Dan+Maher+records+a+30-second+promo+for+his+NWPR+program+Inland+Folk+in+the+studio%2C+Feb.+20%2C+2014.

DAILY EVERGREEN FILE

Dan Maher records a 30-second promo for his NWPR program Inland Folk in the studio, Feb. 20, 2014.

Records show former employee behaved unprofessionally

Show ends abruptly due to investigation findings, raises questions with fans

March 2, 2020

Newly obtained records show longtime radio host and folk musician Dan Maher engaged in an unprofessional relationship with a WSU student in 2018. This led to his early retirement and the sudden cancellation of his Inland Folk radio show last year.

Inland Folk was broadcast under Spokane Public Radio for 39 years and Northwest Public Broadcasting for 37 years. Maher, who is also the former WSU coordinator for student and organizational development, advised student organizations at WSU for 39 years.

Maher performed at multiple events in the Pacific Northwest like the Spokane Fall Folk Festival and Paradise Ridge Music Festival in Moscow. He retired from WSU on June 28, 2019, which was two years earlier than he said he intended.

Maher is blind and uses voice-to-text technology to send text messages, according to the report from the Office of Equal Opportunity,  now called the Office of Civil Rights Compliance and Investigation. He also uses Dial-A-Ride, a local transportation service, to travel around Pullman.

Through text messages and emails, as well as arrangements made between Maher and the student, WSU investigators found that Maher was trying to change their professional relationship into a romantic one.

“I made a huge mistake,” Maher said in an interview with The Daily Evergreen. “The mistake was and is that I scared someone.”

Maher sent the student dozens of romantically-laced texts and “requests” for hugs, according to the report. Maher also asked the student if she wanted to get dinner with him.

The student, who described herself as an international student, filed the complaint. She told the investigators she saw Maher as a grandfatherly figure, which is also a term she used to describe a member in her host family.

Investigators reported that cultural differences influenced the way the student perceived Maher’s behavior. The student said she felt Maher did not think she understood what was going on and he took advantage of the situation, according to the report.

The Daily Evergreen reached out to the student multiple times through email but she did not respond.

The investigation concluded that Maher violated Executive Policy 15. The policy established rules against discriminatory harassment, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct that can harm individuals or violate individual rights.

“I’m a nice guy,” Maher said to the Evergreen. “I would never have envisioned three years ago that I would have put a person in that position.”

Dan Maher, former radio host

Maher met regularly with the student throughout spring 2018 to discuss tasks and responsibilities relative to the organization she was in, according to the report. He obtained the student’s personal cell phone number from a contact list, which he used to communicate with her throughout the semester.

In early April 2018, Maher asked the student if she wanted to get dinner with him, according to the report. The student said she did not perceive it as a romantic gesture at that time.

Before they met for dinner, Maher told the student he did not want her to post anything on social media because “professors and students should not be going out for dinner,” according to the report.

Maher denied making this statement, but the investigators did not find his denial credible, according to the report.

On April 10, Maher and the student had dinner together where they discussed their personal interests, among other things that did not pertain to the student’s organization. Maher paid for their dinner and they went to a coffee shop for dessert. Then they got wine at a bar, according to the report.

Maher ordered himself and the student a glass of wine, which she only had a few sips of because she did not like its taste, according to the report. Maher finished his wine and the student’s, which she found “weird.”

At the bar, Maher reached out to hold the student’s hand, which he did not intend to be sexual, according to the report. The student let Maher hold her hand “not thinking anything [of it].” She asked him to stop soon after because it was not commonplace in her culture.

The student messaged Maher thanking him for the dinner, cake and wine, according to the report. She texted him “It is wonderful that I get to know you … I love you,” and he responded, “I love you too so very much and I am home safe.”

Maher sent text messages to the student every day between April 11-20, according to the report. The texts contained phrases such as “I love you” and “I miss you.” The student also sent texts that involved the word “love,” but she told investigators she meant it in a general manner to demonstrate her friendship and respect for Maher.

Maher sent the student around 16 messages regarding his feelings toward her from April 28-30, according to the report. In some of his messages, he described how she brings him “joy and happiness.” He also asked for her “time” and “hugs.”

Maher also asked the student the exact time of her last final, which made her feel uncomfortable. She said she found it “weird,” according to the report.

The student received a text from Maher on May 6 that read “hunt [sic] me up when you’re ready to see me.” She decided to ask her friends how to respond to the message. This resulted in her clarifying her relationship with Maher as a respectful and professional one, according to the report.

In the conversation below, “REDACTED” refers to identifying information related to the student’s and Maher’s work.

The student: I think we should keep this professional. I really appreciate all your help and care. But I don’t feel comfortable with hanging out beside the [REDACTED] stuff.

Maher: I’m cool with that it probably was a bit premature for me to text the things that I did don’t worry as long as when we are doing the [REDACTED] stuff we can be cordial and friendly to each other.”

From records obtained by The Evergreen

Investigators concluded that during the text exchange, Maher attempted to minimize his previous behavior toward the student. In a text, he said, “… just remember because someone says they love someone doesn’t mean they want them it means they respect admire and enjoy them more than usual,” according to the report.

Throughout the exchange, the student responded with short messages like “thank you.”

On May 7, Maher sent an email to the student suggesting they meet to discuss plans for the organization she was in. This made the student “very uncomfortable” because she said she felt Maher was trying to see her “as soon as possible” and was “trying to control her,” according to the report.

The student met with an advisor on May 11 and shared her previous interactions with Maher, according to the report. She said she did not want to meet with him anymore.

Maher sent the student a text message on May 14 congratulating her on her grades, according to the report. The student said she did not feel comfortable responding.

Maher admitted his actions were “inappropriate and inexcusable,” according to the report.

“I couldn’t deny anything, and why should I?” Maher said to the Evergreen. “If you made a mistake, you gotta just come clean.”

Investigators noted that prior to this incident, university officials informed Maher of WSU’s expectations. They reminded Maher of professionalism when interacting with students due to similar allegations toward him in the past, according to the report.

CRCI director Holly Ashkannejhad said CRCI is responsible for investigating complaints and gathering evidence. However CRCI does not determine the outcome for respondents. Investigation findings are passed on to the respondent’s supervisor.

She said respondents can appeal the complaint if they think CRCI had an insufficient investigation, if there was a substantial procedural irregularity, or if there was new information pertaining to the case.

Maher said his appeal for the complaint was rejected, and on Feb. 18, 2019, Ellen Taylor, associate vice president for student engagement for WSU’s Division of Student Affairs, told him he had two options. He could either retire or go through a faculty review.

“I felt like they were rubbing stuff off of their shoes,” he said to the Evergreen. “You don’t feel like a human being when the university says it wants to get rid of you.”

When the Evergreen reached out to Taylor, she said she is “not in a position to speak about personnel matters.”

WSU held a retirement party for Maher on June 27, he said, but no one except his bosses knew about the investigation. Maher said NWPB General Manager Marvin Marcelo called him on Aug. 12 to say he could not do anything for NWPB after Aug. 15.

“The radio job was my soul,” Maher said to the Evergreen. “That was my enjoyment.”

Maher told Oregon Public Broadcasting he abruptly ended his show Inland Folk after facing “personal struggles.” The sudden departure raised questions among some of Maher’s fans.

A petition created in October to bring back Inland Folk collected about 1,200 signatures. The individual who initiated the petition said Bruce Pinkleton, dean of Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, told her “WSU has no plans to reappoint Mr. Maher.”

Maher said he thought that he could still continue to host Inland Folk if he chose to retire early and remove himself from student life, rather than going through with the faculty review.

“I did a lot of this so that I could keep the show,” he said to the Evergreen. “If I just left quietly, I wouldn’t have the two years that I wanted to finish out the job.”

Maher said he recognizes NWPB’s right to remove his shows, however, they did it in a manner that “raised more questions than were answerable.”

“Your audience knows you after 37 years,” he said to the Evergreen. “That’s what put me into a real tricky situation, which I shouldn’t have been put in.”

Maher said he thinks the investigation would not have ended differently if he denied the complaint because the text messages are evident.

“Ultimately, I scared her,” he said to the Evergreen. “I needed to and should have been held accountable for that.”

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