Former Tarleton student accuses professor of inappropriate behavior

By Quanecia Fraser—

Executive Editor 

A former student says a Tarleton State University professor invited her to “dinner, drinks & movies” while his wife was not at home last spring. The student, Renee Warner, says she filed complaints about Dr. Michael Landis’ conduct with the university and was told that three others had complained about him as well.

Warner provided Texan News a screenshot of the March 11, 2017 text message from Landis, which read:

“Wanna get together for dinner, drinks & movies? My wife will be away…so it’ll just me & the dogs. #lonely”.

This is a screenshot of the text message from Landis that Warner provided Texan News. Photo by Quanecia Fraser.

Warner, who now lives in Killeen and works for a call center, said she filed complaints about Landis with the university Title IX office and Employee Services, formerly known as Human Resources.

Warner shared a Jan. 25, 2018 email with Texan News from Employee Services Assistant Vice President Angela Brown. “My office received allegations of similar behaviors from three other reporters. Because the reports were similar to yours, we extended the investigation,” Brown wrote. “We are finalizing the report that will then go to Dr. (Karen) Murray for decision. We might be 2-4 weeks away from having a decision, but you will be notified of the decision and the university will be touch with you about steps to getting your diploma.” Murray is the university Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs.

A little over four weeks have passed since Brown sent Warner that email. Texan News emailed Brown on Monday to find out if there was any resolution on the investigation. On Tuesday, Feb. 27, Brown responded to the email saying: “The investigation is pending a decision and will be communicated to all parties once finalized.”

Warner left the university at the end of the Spring 2017 semester, before being able to graduate. Warner said she failed a class with Landis after she stopped attending because she felt uncomfortable with his behavior.

In this email, Brown tells Warner that three others have reported “similar behaviors” from Landis. Photo courtesy of Warner

Both Warner and Landis were known on campus for social and political activism. Warner, 23, organized the 2016 Black Lives Matter protest on campus and was president of the Minority Student Alliance. Landis is a Civil War historian and member of Historians Against Slavery. Last semester, Landis was featured in a Texan News article after a Sons of Confederate Veterans Commander demanded, then retracted his demand, that the university fire Landis for saying that celebrating the Confederacy is a “devotion to white supremacy” and “lost cause.”

There is also some mystery surrounding Landis’ status with the university. His name is still on the door of his office in the O.A. Grant Humanities Building. However, Texan News checked Tarleton’s “myGateway” system and Landis was not listed as a professor for any of the Spring 2018 classes. He’s also not listed as a professor for any of the Fall 2018 classes.

Texan News made repeated attempts to get Landis’ side of this story— by emailing him, calling his office number and calling his personal phone number before finally knocking on his door at his home in Granbury and leaving a letter requesting an interview.

“I am eager to speak with you and answer all your questions. However, I am not permitted to do so at this time,” Landis wrote in a Feb. 12 email. In a subsequent email, he referred questions to his department head, Dr. Eric Morrow.

Morrow declined to discuss Landis’ situation as did Provost Karen Murray and College of Liberal and Fine Arts Dean Kelli Styron.

“I am not available for such an interview at this point in time.,” wrote Murray in a Jan. 31 email to Texan News.

Cecilia Jacobs, Interim Assistant Vice President of Marketing and Communications, said in an email: We take all allegations of wrong-doing by Tarleton faculty or staff very seriously. Following a thorough investigation, appropriate actions will be taken.”

Texan News spoke to Warner via Google Hangouts video. Photo courtesy of Warner’s Facebook.

Texan News interviewed Warner on Feb. 2 via Google Hangouts. She said that the text message from Landis stunned her.

“When I got that text message, I literally sat in my house for four hours because I didn’t know what to say to him. I didn’t know how to respond to that, I had never been approached that way—especially by my professor. Warner provided her screenshot of her response to Landis: “I don’t think that would be appropriate.” The screenshot Warner provided shows Landis replying: “I guess that makes sense.”

“And so, when he sent me that message…it made me feel like he was taking advantage of… my interest in him as a professor.”

“Because here I am a student who looks up to you as this amazing speaker, as this amazing history teacher, historian… and honestly, I was proud to call him—I wouldn’t say a friend but somebody I associate with—especially a white man who speaks up for Black Lives Matter, who speaks up for injustices, who speaks up for history and is radical in a sense,” Warner said. “I loved that about him, that he was very strong in his beliefs.”

Dr. Michael Landis. Photo by Texan News.

Warner said she started to feel increasingly uncomfortable, to the point that she stopped going to Landis’ class.

Warner said she quit attending his class “because I couldn’t face him. I didn’t want to face him…I was uncomfortable with the thought of my professor coming on to me and I still have to go to class and face him.”

She said she did not want to “come forward about it because I have been the face of so many other controversial topics at Tarleton and this was just going to be another thing that people were going to point at me and say ‘She’s the problem. … She’s the one that’s causing all these problems’.”

I honestly was at the point where I just wanted to get my degree and just graduate and just leave Tarleton for good,” she said.

Warner said she also feared that if she came forward and reported what had happened, “it was going to be his word over mine.”

“I still feel betrayed today. But, one thing that I’ll never forget and I’ll always thank Dr. Landis for is that he encouraged me to be a whistleblower, to call out people’s doing wrong. And, I really hope he understands why I’m coming forward and I’m using that very same tactic that he taught me—being a whistleblower,” said Warner.

She added: “I didn’t have it as bad as most sexual harassment or sexual assault cases. But, I just want people to know that just because you can trust someone or you think you can trust someone, doesn’t mean that they won’t take advantage of you, doesn’t mean that they won’t betray you… I would tell people ‘Don’t ever let a professor take advantage of you.’ And call them out on their wrongdoing.”

Texan News filed a public records request for Landis’ personnel files. The university released 113 pages of his personnel file. Nothing in the file, however, mentions Warner or the investigation. Warner says she also requested records for the reports she filed against Landis, but that the university asked the Texas Attorney General for permission to withhold them.

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