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Caplans no longer Martel RAs

By Nicole Zhao     8/30/12 7:00pm

Ed Caplan and Maria Tsakalis Caplan are no longer Resident Associates at Martel College and moved out of Martel on Friday, Aug. 17, according to Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson. According to Maria Caplan, she has also been terminated from her full-time position at the Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center. 

Martel RAs Jeff and Stephanie Frey have extended their stay at Martel as the college begins recruitment to have new RAs in place by January, Hutchinson said. 

According to Maria Caplan, she and her husband were accused of the following offenses regarding their positions as RAs: drinking in inappropriate settings, providing alcohol to minors, poor leadership regarding alcohol education and policy, interference of alcohol and intoxication with performance of job duties and inappropriate physical contact. 

The same allegations were brought against Maria Caplan regarding her position as Nutrition and Body Image Specialist at the Rice Wellness Center, excluding inappropriate physical contact, Maria Caplan said. 

Hutchinson said that he could not comment on the specifics of the case because it involved personnel issues. According to Hutchinson, the changes regarding the RA positions occurred as a result of investigations prompted by concerns initially brought to the administration by students. Hutchinson could not say specifically what those concerns were. 

 "Upon hearing the concerns, we felt that they deserved an investigation," Hutchinson said. "We have processes for following up on those investigations and processes for determining how to respond to what we learn from those investigations."

Maria Caplan said she and her husband were shocked upon learning that they had to leave Martel immediately.

"This came out of completely nowhere," Maria Caplan said. "We always looked at Martel as our family, as our home ... Imagine being thrown out of your home."

Hutchinson said personnel decisions regarding RA appointments and other university staff positions are made independently of one another.

"The position of Resident Associate and any other staff position in the university are both employment positions and are separate appointments," Hutchinson said. 

Rice University Human Resources Policy No. 411-93 on Discipline states that when administering all disciplinary action, the seriousness and frequency of the offense, past records and circumstances are taken into consideration.

"Rice University expects that following basic standards of conduct will promote a high quality work environment and ensure responsible behavior," the Rice website states. "The supervisor should notify an employee whose job performance is inadequate, explaining ... the expectations for improvement. Because of the individual nature of each situation, Rice University reserves the right to impose discipline appropriate to the circumstances."

Hutchinson said that though personnel decisions ultimately rest with him, the administration engaged in a careful and deliberative process in investigating the allegations against the Caplans.

"A lot of people weigh in on this. As a consequence, there are lots of checks and balances in the university to make sure everyone is treated fairly," Hutchinson said. "The university places a high priority on ensuring that we are fair, deliberative and consultative. We are confident when the time comes to make the decision that we have made a decision in the best interest of the students."

Maria Caplan said she felt that she and her husband had been treated unfairly.

"We were guilty until proven innocent while they did their investigation," Maria Caplan said. 

According to Maria Caplan, neither she nor her husband were given the opportunity to discuss the allegations made against them with Hutchinson. 

Hutchinson confirmed that he did not meet personally with the Caplans to discuss the allegations made against them with them.

"There were multiple conversations with the Caplans by more than one member of the administration," Hutchinson said. "I was not [one of those members]."

Maria Caplan said she had met with Associate Dean of Undergraduates Donald Ostdiek once, when she was in his offce on Aug. 17 and first received the orders to leave Martel.

"We never had a chance to defend ourselves against accusations which led to our forced resignation from the RA position and termination from my full time position at the Wellness Center," Maria Caplan said.

Maria Caplan said she felt that the allegations made regarding her RA position may have influenced the status of her job at the Wellness Center.

"I was not rightfully terminated," Maria Caplan said. "I only received stellar reviews during my time at the Wellness Center. I'd just received a rave [review] from Dean Hutchinson stating what a wonderful job I had been doing at the Wellness Center, so I was really confused as to why a few allegations brought against me in the RA position would ever affect my Wellness Center position."

Wellness Center Director Emily Page declined to comment on the situation.

According to Hutchinson, an RA appointment is considered separate from a university staff position.

"Each of [the positions] is evaluated separately and decisions can be made separately on those two cases," Hutchinson said.

According to Maria Caplan, she was told she was terminated from her Wellness Center job because she had lost the trust of the deans.

"[I was told] the Deans do not have a level of confidence in my position to speak for the university on the alcohol policy," Maria Caplan wrote in a document obtained by The Thresher which she confirmed consists of information she believes to be true. "Also there seems to be a level of concern from students that I am not trustworthy."

Maria Caplan said she believes that students may have raised the allegations in part because of her dual positions as an RA and Wellness Center employee. According to Maria Caplan, she had voiced her opposition to the content of certain student presentations on the alcohol policy during O-Week.

"I think there may have been resentment from some students that I had two forms of power as an RA and as a representative from the Wellness Center at college meetings," Maria Caplan said. "So I think it was a mentality of, 'Get her before she gets us.'"

Martel President Katie Doody, Vice President Helene Dick and Chief Justice Nneoma Elendu declined to comment on the situation.

Hutchinson said he does not believe there will be any further consequences of the incident for Martel.

"I don't actually see consequences other than any time new people join the college, they add a new sort of breath of life, and I think Martel has something to look forward to there," Hutchinson said.

Maria Caplan said she also felt that she and her husband were unfairly targeted for their actions.

"We abide by Texas laws in not serving students under 21 alcohol, but I think there is a kind of consensus on Rice culture that if a student under 21 is drinking responsibly and is drinking a beer, we, in our jobs as masters and as RAs, do not police them and rip the beer out of their hands," Maria Caplan said. "We're not supposed to serve students beers, which I never have. But we're not RUPD."

Masters Ted Temzelides and Beata Loch declined to comment on the situation.

According to the Rice website, college RAs must live among the students, visibly participate in college life, organize intellectual, cultural and social college activities, and assist masters in running the college.

"RAs are agents of the university and occupy positions of authority as well as assume corresponding ethical obligations," the website states. "For example, RAs are never to provide alcohol to underage students or illegal substances to any students."

"One of the primary roles for the RAs is to demonstrate leadership," Hutchinson said. "We're interested in our RAs assisting college government, modeling proper behavior and assisting with problems as they arise."

A student who wished to remain anonymous said Ed Caplan was intoxicated on campus.

"We were watching a movie at Martel when Ed knocked on our door," the student said. "He opened it, but we didn't invite him in. He was intoxicated. He offered us pizza, then he left."

Martel sophomore Sean Kow said he had a positive impression of the Caplans while they were RAs at the college.

"They were really nice and super healthy," Kow said. "I don't know what could have happened that would have cost them their job."

Martel sophomore Alex Espana said the Caplans seemed accessible to students.

"They were really easy-going people," Espana said. "The students always felt really comfortable around them, but whatever they did crossed the line with [at least] one student and that student took it to the Dean."

Hutchinson said that the Martel community has demonstrated strength in this situation.

"Martel is going to thrive as a community even though this transition has been disruptive," Hutchinson said.

Due to a change in web hosts, this article no longer includes the original comments.

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