Shippensburg University faculty members pressed Daniel Greenstein, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), Monday afternoon on his responses and statements regarding allegations against a president of Bloomsburg University who now serves as interim president at Lock Haven University.
Bashar Hanna became Bloomsburg’s president in July 2017 and Lock Haven’s interim president in early February 2021.
SU English Professor Jordan Windholz was the second university community member to ask a question of the chancellor.
“I have a question about your vision of equity and inclusion in a redesigned system. You have previously stated that we need to ensure our campuses do a much better job of being inclusive and equitable,” Windholz said. “But more recently, you’ve said that you have, for instance, every faith in President Hanna of Bloomsburg and now Lock Haven, who has been credibly accused of gender-based bullying at a number of universities and has admitted on-the-record to kissing a Bloomsburg student without her consent, because as he also stated on-the-record, he was treating her like family.”
During the chancellor’s virtual visit to Mansfield University on March 4, Gretchen Sechrist, a psychology professor at the university and chair of the department, asked the chancellor about the sexual harassment accusations that have been made against Hanna.
Sechrist noted the feeling of “fear” from those who asked the question and wanted to know what it means if he were to become the president for the new university merger.
Greenstein responded, “First of all, to honor the sentiment, everybody needs to feel safe and included on our campuses — gender, race, gender-identity.
“I would never do anything to put any of that at risk, as an equity-oriented person, as a social justice-oriented person, it’s just beyond my character,” Greenstein said during the Mansfield meeting. “I can tell you for a fact that the Council of Trustees at Bloom, the chancellor, the Board [PASSHE Board of Governors], have every faith in Bashar. He’s a good president. He’s done great things for Bloom.”
However, according to an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer, a former member of Bloomsburg’s council of trustees was “outraged to recently learn of the troubles in Hanna’s past, saying he wasn’t told before the vote.”
Those “troubles” include accusations of bullying and sexual harassment, according to the article.
The chancellor said he and his communications team see social media posts commenting about Hanna. He continued by saying he was a little saddened by what is happening around the topic.
“And it’s sad, and I think about it in a kind of ‘viralous’ and scurrilous, defamatory, in some cases illegal, libelous claims that are being made under the basis of no evidence against this guy,” Greenstein said.
Greenstein said at the Mansfield event that he did not know why people make claims, citing “that’s what they do cable news,” “in Congress” as normalizing the actions.
“Or is it because he’s Syrian, and didn’t they bring down the towers?” Greenstein said, before talking about how individuals should be treated as innocent until proven guilty, as protected in the Constitution.
The same Philadelphia Inquirer article reported that Hanna was accused of sexual harassment and was previously forced out of two jobs “after being accused of mistreating employees, women in particular.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Hanna had confidential separation agreements that allowed him to move onward and upward in his career at both Kutztown and Delaware Valley University. The piece also includes experiences and first-hand accounts of former coworkers and faculty members who interacted with Hanna.
“I understand the sentiment. It is important that everyone feels safe,” Greenstein said before also emphasizing the importance of talking about character and being able to distinguish gossip and rumors from fact.
“But Bashar is a great president. I don’t know that many,” he said before moving onto another question in the Mansfield meeting.
Back at SU’s question-and-answer event, the chancellor responded to Windholz’s concerns.
“President Hanna’s actions were investigated before my time by an independent investigator. That report was reviewed by then Chancellor Karen Whitney and the board. And while I’m not at liberty to tell you what was in that report, I can tell you that President Hanna continues in his role with the full support of his council of trustees, the chancellor and the board.”
Misty Knight, SU human communications professor, asked the chancellor a follow-up question.
“You said that the council of trustees gave full support to Dr. Hanna, but in the recent Philadelphia Inquirer article, it says that many of them were unaware of his past history and the accusations. So I’m curious to know, which is it? Are they unaware and supportive or are they aware and supportive?”
Greenstein said the last time he spoke with the council of trustees about this topic was before Hanna was appointed to interim president at Lock Haven, and both the board and council of trustees expressed “full support.”
Cristina Rhodes, SU English professor, asked another follow-up question focusing on what Windholz had asked.
“Dr. Windholz’s question really focused on what you’re doing for equity for women in our system,” she said. “What are you doing to affirm our confidence and you as the chancellor and your sense of our leadership across the university and the PASSHE system, to make us comfortable and confident that women, and particularly women from minoritized backgrounds are being protected?”
Greenstein responded, saying, “We need to ensure that we have robust processes” that will ensure independence and fairness for all employees and employee behavior. He also said Denise Pearson, the new chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, would play a role in helping create a broader, more inclusive space.
Carter eventually stepped in and wanted to share her own experiences as a woman and a woman of color.
“I have during my tenure experienced some things that were not entirely comfortable. And while you all know that I have this thing about comfort with discomfort, these were really uncomfortable. And I have to tell you that the chancellor has been nothing but supportive,” Carter said. “And I want to publicly thank him for that support because they were difficult times for me. And I can tell you that he cares about these issues and works really hard to make sure that everyone has a workplace that is supported.”
Editor’s note: The Philadelphia Inquirer story is available online under the headline: “Bloomsburg University president, accused of sexual harassment, was previously forced out of two jobs.”