Home Christian News Feud With Ex-President Leads to Lawsuit, Alleged Threats of Violence at Calvin...

Feud With Ex-President Leads to Lawsuit, Alleged Threats of Violence at Calvin University

Joanna Boer, who is a Caribbean-American woman of color, alleged that school officials “undermined her, belittled her, and unduly challenged her” because of her race and gender and sued for discrimination.

The school’s board of trustees denied the allegations of the lawsuit in a statement issued Sunday (April 14) and has said in the past that Boer’s actions made him unfit for president.

“In summary, the Board emphatically rejects the accusations of breach of contract, defamation, and discrimination laid out in the Boers’ lawsuit, and we are confident that further misrepresentations will be corrected through litigation,” the board said in a statement.

Affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church, Calvin is known for its high-profile alums like former Secretary of Education Betsy Devos as well as influential professors like Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a historian and author of “Jesus and John Wayne.” The school has experienced tension in recent years over its rules on sexuality — as CRC’s teaching condemns any sexual conduct outside of heterosexual marriage as sinful — while the school admits LGBTQ students. A former Calvin professor who lost his job after officiating a same-sex marriage is currently involved in a legal battle with the school.

The Boers’ lawsuit, which included a copy of the former president’s employment agreement, and the board response reveal more details about behind-the-scenes tensions during Boer’s brief tenure as Calvin’s leader as well as details of the messages that led to his downfall. Those documents also show that the negotiations over his resignation devolved into a bitter feud.

Despite the five-year term of his employment agreement, under the terms of that agreement, Boer was considered an at-will employee and could leave the school or be fired at any time. However, unless the board ruled that Boer was guilty of “serious misconduct,” he would receive his $400,000 salary for a year after leaving.

In the complaint, Boer’s attorney stated that he exchanged texts with an employee of a college vendor for several weeks in January but denied he admitted the texts were inappropriate. They also claim he was given little time to defend himself and agreed to resign rather than be fired — if he could get severance and help shape the messaging around his resignation.

Neither happened, according to the complaint. Instead, negotiations broke down, and Boer and his family were locked out of the presidential home — even though his kids were still in school in the Grand Rapids area.

The complaint claims the president’s messages did not rise to the level of misconduct.

“Calvin cannot show a case of ‘serious misconduct’ as defined by the Contract against Dr. Boer,” Boer’s lawyers claim.

In their statement, the board alleges that Boer sent more than 100 messages in 10 days to the woman who complained the messages were inappropriate and claims that he admitted the messages were inappropriate.

“Disclosing the actual messages would reveal the complainant’s identity; however, they included texts where Dr. Boer admitted to initiating the exchange under false pretenses,” according to the board’s statement. “He made multiple comments about the woman’s physical appearance. Dr. Boer also said in these messages that he wanted to get to know her and repeatedly asked about her whereabouts and her plans to attend Calvin events so he could see her.”