An “Untenable” Workplace

Turnover spikes in Dean Trulove’s Admission Office following missed deadlines and allegations of misconduct

Editors’ Note: In order to preserve the requested anonymity of certain sources, we have elected not to include names for sources which were not previously identified in the Quest. Each claim of this article has been confirmed by at least three sources, a journalistic practice known as triangulation (unless otherwise specified). These sources (other than the prospective students who wished to remain anonymous) worked in the Reed Admission Office at different points over the past five years.

Photo by Claire Pask

Photo by Claire Pask

Last year, first-years Ashley Ledbetter and Paul Molamphy applied to Reed by the Early Action date, a non-binding early deadline which indicates a serious commitment to attending if accepted. Upon applying, the Office of Admissions told them to expect their decision by February 1. That date, however, came and went without any response. They received their admission decisions by email on February 9, over a week later than they were promised.

Ledbetter and Molamphy were far from the only applicants applying in that cycle who received late decisions. In fact, sources within the Admissions Office report that a staggering number of late decisions have been returned to prospective students over the past four years, with one source suggesting the number may be in the hundreds or even thousands. On College Confidential forums this spring, one prospective student reported that their Early Action application was misfiled under Regular Decision and that they had not heard from the school as of April 4, prohibitively close to Reed Admit Day.

Many students applying Regular Decision did not receive their decision until just a few days before — and, in at least one case, after — Reed Admit Day, significantly affecting their ability to make an informed decision about whether to attend the school. Reed’s stated deadline to notify prospective students is April 1. In this most recent admission cycle, one prospective student reported that as of April 19 the Office of Admission was still returning admission decisions.

Admission decisions are only one of several factors that determine a student’s ability to attend Reed, the most critical being the college’s official statement on their eligibility for financial aid. Reed sends out acceptances first, followed by financial aid decisions over the ensuing days or weeks. With acceptances coming in late and financial aid information even later, many prospective students are left wondering whether or not they will be able to afford a Reed education. As of early April, several students who had received acceptances had no word back on what degree of aid Reed would be offering them. The ability to commit to Reed or attend Reed Admit Day without any indication of their eligibility for aid is a privilege that many applicants do not have.

Students waiting on late decisions described feeling “completely disrespected and unwelcome” by the Office of Admissions. One wrote that “at this point it feels like Reed is either disorganized or just cruel,” another wrote that “Reed’s silence is just obnoxious and in poor form,” and still another said that their experience with Reed’s admissions department made them feel “completely disrespected and unwelcome.” These late decisions were all for complete applications turned in by the deadline.

These late decisions represent a serious error on Reed’s part. In the heat of college admissions season, a small delay can be critical for prospective students in weighing Reed against other institutions. The deadline to commit to Reed is May 1, and students are not granted any leeway on the basis of how long the school takes to respond to them. It remains to be seen how many students were discouraged from or unable to join the Reed’s class of 2023 because of these late responses. One admitted student claimed that their negative experience had strongly lessened their desire to come to the school, saying, “I feel like Reed really harms themselves in terms of yield by releasing decisions so late and so sporadically.” This failure to return admission decisions on time disproportionately affects low-SES applicants, and it puts the college at a significant disadvantage in attracting high achieving applicants with other schools to choose from.

One small but important factor leading to these late responses is the fact that, for the last few years, admission decisions have been delivered by mail in what Reed calls an “Epic Box.” These boxes contain the decision letter, information about Reed, confetti, and a copy of either the Odyssey or the Iliad. Given the confidential nature of admissions decisions, the labor-intensive duty of packing them falls on admissions counselors. Student staff have traditionally not been involved in this part of the process. Last year, however, days after the national deadline for admission decisions to be sent out to prospective students, student staff members were directed to the basement of Eliot for a shift packing the boxes. At this time, student staff were operating on the notion that all decisions had already been sent out. The fact that so many remained to be processed even after the school’s official deadline is in keeping with concurrent reports from prospective students, several of whom, well into the week after they were supposed to hear back, theorized that maybe Reed had “screwed up somewhere.”

The shift towards sending boxes to admitted students instead of emails was one of a number of changes to the office introduced by Dean of Admissions and Vice President of Financial Aid Milyon Trulove when he assumed the helm of the Admissions team in the fall of 2014. Under former Dean Keith Todd, admitted students were informed of their acceptance by an email on the promised reply date. Those who accepted the college’s offer in this email received a copy of either the Iliad or the Odyssey, paid for by alumni. Under Dean Trulove’s new system, the Office of Admissions bears the cost of these materials for all accepted students, as well as their shipping and the labor-intensive process of packing the boxes. This change was just one small factor that contributed to a critical failure of the Admissions Office to alert students of their acceptance to the college with sufficient time for them to make a decision.

This failure is a symptom of larger dysfunction. The origin of the dysfunction in the Admissions Office, by many accounts, is Trulove himself, whose five-year tenure as an administrator at the college has been a tumultuous affair, marred by an accusation of sexual harassment, a subsequent Title IX case, an unusually high staff turnover rate, and a number of complaints about his abrasive professional and managerial style.

Testimonies and letters from former members of Admissions staff — who have asked to remain anonymous for fear of professional and personal retaliation — paint a picture of Trulove as an indecorous, exacting, and uncommunicative office manager. These sources describe a dysfunctional work environment marked by intense micromanagement and a lack of respect and transparency in which the staff are frequently unsure of their role in the office. According to these sources, Trulove consistently made staff feel uncomfortable, undervalued, and unable to do their jobs because of his behavior.

For the last four years, staff in the Admissions Office under Trulove have had to choose between tolerating this workplace environment or leaving the college and taking their experience elsewhere. Most have chosen the latter. Of the twenty permanent Admissions staff in the office when Trulove came on in 2014, only one remains. The departure this year of Crockett Marr and Kati Sweaney brings the turnover rate in the office over 4 years to a staggering 95%, far higher than the national average of 55% for careers in admissions over the same time span, according to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling. These departures, which included many senior members of the Admission Staff, cost the college a great deal of experience in higher education admissions and institutional memory. Having to fill these positions also represented an enormous undertaking, costing the college labor and money.

The dysfunction in the Admissions Office under Trulove began almost immediately in his tenure. At that time, newly appointed President John Kroger made reforming Admissions to prioritize diversity as a key part of his agenda. After an extensive search committee process, he settled on Trulove, who had made a name for himself as someone capable of increasing student body diversity as the Dean of Admission at Hamline College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Restructuring the Admissions Office and replacing Dean Todd with Trulove was a pivotal moment for Kroger’s presidency in its early months.

After beginning in the office in August of 2014, however, Trulove began to make a number of changes around the office which some long-time staff found unwelcome. While alumnus Nick Fiore, a student intern at the time, is far from the only team member to note a lack of communication and compromise in Trulove’s approach to management — with many noting his persistent need to have the final say in almost every decision made around the office — he was perhaps the first to put it to record. In a letter to the Quest in November of that year, Fiore described an “abrupt change” in management style that had taken place in the office that semester. Fiore decried the lack of open communication in the office and cited Trulove’s decision to regulate and standardize campus tours without any input from the student tour guides as one example of this. “I would be lying,” Fiore wrote, “if I felt like my voice and my experience was warmly welcomed in the Admissions Office.”

Fiore’s letter was an early indication of a dysfunction in the Admissions Office under Trulove that would become more clear in the coming weeks. The next week, the Quest broke the news that Andrea Hendrickson, a senior admissions counselor, had brought a Title IX case against Trulove accusing him of sexual harassment. Hendrickson alleged that Trulove had sexually harassed her in a closed-door encounter in his office. Many details of the case remain confidential, and Hendrickson has declined to comment. Other sources confirm, however, that Trulove engaged in a habitual pattern of inappropriate and flirtatious behavior with Hendrickson and other women in the office in the weeks leading up to the incident.

According to one source, these one-on-one closed-door meetings — particularly with women — were common in Trulove’s first few weeks, many of which took place after work hours. Multiple sources, all former employees of the office, cite instances in the first few months when Trulove would make inappropriate comments about the physical appearance and clothing of women in the office. One source additionally described him as “very dismissive of women’s opinions,” often talking over them in meetings. Still another described his behavior towards women in the office as clearly toeing the line of professional and personal grooming.

Reed Human Resources and the Title IX board conducted an internal investigation of Hendrickson’s claim and presented their information to President Kroger, who presided over the case. Ultimately, it was Kroger’s determination that while Trulove had clearly engaged in inappropriate behavior, it did not rise to the level of sexual harassment. The Quest reported that, according to HR Director Michelle Valintis, Trulove had made a “grave error in judgement,” although Valintis later denied making this claim. Kroger told Admissions staff that Trulove had been sanctioned for his actions, even though he was not determined to have committed a Title IX violation. The nature of the sanctions was never stated.

The college’s verdict shocked many staff members in the Admission Office, who believed Hendrickson’s account of events to be credible. Hendrickson, who had been in the office since the beginning of the previous academic year, was seen to have stronger personal and professional ties to other staff in the office than Trulove, who had only been there for a few short months and was still in his probationary period as a new employee. As such, many in the office thought it likely that Trulove stood to be fired for these allegations. Two and a half weeks after Kroger’s final decision, however, Hendrickson officially resigned from her position as Senior Assistant Dean of Admission.

Shortly after Hendrickson’s resignation, Trulove received a promotion, assuming the position of Vice President of Admissions and Financial Aid in addition to retaining his extant role as the office’s Dean of Admissions. The news provoked a wave of anger and mistrust among students, who staged an “#OutOfRespect” sit-in outside Kroger’s office to demand an overhaul of the system by which the college investigates sexual harassment and greater transparency from the President’s office. No action was taken by the President, nor did the administration offer any direct response to the concerns of protestors.

For student staff in particular, the news of the Title IX case and Hendrickson’s sudden departure came as a tremendous shock. Hendrickson had acted as the primary liaison between the day to day duties of student staff and the internal operations of the office, and students generally interacted with her much more directly than higher-ups in the office. To these students, her departure seemed not only like a gross miscarriage of justice by Reed’s administration, but also strongly affected their own sense of their role in the office. At the time, the Quest reported Valentis as saying, "People have come to us about how to proceed, about how to carry out their duties."

In the same article, the Quest quoted student staff member Anna Schneider ‘15 saying, “I’m confident that it met the threshold [for sexual harassment].” Schneider went on to describe the Admissions Office as a hostile work environment, explaining that "students don't want to do anything for him [Trulove] even if it is through a third party.” She went on to express a feeling of powerlessness, on behalf of herself and her peers, if a similar incident were to transpire. “It's not necessarily that we're afraid of Milyon — it's that if anything were to happen with Milyon, we feel powerless to do anything," she said.

Accomodations had to be made at the time for student staff who felt so distraught by the claims that they felt completely unable to come to work. Still, even for those students who sought such accommodations initially, there was eventually little choice but to show up for work no matter how unsafe and unwelcoming their working conditions felt. At the time that the original Title IX case was dropped, the Quest reported that "uncertainty surrounding the alleged incident of sexual harassment, the rationale for the finding, and the actions taken by the administration has created an atmosphere of mistrust and helplessness for students who work in the Admission Office."

Having purportedly been sanctioned by the college, Trulove withdrew somewhat from the day-to-day affairs of the office, electing to keep a closed door and private schedule. As Trulove became more reclusive, he cut back on interactions with all but his most direct subordinates. Many staff, even those whose job required reporting directly to Trulove, found him inaccessible during office hours. Trulove would commonly come into the office as late as 10:00 a.m. and stay for several hours after the office closed, meaning there would generally not be time for him to meet with everyone he needed to during the workday.

Since Trulove generally insists on having the final say in most decisions made in the workplace, sources allege that this general lapse in communication led explicitly to significant hindrances to the Admissions Office’s ability to stick to its intended timetable. It was here that staff decided the chronic mismanagement of the office had reached a breaking point and took it upon themselves to address the problem directly. In the fall of 2014, permanent Admissions staff wrote and delivered a private letter to Trulove, obtained by the Quest, detailing their concerns about his management style.

This letter — which is published in its entirety here — described a workplace that was “untenable … [and] becoming downright toxic,” due in large part to lingering tension and mistrust surrounding Hendrickson’s departure. The letter states, “Because of your error in judgement we have lost in Andrea someone who was a highly regarded colleague as well as a mentor and a friend … the fallout from that incident has brought into stark relief a host of issues, concerns, and grievances that seem to us related to the failure in judgement that has put us in this position.”

“Because of these issues,” the letter continues, “many of us have been unable to do our daily ‘real’ jobs for months.” The letter points to micromanaging behaviors by Trulove as a primary factor in the untenable environment, as well as an unwillingness to hear staff criticism and a lack of accessibility and transparency. With regard to Trulove’s financial aid model, staff wrote that “under the new model most of us do not understand what we are doing or why; some of us were not even informed of the change.”

This letter was signed by all but three permanent staff members in the office. Several weeks after staff delivered the letter to him, Trulove called a meeting to address their concerns. Staff, however, report feeling dismissed and talked over by Trulove for the duration of the meeting, and feel strongly that their concerns were never adequately addressed. Many claim, in fact, that Trulove continued to exhibit the same harmful behaviors with no noticeable adjustment in behavior. Today, four years later, not a single person whose name was attached to that letter remains in the Admissions Office. The Financial Aid Office also experienced a series of staff resignations over this period, including the loss of the former Director of Financial Aid. Sources have linked these departures to Trulove’s management as well.

This letter was one of three such letters written by Admissions staff to Trulove in the past four years, in hopes of addressing the pervasively dysfunctional environment in the Office. The other two were written by student interns who felt ignored and undervalued by Trulove. The first was written in August 2015, months after the staff letter was delivered in the fall of 2014. In this letter, student workers described a number of complaints they had with Trulove’s hierarchical management style. These complaints mirrored those expressed in the original letter.

At a meeting called by Trulove to address this letter, student staff too reported feeling dismissed and condescended to. In yet another letter, a student intern wrote to Trulove that they left their meeting “embarrassed and confused — still troubled.” The same intern wrote that Trulove’s response “was not only alienating and scary but also a misreading of the entire intent of our letter.” These letters and the testimonies of staff paint a picture of Trulove as an overbearing manager who was unwilling to hear serious criticism.

In a conversation with the Quest last year, Trulove expressed optimism about high diversity numbers in his department, the very aim he had been brought on to accomplish, and defended a decentralized method of managing the workplace which he called the “team approach,” allowing for more flexibility in the face of high staff turnover. Trulove’s description of his decentralized management style does not match with the picture painted by his employees of an intensely centralized system with all decisions going through the dean.

Furthermore, there is reason to question the Office of Admissions’ success in diversity recruitment. Trulove has introduced a number of programs to the Admissions Office, including the Discover Reed Fly-In and Junior Visit day, which are touted by the Office as critical to attracting a diverse student body to Reed. The numbers tell a slightly different story. According to Reed’s common data set, the percentage of students of color in each year’s incoming class has remained almost the same since Trulove began as Dean of Admission. Meanwhile, the school’s Diversity Index — an accepted standard in the admissions industry for measuring ethnic diversity, which measures the chance that any two randomly selected students will be of a different race or ethnicity — has fallen by an average rate of 1.4% over the same span.

At a school like Reed, which touts student autonomy as an operating principle, the Office of Admissions plays a crucial role not only in setting a welcoming tone for newcomers, but also in making students of all backgrounds and levels of need feel respected and supported for the duration of their time living and working on campus. Based on the testimonies of staff from within the office, it cannot be said to be doing either. The dysfunctional work environment fostered by Dean Milyon Trulove has actively harmed the personal and professional development of his employees, including student staff, resulting in an extraordinarily high rate of staff turnover. The office has also alienated prospective students as well, particularly those from underprivileged backgrounds. Meanwhile, the college’s inconsistent response to the original claims of sexual harassment continues to foster concerns among community members about the reliability of the college’s internal processes. These matters directly impede the functionality of both the Admissions Office and the institution at large.

As of the time of publication, Dean Trulove had not responded to requests for comment.