Stage & Dance

Debra Hoskins fired from EKU arts center due to raft of allegations, records show

Debra Hoskins was executive director of EKU Center for the Arts when it opened in September 2011. By January 2012, university employees took over business operations because of irregularities.
Debra Hoskins was executive director of EKU Center for the Arts when it opened in September 2011. By January 2012, university employees took over business operations because of irregularities.

The administration of Eastern Kentucky University attempted to fire EKU Center for the Arts director Debra Hoskins on June 12 because of allegations including fiscal misconduct and falsification of university records and documents.

Violation of human-resources policies, improper handling of customers' credit card information, and the misleading of university officials were also alleged.

The university's issues with Hoskins while she led the $33 million publicly financed arts center are described in 740 pages of documents obtained late Tuesday afternoon under the Kentucky Open Records law.

The accusations include financial improprieties such as submitting inappropriate meals and items on expense reports, and directing students to falsify time cards.

She was also accused of making inappropriate comments about students' appearance and in engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior.

Among the documents are a letter dated May 16, 2012, informing Hoskins that she was being placed on unpaid leave for a week for violation of the university's sexual harassment and non-discrimination policies.

Also among the documents is a certificate stating that Hoskins had successfully completed the university's program on "preventing sexual harassment." It was signed by Hoskins on Jan. 3, 2012.

In a written statement to the Herald-Leader, Hoskins denied many of the accusations outlined in the documents.

However, she had said in a letter dated April 13, 2012, to Skip Daugherty, executive assistant to EKU President Doug Whitlock, that she would not appeal the report or fight the allegations further because the arts center needed to move on and restore morale.

"I feel the impressions left by these false, malicious and partisan allegations unfairly paint a totally inaccurate picture creating personal consternation and great hurt," Hoskins wrote to the Herald-Leader.

In several of the documents released Tuesday, she also denied many specific allegations, including inappropriate behavior toward students.

Hoskins resigned shortly after the attempted firing, which was blocked by the EKU Center's Community Operations Board, contending that only it had the authority to terminate the director's employment. She departed a little less than 1½ years after her hiring, which was celebrated as a coup by many community and university leaders in light of her previous job as part of the team that made Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts in Danville an unprecedented success.

Hoskins' final post at the Norton Center — part of Centre College, a private institution — was as assistant director, a job she left in December 2010. She applied for the top job at the Norton Center, after the departure of longtime director George Foreman, but she was passed over.

Previously released documents regarding Hoskins' tenure at the EKU Center revealed concerns about her use of the Norton Center's proprietary information, including subscriber lists, and business practices at the center.

"It has been a great pleasure to plan and present special performances and events for Central Kentucky for over 20 years," Hoskins wrote in her response to the Herald-Leader, citing events including the September 2010 performance by Gustavo Dudamel and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Norton Center. "After so much professional success, it is inconceivable that I now have to publicly defend myself."

The documents released Tuesday came after months of legal wrangling between the Herald-Leader and EKU and Hoskins. Attorneys for Hoskins and EKU contended that the records contained information that would be personal and embarrassing to Hoskins and other parties, and that they would violate a confidentiality agreement between her and the university that was executed at the time of her departure.

Both the state attorney general's office and Madison Circuit Judge William G. Clouse Jr. ruled that the confidentiality agreements did not supersede the commonwealth's open-records laws.

The newly obtained documents echoed earlier issues, particularly relating to financial management of the center, and raised new ones, including creating a "discourteous and unfriendly work environment," according to a Feb. 8, 2012, report from EKU's human-resources department and a 50-page Feb. 22, 2012, report from the university's Equal Opportunity Office.

The latter report concluded, among many other findings, that Hoskins "behaved inappropriately under the university's non-discrimination and sexual-harassment policies" and "made belittling comments" about an employee's national origin. That same report also found inappropriate conduct by another employee, whose name was redacted, and the staff member who initiated the complaint against Hoskins.

The same report said she "made inappropriate comments to student employees regarding their bodies and appearance" during a dress rehearsal before the opening of the center, in September 2011. In EKU's interviews with student workers as part of the investigation, a student recounted Hoskins lining up 150 to 200 workers and critiquing their appearance one by one, telling one woman, "You're gonna need Spanx," referring to the girdle-like undergarments. Another student recalled Hoskins telling a worker that she looked like a "whore."

Hoskins responded to the allegations in the April 13, 2012, letter to Skip Daugherty: "I categorically deny I at any time committed any act(s) in violation of the university's non-discrimination and sexual harassment policies."

She went on to write, "It is obvious any comments that I might have made were taken out of context and/or misinterpreted."

Hoskins also responded in detail to an internal audit report alleging that she had falsified financial records; misused her university-issued procurement card; engaged in inappropriate hiring practices, including interviewing candidates before jobs were posted and employing people before sufficient background checks were conducted; and made overpayments of contractors and event settlements. Hoskins said that in some cases, she was unaware of rules that she was violating and that other cases were misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

In one case, Hoskins was said to have overpaid a former Secret Service agent who consulted on the center's failed application for one of the 2012 presidential debates. The agent, Don Cox, wrote, "I vehemently deny any financial improprieties whatsoever on the part of Mrs. Hoskins. ... I take these defamatory and malicious allegations as a personal insult and surely Mrs. Hoskins must feel likewise."

In several instances, Hoskins said the accusations were "nothing more than a manipulation of process in order to conduct a private vendetta against innocent persons."

Nonetheless, the university and Hoskins parted ways in June. She is now director of the soon-to-open Grand Theatre in Lancaster.

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