When the Thacher School, an elite private boarding school in Ojai, California, released it’s 91-page report detailing a history of abuse on campus in June, they included a letter from former Head of School, Michael Mulligan. Now, the school is taking steps to distance themselves from Mulligan and remove his name from campus.
On Thursday, the Board of Trustees announced, in a letter to the school community, that Mulligan’s name would be removed from the campus dining hall and athletic field steps due to the occasions on which he “failed to appropriately demonstrate leadership and act when informed of concerns about sexual misconduct.”
The investigative report detailed how Mulligan supported the hiring of John Friborg, one of the accused teachers, with the knowledge of his history of a previous “inappropriate relationship” with a student The Governor’s Academy.
The report also documented a former student’s account where she and her roommate were raped by two male students. The former student shared her experience of reporting the incident to Mulligan where he allegedly told her to “think long and hard” before using the word “rape” at Thacher.
The student felt Mulligan was more interested in prioritizing Thacher’s reputation than their welfare. Mulligan reported the incident to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and the county’s child welfare service, but his account contradicted the accounts of the victims and said they never used the word “rape.”
In a letter to the Thacher Community, on behalf of The Thacher School Board of Trustees, Board Chair Dan Yih wrote, “The removal of the Mulligan name from the dining hall and athletic fields’ steps as outlined above is not intended to—and will not—negate the many positive aspects of the Mulligans’ individual legacies. Indeed, these will continue to exist in the positive influence each had on countless students’ lives. Their devotion and positive contributions during their time at Thacher are not forgotten. However, the high honor associated with a name on a building is fundamentally inconsistent with the gravity and serious consequences of Michael Mulligan’s failure to protect Thacher students from harm.”
The school will also be removing former Head of School Bill Wyman’s name from the hiking trail named for him. In 1992, Wyman resigned from his position as headmaster, which he had held since 1975, following the discovery that he had engaged in “a pattern of offensive verbal conduct and improper touching” toward female students and staff. The investigative report released in June also details some of his abuse.
Paul Mones spoke to the LA Times about the Thacher’s decision to make these changes and remarked that it is “par for the course” for schools who ignored decades of abuse and want to appear proactive.
“People in positions of authority knew that teachers were sexually abusing students, or knew that they were acting inappropriately, or they hired people who they knew had significant boundary issues,” Mones said. “As soon as people started coming forward, they should have immediately, as is their mandatory duty under California law … gone to law enforcement.”