezikian’s emeritus title in February. But this came weeks after I published an article in which two alleged victims claimed that Wheaton had ignored their earlier reports of misconduct.
“I think so many people in leadership are implicated and they don’t want to take any responsibility,” Hann said. “They just let (Blackmon) take the fall. And I just can’t stand that kind of duplicity at an institution whose stated mission is for Christ’s Kingdom. I don’t see any of that in Tim’s investigation and termination.”
*Correction: An earlier version said the allegations were from 2017. Though some allegations were first addressed in 2017, Hann said they actually stemmed from incidents in 2015-2016.
33 thoughts on “Alleged Victim of Fired Wheaton College Chaplain Says She’s Not a Victim; Assistant Resigns in Protest”
And the hits just keep on coming
Do not send your Child to Wheaton College.
The sad question is where can you send your child? I always thought Moody Bible Institute was the one name I would always be able to trust and would be the last stand of genuine Christianity. That naive bubble was burst years ago, even before the scandal that was exposed a few years back. From north to south, from east to west we are plagued by corruption. We all need repentance so desperately. We need the sort of hatred of sin and passion for purity held by Jonathan Edwards and DL Moody, etc…
What kind of question is this? If you have raised your child in the ways of the Lord, you should be confident that are equipped with the Bible-based thinking and God-centered values to handle other points of view. I attended an Ivy League, and had plenty of healthy debates with professors who challenged me on the Bible being nothing more than “the most well-written piece of literature ever.” I had a roommate who was agnostic, and she was so impressed with my unwaivering faith she came to church with me “to check it out” and later grew to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. All of this is because of what was instilled in me from childhood – as I left for college just after my 17th birthday.
While there is nothing wrong with going to a Christian college, I get concerned when I read about parents being “scared” to send their child elsewhere. Do you want them to grow up in a “Christians only” bubble, never exposed to non-believers, and shielded from dissenting opinions? How does this prepare them for the world around us – the world we are tasked to save?
And how is this any different from all the accusations of “indoctrination” by “liberal” universities (I put liberal in quotes because the term is HORRIBLY misused)? Universities should be campuses where different views are heard, intelligently discussed, and students learn to be lifelong learners with strong critical thinking skills. That doesn’t happen when everyone is focused on staying in their bubble.
too much money is involved. too much financial investment. too many inflated salaries to pay, too many retirements to fund, too much personal power and empire-building.
the stakes are simply too high to do the right thing, the straightforward thing. the transparent thing.
there is simply too much to lose to do the right thing.
i just shake my head at what christianity has become.
I concur with Scottie. Too much power and money. Too much to lose. Ironically, in the end, money, power, and influence will eventually be taken away.
All of us are implicated, we love the sordid details, we want heads on the chopping block. And if we don’t get them we claim scandal or silencing of the victim. So what does Wheaton do? Beats all of us to the punch by punching themselves first. In a world where judgment triumphs over mercy, where the hungry journalist wants to get the first scoop on all the dirt, more and more of these stories will occur. No one gets a fair trial anymore when articles need to be written, and clicks get rewarded by advertisers.
You’re blaming journalists for Blackmon’s firing? I’m not sure I follow. If it weren’t for journalists, no one would be hearing the other side to this story.
I am not blaming journalist as much as I am blaming our “opinion” driven culture and the desire of the public to take institutions and leaders down before really having all the facts. It seems more times than not these days that journalists in general are rewarded for, as Marvin Olasky says in his book ‘Reforming Journalism”, being seen as, “‘establishment revolutionaries’ – enjoying affluence, but feeling radical as they criticize American traditions.” He goes on to say that the Journalist’s Creed popularized by Walter Williams in 1928, emphasized “the public good above private satisfaction”, and reporting should “be self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers.” It just seems to me that the self-control and patience that is needed to get the story right is often ignored these days especially when a story is hot and juicy.
Julie, I honestly love your writing, and respect your journalism. I think you report with integrity and honor, but I do see the firing of Blackmon as a knee-jerk reaction by Wheaton to keep the hungry journalistic hounds at bay. And as readers – I sadly place myself in this camp – we secretly like to see the traditions tumble. It’s in our whole culture to assume that some nefarious plot always lurks beneath the bowels of leadership…and my point is that I am not sure we are better for it.
Not sure if that makes sense.
You are assuming that readers of Julie Roy’s and blogs like Wartburg Watch, “we secretly like to see traditions tumble.” That’s a big assumption. The writers and readers, who are actively involved in reform, often take a big hit for speaking out. Exposing sexual abuse and corruption can take a heavy toll on those brave enough to speak out. It is about the victims.
Sadly, the Evangelical Elite have much to answer for. For whom much is given, much is required.
I have read Dr. Beth Jones’ books and attended a lecture in 2016. There should be no surprise someone like Dr. Beth Jones is all over this. Shoehorning a feminist anthropology in to Christian orthodoxy with psychosomatic gymnastics is concerning enough on its own, but encouraging young souls to seek out the Washington Post instead of counseling or pastoral care reveals the heartless and relentless nature of her movement.
Equally disturbing is the bungled response from Phil Ryken who cannot afford the appearance of being outplayed by this same movement. He devises a strategy that maintains the donor’s perception of Wheaton’s (and Ryken’s) conservative brand while offering up Rev. Blackmon under the guise of serial harassment.
Based on the excellent reporting here, it seems this may all just backfire. The accuser files complaints on behalf of others who then in turn refute these claims catching Wheaton in a lie. Employees resign, and former parishioners of Rev. Blackmon come forward in defense. A complete disaster.
Completely agree! Julie, do you expect any additional comments or corrections from Wheaton? Or are they already in court?
There is no lawsuit at this point.I have no knowledge on what Wheaton College will do. The college has not responded to any of my numerous requests for comment.
Why cannot I present myself with such clarity and force :) Expressing oneself well is a lifetime endeavor.
I hope Pastor Blackmon does not settle out of court. The standard university strategy, probably recommended by consultants, is to unlawfully fire dissenters and then pay them off, with extra money for a nondisclosure agreement. The victim usually doesn’t have as good a lawyer as the college and settles for too little, in addiition, not realizing that a lot of what the college is paying for is cover-up. Wheaton, though, has already gone off the tracks a bit by slandering the victim rather than saying, “no comment”.
There are those other than Beth Jones who stand firm in their position that Blackmon acted inappropriately and deserved being let go. No one here has all the facts and it is entirely premature and even out of line to make condemnation statements about men like Ryken, who has reputation for personal integrity among those who know him, without knowing all the facts. Here is my problem with reports like this. They present some facts, but can’t possibly present all the facts. So it is quite easy to make a quick, stilted judgment on people who are faced with very difficult and even stressful decisions. It ain’t easy being a college president.
Good comment. But I would surmise that if proper protocol was not adhered to, they may have a lawsuit on their hands.
But neither of us know whether proper protocol was or was not used. We are speculating.
You may not know whether proper protocol was used or not, but it certainly sounds like there are people who do know and are speaking out (myself included). There is now 1st hand testimony to the fact that basic investigative procedure was not adhered to.
Consider: if Julie is correct, witnesses gave testimony, but the only person who ACTUALLY knows what they said, aside from the witnesses, is the investigator. In these kinds of cases (Title IX), the investigator writes up a report which is used by an adjudicator(s), who renders a decision based on the investigator’s report. But in this case, if we are to believe Julie’s reporting, the adjudicator would not have had any direct, uninterpreted evidence from key witnesses. So, based on how the allegations are being construed, particularly that involving Weinzettel, it seems reasonable to infer that the adjudicator did not have any knowledge of verbatim testimony from Weinzettel as to that allegation. Given that Weinzettel was purportedly the object of a lewd comment, and that she has gone on record to correct that factual error, and that the investigator and adjudicator did not catch that error BEFORE a decision was rendered and Blackmon’s termination made public, in my humble opinion that is prima facie evidence of a lack of proper protocol.
Do those other than Beth Jones stand firm in their position because they do have all the information?
I’m no longer connected to Wheaton, but I too was impressed with Ryken’s leadership and character from the few brief interactions I had with him. I’m not sure if Ryken himself wrote the statement or carelessly signed off on it, but if one of the “victims” comes out to say she is actually not a victim and that Wheaton’s claim is false, then you know something else is going on.
Of course Ryken’s job is a difficult one. So let’s not be surprised if mistakes are made. Ryken will prove his integrity by how he deals with these mistakes.
Well said, Rebecca. It’s interesting to me that people are doing exactly the same thing for Ryken that they criticize people doing for Blackmon: telling people to forestall judgment when they don’t know all the facts. If people want to say Ryken has a stellar reputation and shouldn’t be presumed guilty, there are numerous people who could and are saying the same of Blackmon, who also “has a reputation for personal integrity among those who know him.” And the fact that people in addition to Beth Jones agree with Tim’s termination gives no warrant to the decision. It’s entirely possible, and looking more and more probable as additional details about lack of due process come to light, that a whole host of senior leaders approved a decision for which they themselves deserve to be terminated. Unfortunately there are no indicators, yet, that Ryken or Wheaton will admit to and address their mistakes.
Love this comment thread—such stellar writing!
Wanted to add a couple things:
The school’s commitment to “racial reconciliation” looks insincere when the administration forgoes a public opportunity to reconcile *individuals. Do they expect that reconciling whole identity groups will be a simpler endeavor?
It may be bad faith to assume the worst about what we do not know…however, good leaders take ownership for the mistakes of their organization and their subordinates as if they were their own mistakes. Frustrating that a Christian institution should seem more committed to bureaucratic “professionalism” than to transparency, truth-telling, and ownership.
I agree with the sentiment that Ryken is a great man. I was a part of his “inaugural class,” and witnessed his care and attention to detail first hand. That said, he is, absolutely, a provost that we call “President.” Perhaps some of the lack of central leadership in these past few missteps stem from this mixing of positions.
I just finished my Sacred Music masters degree at Notre Dame. A far less conservative institution, to be sure, but I saw there that insecurity dominates the professorial and administrative interaction and conflict at all levels at all times. I left that place so cynical…and am still recovering. I don’t know Miss Jones (my sister, a more recent grad, speaks highly of her) but from what I know of academic insecurity and vindictiveness, and the kind of ideological inflexibility that has possessed progressives…There is no way this is disconnected from politics.
I would encourage everyone to keep in mind we only know what the college has chosen to reveal as violations. Many times in these situations, institutions will only report the most tangible, documentable violations as grounds for firing (for legal purposes), but there is often more questionable conduct that led to the tipping point.
As the previous poster stated, let’s not jump to condemn the college unless we can claim to know all the facts.
Remember also that the college used nuanced and discreet language in their initial announcement, which in my opinion was quite gracious. They could have easily from the start put out the rather embarrassing details. It appears they were in the difficult position of justifying their decision yet not wanting to publicly air all the chaplain’s dirty laundry.
There was nothing gracious about Wheaton’s statement. Especially considering the information that has come out since. I would argue they intentionally tried to make it look worse to justify the firing, but committing libel in the process.
Zeke, how would you propose they announce the firing? Would love to hear your ideas on the best way to announce a dismissal due to misconduct.
Also, even if “info that has come out since” makes some doubt ONE of the allegations, how about the others (which by the way are acknowledged by Blackmon).
No matter what the explanation or rationalization, these actions are unbecoming of a college chaplain, plain and simple. And please don’t forget to consider there’s a bit more to this story that hasn’t been disclosed by the college.
How about this: “We regrettably inform a select few of the Wheaton community of the dismissal of Chaplain Rev. Timothy Blackmon. Through an independent investigation and adjudication we found that Rev. Blackmon made bad jokes or irreverent comments on sexual and racial matters 4 years ago that we feel are in violation of Wheaton’s political culture today. We are indebted to the United States government for providing us with a resolution and a path forward where our own community covenant standard and the Bible on which it is based is inadequate and, frankly, leave us unsatisfied.
I’m kidding…sort of.
Here’s a less snarky take.
“We regrettably inform the Wheaton community that Wheaton College and Rev. Blackmon are parting ways. After an independent investigation and adjudication initiated by a Title IX complaint we found that Rev. Blackmon made irreverent comments and jokes on sexual topics that do not live up to our high standard of the chaplaincy office. We are saddened by this outcome, but are confident this decision is in the best interest of Wheaton College and Rev. Blackmon’s future ministry. We wish him well.”
However clunky of a statement, you must see that anything less than the grossest interpretation or framing of Rev. Blackmon comments would immediately call into question the severity of the punishment, as well as raise questions about missed opportunities of admonishment or reconciliation according to Matthew 18. While we can debate the maturity of rev. Blackmon’s jokes, or even consider his behavior as unbecoming, the question remains if a Christian College that claims to have a high view of scripture has dealt biblically and faithfully with this behavior. The 4-year-later termination and Rev. Blackmon’s surprise should offer us a clue.
Further proof of Wheaton’s intentional framing is in the fact they have not corrected parts of their statement that have been quite emphatically disputed by the woman who allegedly was at the receiving end of Rev. Blackmon harassment. Why are they comfortable with bearing false witness? Of course, we can both imagine it would be a PR nightmare for Dr. Ryken to come out and say that the investigation was sloppy and missed some key witness testimonies.
I agree, there seems to be a bit more to this story that hasn’t been disclosed by the college. This should caution us to not rush to judgement. But, if we consider Rev. Blackmon’s testimony, his staff member’s correction, and Julie’s reporting, we see there is quite a bit of information that has come out that we can reasonably assume Wheaton, for the sake of image management, would prefer not to disclose.
Comments were made 4+ years ago.
Part of Wheaton’s statement has been contradicted by firsthand witness testimony.
Dr. Beth Jones (Wheaton faculty) encourages students to go to the Washington Post instead of a college
Dr. Beth Jones is theologically at odds with Rev. Blackmon’s pastor.
The two attempts to serve Rev. Blackmon with a Title IX involve the same theological articles.
As far as we know, no biblical pursuit of reconciliation has been entertained.
This is probably more than you asked for, but for me, this is a bit too much context to simply ignore.
Well said Zeke. Regarding the likelihood of further information that hasn’t been disclosed, one doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to guess that the College hasn’t revealed anything further because any additional information would only further damage their reputation. Indeed, any additional as-of-yet undisclosed information will only confirm and support Blackmon. You can bet the farm on that.
Indeed it must have been a very difficult decision to forgo Wheaton’s Community Covenant and instead kick Blackmon off the cliff in the most public manner, and when he rose up to defend himself, to tar and feather him for good measure. Wheaton did incalculable damage to Blackmon’s reputation–just try googling his name. Whether they settle in or out of court, for the good of the church I sincerely hope Wheaton’s apology will be as public an affair as when they sought to destroy this man.
Come on, Wheaton didn’t “seek to destroy” anyone. If they had not given any reason for termination people would have gone ballistic demanding transparency. They shared as little as they could and people demanded more and Blackmon challenged it. So they provided more. These things are no win situations and I chuckle at all the people who think they know exactly how it should have been handled.
You are right. There is no evidence of “seeking to destroy” here. My apologies to Wheaton. I stand corrected. Instead of “sought to destroy this man” I should have said “threw this man under the bus” or “sacrificed him on the altar of cancel culture.”
My daughter is a recent graduate of Wheaton College and I have interacted with Dr. Ryken on a couple issues. He may write some nice sermons, but he is neither a good administrator or spiritual leader for the school. The way the professor Hawkins issue was handled was quite troubling. Not that I at all agreed with Dr. Hawkins theologically, but Ryken tried to avoid any responsiblity for the handling of the issue. Wheaton needs to be quit trying to be “the Harvard of Christian Colleges” and instead be a spiritual, Biblical leader among Christian colleges. As an aside, my daughter still has to constantly avoid discussing the occult-based “Enneagram” and invites to “Yoga” classes with her former classmates who were introduced to these activities while at Wheaton.
Hawkins? Who is that
Julie, I hope you will continue to report on these events if any more information becomes available.
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