Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder announced Thursday that a Virginia Commonwealth University appeals panel has cleared him of sexual misconduct allegations, but the university called Wilder’s claims “premature.”
In a news conference Thursday inside the VCU school that bears his name, Wilder said the appeals panel overruled the findings of an investigation conducted by an outside lawyer. That investigation determined that Wilder kissed a then-20-year-old VCU student against her will, but it cleared him of other allegations made by the student, including sexual exploitation, sex-based discrimination and retaliation.
The appeals panel, which met last week and held a hearing for more than six hours, rejected the findings of that investigation, Wilder said Thursday.
“I was not responsible for non-consensual sexual contact,” he said. “I am pleased that the panel members confirmed what I have stated from the very beginning of this investigation.”
Wilder’s conclusions about the panel’s findings were “premature,” a university spokesman said.
“VCU does not comment on or publicly disclose information about personnel matters that may be underway,” VCU spokesman Mike Porter said Thursday. “The matter addressed by Governor Wilder this morning is not complete; thus, his comments were premature.”
Porter said VCU policy requires a review panel’s findings and recommendations to be forwarded to a senior leader at the university “for further review.” That administrator then can “affirm or reject the review panel’s recommendation on responsibility,” Porter said.
Wilder’s news conference was held at VCU, but Porter said Wilder’s comments “are his own and do not represent an official statement of the university.”
Jason V. Wolfrey, lawyer for Sydney Black, the student who made the accusation, said Thursday that Black is standing behind her allegations.
The Washington Post reported in March that Black said Wilder kissed her in 2017 without her consent and offered to have Black live at his house. Wilder also offered to pay for her to attend law school, Black claimed.
Black worked as an office assistant at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU, according to The Post.
“She’s obviously disappointed, particularly after the external investigation found that he did have unwanted sexual contact with her,” Wolfrey said.
Wilder, 88, claimed in July that the Richmond Police Department found Black’s allegation “unfounded,” which Richmond police spokesman Gene Lepley confirmed Thursday.
“I have stated that the allegations were proven to be untrue and that the ‘truth will out,’ ” Wilder wrote on his website in July. “I do not accept responsibility for any non-consensual sexual contact and have filed a ‘contesting statement’ outlining the violations, bias and inherent flaws in the investigation.”
The university renewed Wilder’s contract earlier this year. He makes $150,000 as a part-time professor in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, according to a copy of his 2017-18 contract.
His new contract expires June 30, 2020.