WCU’s Vandenbusche retires early as result of harassment allegations

Court settlement continues case for 12 months

[ by Mark Reaman ]

Long-time Western Colorado University history professor Duane Vandenbusche has retired earlier than expected as a result of harassment and assault charges brought against him by a female co-worker stemming from an alleged incident that took place in 2020. The move came last week after he entered into a plea agreement in Gunnison County Court with the local district attorney’s office.

After 60 years of working at Western, Vandenbusche had planned to retire at the end of the 2022 spring semester but given the circumstances, interim WCU president Nancy Chisholm officially accepted his retirement letter last week.

According to the Gunnison City Police report, a female employee whose name was redacted and is being withheld from the public, said Vandenbusche came to her office on March 11, 2020 and made inappropriate comments to her about her appearance while her then boyfriend (now her husband) was in the office. When she looked away, she says that Vandenbusche slapped her in the face and told her to “look at me when I talk to you.” He allegedly slapped her twice during the encounter. The female said the incident made her feel powerless and intimidated. According to the police report, she said she filed a grievance with the WCU human resources office on January 15, 2021 when she said she was being pressured to hire Vandenbusche in her department. The Gunnison police were notified a month later and the police report was filed February 19, of 2021.

A settlement agreement on a deferred sentence was reached in Gunnison County Court last Wednesday, December 15.

“As part of the plea agreement, we disagreed with the alleged facts as presented,” Vandenbusche said this week. “I am innocent of all the charges. If I comply with the conditions of the agreement, then after a year the temporary guilty plea is withdrawn and the case is dismissed.”

On Wednesday, December 15 Vandenbusche entered the guilty plea in Gunnison County Court under the deferred sentence agreement that puts him on a year of unsupervised probation over the class 3 harassment misdemeanor. Basically, under Colorado law, with a deferred sentence agreement, if Vandenbusche completes the stipulations included in the judgment document and does not commit any new offenses during the period of the deferred judgment, the plea of guilty originally entered into is withdrawn, and the case gets dismissed at the end of the specified time period.

The judgment document signed by deputy district attorney Joshua Dougherty and Vandenbusche basically continues the case for a period of 12 months from the date of the plea. If Vandenbusche breaches any aspect of the agreement, the guilty plea remains and he could be sentenced by the court. If he complies by the agreement, “the plea of guilty previously entered shall be withdrawn and the charge upon which the judgment and sentence of the court was deferred shall be dismissed with prejudice,” the document states.

When asked why he would enter into such an agreement if innocent and not fight the allegations, Vandenbusche said there were three primary reasons. “I’m 84 years old and a trial could easily take two years,” he said. “My attorney advised me it would cost between $50,000 and $100,000 for the process no matter which way it ended up and you never know what a jury will decide, and a trial would generate an enormous amount of publicity. Under the circumstances, my attorney recommended we go this route and I agreed.”

The “Stipulation to a Deferred Judgment and Sentence” document states that Vandenbusche has no previous criminal history. It mandates he must complete 48 hours of public service and cannot drink alcohol to excess or use any illegal drugs or marijuana. He has also completed a sexual harassment class approved by the DA’s office. He is also responsible for some court costs.

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