Baker College, one of Michigan’s largest private schools, is threatening legal action against a former faculty member who spoke to ProPublica and the Detroit Free Press for an investigation published this month.
Jacqueline Tessmer, who taught digital media for 14 years at the Baker campus in Auburn Hills, told news organizations that students often come to the nonprofit college unprepared to succeed and leave without degrees or vouchers. jobs, but with heavy loan debt. “Baker College has ruined a lot of people’s lives,” she said in the story.
A Jan. 19 letter to Tessmer — sent by law firm Plunkett Cooney on Baker’s behalf — asked her to retract her statements, which she called “false and defamatory.” He did not specify what, if anything, was wrong. Arguing that Tessmer was in violation of a non-disparagement clause in a settlement she reached with Baker in an employment dispute, attorney Courtney L. Nichols also demanded that she “voluntarily agree to pay the payment to Baker College for damages it suffered as a result of your violations, including attorney’s fees.” The letter did not include a dollar amount.
Since publication, Baker has not contacted any of the news agencies to challenge the validity of his statements. Prior to publication, Free Press and ProPublica informed Baker that Tessmer would be quoted and shared his comments. Baker did not specifically address these quotes or Tessmer’s time in college.
Baker’s letter after it was published gave him seven days to respond. Tessmer said in an interview this week that she stands by her comments and will not meet college requirements.
She said she did not see how it would be possible to make a retraction even if she wanted to, given that she expressed her opinion “based on what I did in the service of the college” and that his comments were just “a few sentences in a giant article.
“I could shut up, but is it really going to matter at this point?” she added.
the story on Baker examined the college’s low graduation rates, aggressive marketing, and oversight of a board of trustees that included former presidents of the school.
In addition to the letter to Tessmer, Baker responded to the article by emailing students, writing a letter to the editor of the Free Press, and placing a statement on his website disparaging the story and touted the school’s accomplishments. Officials have defended the 111-year-old college as an affordable open-enrollment school whose practices are scrutinized by regulators and accreditors.
Neither Baker nor his attorney responded to a request for comment on the legal threat.
Tessmer’s relationship with Baker ended with a lawsuit she filed for breach of contract and retaliation. The school disputed her claims in a countersuit, and the case ended in a settlement in 2014. Baker’s attorney’s letter also suggested that if Tessmer had talked about the settlement, she would violate it.
“That’s what they do,” said Tessmer, now independent. ” They are scary. They huff and puff, and it works most of the time. I mean, it worked on me.
The letter to Tessmer stated that if she did not comply, “Baker College will consider its available remedies.”
By Thursday evening, Tessmer had heard no more from the law firm.