EXCLUSIVE – Dean Sex Scandal: Behind the Scenes Court Battle

Ramona Ramdeen, Police Reporter

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According to deposition statements obtained exclusively by Spinnaker, we now know much more about what led to the resignation of a former Dean involved in a sex scandal. 

After being caught in a sex act on campus in October of 2018, Dr. Mark Tumeo, former dean of UNF’s College of Computing, Engineering and Construction, filed suit against the University of North Florida, claiming he was unfairly coerced into resigning.

The following is an outline of testimonies by current UNF President David Szymanski, and Former Vice President of Public Relations, Sharon Ashton.  

These depositions were taken just a few weeks before the one-day trial earlier this month. The excerpts reveal much about the behind the scenes meetings and conversations that ultimately led to Tumeo’s resignation and eventual lawsuit.

According to President Szymanski’s deposition, Tumeo was leaving UNF one way or another, and the person who gave that directive was UNF’s Board of Trustees Chairperson, Kevin Hyde.

 

DIRECT EXAMINATION BY T.A. DELEGAL, III ESQUIRE (Attorney for Tumeo)

Q:     Could you please state your name for the record.

A:     Yeah. It’s David Mark Szymanski

Q:     When did you first learn about the incident that led to Dr.  Tumeo’s separation from the university? 

A:     I got a call from Chief Frank Mackesy.

Q:     What did Chief Mackesy tell you?

A:     So he — so my recollection is that he received the call and he happened to be really close by, so he was the responding officer. There was some sort of an incident involving, Mark Tumeo and some other male individual. I think it was — it was in the soccer complex. I think the soccer coach perhaps had been the person who reported it. 

Q:     What actions did you take after hearing that report from Chief Mackesy?

A:     I reached out to our board of trustees chairperson, Kevin Hyde, and that’s really my  — that’s my direct report and making sure that he was informed. Letting him know what I knew with respect to the incident.

Q:     What next steps did you discuss?

A:     Well, Kevin’s fine with me telling you.  He was — he was — after we described it, he was, I don’t want the person on the campus again, and so he’s my direct supervisor so it was a clear directive.

Q:     Did Kevin Hyde suggest to you why he didn’t want Mark Tumeo on campus anymore?

A:     No.  I don’t think it was a long discussion about that.  I think it was because of – you know, it’s one of those who he was, what his position was, what happened, where it happened, time of day, you know, sort of based on the facts that that was not appropriate action for somebody who is a senior administrator.

Q:     What actions did you take next in regards to this matter?

A:     So after I talked to Kevin, I believe I called the Provost (Pam Chally)… I let her know what Kevin had to say. 

Q:     Did she make any suggestions? Did she have any input as to what would have been an appropriate remedy? 

A:     I think the – you know, don’t – the discussion was probably around his, you know, no longer working for us and what did that mean from – you know, if you hear that from the board of trustees, you know it’s a pretty serious matter. 

Q:     Was there ever any discussion about the distinction between him being a dean and being a tenured faculty member? 

A:     Not that I recall with the provost

Q:     Did you have that discussion with Kevin Hyde about maintaining him as a faculty member and not a dean?

A:     No. Not the way you phrase it. No.

Q:     What specific discussion did you have with Kevin Hyde about how this situation should be handled?

A:     Well, I think it was around him not being on campus anymore, which is really the notion of him no longer working for the institution.  It wasn’t just about not being a dean, it really was him not working at the institution.

 

President Szymanski was then questioned about the high-level staff meeting that followed the next day, where it was revealed that Tumeo’s resignation was an extremely urgent matter, due to a release that was scheduled to go out, in order to get ahead of Spinnaker releasing the story.

Q:     What meeting did you have with the staff?

A:     So we had to get a press release out, so it’s basically, you know, a meeting more directed by the Vice president of media and communications.

Q:     Why did you decide to prepare a press release?

A:     Because it was going to get to the media.  As soon as the police report came out the notion of the Spinnaker – Are you familiar with the Spinnaker?

Q:     Yes, that’s your student newspaper.

A:     Right. And so they’re waiting to say something, so we want to make sure that we’re also shaping that – you know, what’s being said.  Not to them but we want to make sure we’re also getting out because…I’m not sure if we had gotten them to wait for a few minutes or in a few minutes they were releasing the report.

Q:     Who was going to issue the report?

A:     The Spinnaker. As soon as the police report becomes public, then they have access to it. 

Q:     Do you know if the police report had already become public?

A:     Yes, because we have a copy of it, it’s a public document. As soon as it’s crafted, it’s a public document.

 

President Szymanski’s deposition then goes on to discuss the phone call to Tumeo, where Tumeo maintains he was forced by then Provost Pam Chally to resign:

Q:     Was Dr. Tumeo contacted by phone during the course of that meeting? 

A:     Yes.

Q:     Who made the call?

A:     The provost.

Q:     What do you recall her saying?

A:     It was whether he was going to resign from the institution because we’re filling out the press release.

Q:     Was there any mention of how much time he had to make the decision?

A:     Yes.

Q:     What was the mention?

A:     So the mention was we need to know in the next two minutes or so.

Q:     Why was that?

A:     For our perspective is that we’re sitting on a press release that’s getting published from the Spinnaker really quickly, and so it was immediate that we needed to fill that part in.  We just wanted to know what he was going to do. It was just – it was basically information.

Q:      And did he respond to the statement that you needed to know in the next two minutes?

A:     So I don’t think it was two minutes, but we said we’d look for his email.  If he chose to resign, then write it down and then let us know.

Q:     Did he ever ask for additional time to consider?

A:     Well, I wasn’t on speakerphone, so perhaps.

Q:     Did you ever hear Provost Chally say, “well, you’ve got three minutes.”?

A:     I believe so.

Q:     Are you aware that Dr. Tumeo later requested to retract his resignation?

A:     I don’t recall that.

Q:     Was there any discussion with Dr. Tumeo that morning about whether or not the matter would be public if he had resigned?

A:     Not that I recall.  I don’t recall.

 

In former VP Sharon Ashton’s deposition, the main focus appeared to be “how” and “why” UNF communicated to the UNF community through an Osprey update.

Q:     Could you please state your name for the record? 

A:     Sharon Ashton.

Q:     When did you first learn that there had been an incident involving of Mark Tumeo, which led to the press release and the resignation in this case?

A:      I never did a press release. I first learned of the incident on October 2nd around 9pm.

Q:     How did you learn of it?

A:     General Counsel Karen Stone called me. She called to find out if I knew about it, which I did not until she called, and she gave me the basics of what had occurred.

Q:     Did you have a conversation with anyone else on that evening?

A:     Yes, I talked to interim provost Pam Chally and talked to Police Chief Frank Mackesy.

Q:     What did you discuss with Provost Chally?

A:     If I remember correctly, the conversation had to do with how to communicate the message to important audiences, which included what the next steps would be.…we discussed that because students were aware of the situation that word would get out fairly quickly and that there was a possibility of rumor issues and we talked about the various stakeholders, students, faculty, staff, donors, board of trustees, various groups that are important to UNF and making sure that they get a clear and concise message.

 

Attorney Delegal then enters into exhibit, the Osprey update that was sent out to the entire UNF community the day after the incident.

 

Osprey alert

Hannah Lee
“Mark Tumeo, dean of the College of Computing, Engineering and Construction, has resigned effective immediately,” according to a Special Edition Osprey Update.

 

Q:     The bottom part of this appears to be an email from the UNF Osprey Update?

A:     Yes. 

Q:    Is that the email address that you would use to communicate information from the campus community?

A:     Yes.

Q:     Does that also go to the media sources?

 A:     It goes to faculty, staff, and students.  Some students are employees of Spinnaker, which is the campus newspaper and some students also intern at various media outlets. So we know that everything that we send to students through those routes gets to the media, but it is not a press release.

Q:     Did your original draft include a reference to consensual sex act?

A:     I could not say definitively.

 

The attorney then questioned Sharon Ashton in regard to precedence, and whether or not the University regularly issues Osprey Updates whenever there is a resignation of this nature.

Q:     So how long were you with the University?

A:     Fifteen years.

Q:     And during that time had you released statements to the university community about other employees being subjected to disciplinary action?

A:     I couldn’t accurately answer that without going through old emails.  As you might imagine 15 years is a lot of communication.

Q:     Do you recall any time in which you issued communication to the university community about any other dean resigning? 

A:     A dean resigning, I would have to look through my old emails to accurately answer that question.  Resignations and new hires were not an unusual topic to be discussed with the campus. 

Q:     Do you recall any other time other than this matter, in which it was announced that a professor or staff member resigned based on an allegation of misconduct?

A:     I’m sorry, I would have to review.

Q:     But you don’t recall any right now as we sit here?

A:     I’m trying to – I cannot think of a specific communication at this time. Again, I’m sure if I were to review my records I could probably come up with something fit the description that’s what you’re asking for.

Q:     …I still don’t understand why you had to, as the representative of the university, disclose the actual nature of the alleged misconduct? Can you explain that?

A:     We wanted to be as transparent and as clear as we possibly could with the campus community.  This we knew was going to be a difficult time for a lot of people, you know, for a certain percentage of employees this was their boss. For a certain percentage of students this was their dean. We knew it was going to be a sensitive matter and have always had the philosophy of being very transparent with our campus community. It kind of goes into the shared governance philosophy on a campus.

Q:     So was anything discussed about whether or not Dr. Tumeo would be able to continue working for university?

A:     I remember Pam Chally specifically saying, should we give Mark the opportunity to resign, and I believe President Szymanski said, that’s a good idea.  So Pam was going to call Mark and give him the opportunity to resign.

Q:     Was anything else discussed about whether or not he could continue as an employee of the university, other than that discussion that you just relayed?

A:     Not that I specifically remember.

Q:     Prior to the call to Mark Tumeo, was there any discussion about how long Mark Tumeo would be given to consider the decision whether to resign?

A:     Yes.

Q:     What was that discussion?

A:     I don’t remember specifically.  I do remember there was a conversation about we need to know an answer, if he is going to resign.

Q:     Did they indicate how quickly they needed to know an answer?

A:     I don’t remember how many minutes Pam told Mark.  It was either three, four, or five, but I do not remember exactly. 

Q:     Was there any discussion prior to the time that she got on the phone and gave him those number of minutes to make a decision, was there any discussion amongst the group as to why a limited number of minutes would be provided to him?

A:     Not that I recall.

Q:     So she got on your phone with Mark Tumeo and asked him if he wanted to resign, did she say anything else?

A:     I mean, I remember her calling him and identifying herself and saying that she was calling from my phone and I remember her giving him the opportunity to resign and that’s pretty much all I remember.  I was focused on a message, so I was kind of rewriting it in my mind as well. I wasn’t the one on the phone.

Q:     And she gave him a certain number of minutes to respond; is that correct?

A:     Yes. 

 

Ashton was also asked why the Osprey update was so specific in the details of the Tumeo’s actions. 

Q:     I mean you didn’t have to explain to the university community that he was involved a consensual sex act in order to convey that he was – that he had committed an act which you had deemed unbecoming of a university official right?

A:     We wanted to make it clear that this was he didn’t steal money, he didn’t punch someone, he didn’t have sex with a student.  We were trying to be as accurate as possible so people’s imaginations wouldn’t go wild as to what had occurred. I believe we did it in a way that provided enough detail yet was still dignified.

 

Pam Chally, Shari Shuman, Chief Frank Mackesy and Mark Tumeo also gave depositions in the case.  Spinnaker has requested those depositions, and will report on their content once we receive them.

Meanwhile, Judge Kevin Blazs is expected to rule soon on whether Tumeo could be reinstated before the fall semester.

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