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Letters to the Editor about Thacher for Aug. 20

Intelligent response is missing

MARGRET DELVES-BROUGHTON — Litchfield, Connecticut

I am writing to express my disappointment in the Thacher School’s recent decision to remove the Mulligan name from the dining hall and athletic field steps.

 

As a former Thacher parent, I do not know Michael Mulligan any better than other parents might know him. In fact, my child was only at Thacher for one year with Mulligan as head of school and I only interacted with him personally on one or two occasions. He struck me as warm and intelligent, and he seemed to be handling the job as head of school with flying colors.

He showed up at Thacher for new student orientation just days after his father’s passing. He remained on campus with the Ventura County Fire Department during the Thomas Fire, and he suffered a terrible horse accident in the spring term and was still present at Gymkhana weekend.

Anecdotally, Mulligan was known best for understanding the confounding and intricate workings of the adolescent mind — curious, experimental, quick and prone to risk, and therefore fallible, but also redeemable. This understanding is what set Thacher apart from many independent schools for many people.

Having read the MTO Report, I am now aware of all the other things that Mulligan was overseeing as head of school, including personnel and discipline issues. The report is difficult to read — it is very hard to come to terms with the fact that, at any point in Thacher’s history, there have been students who were scared, intimidated, confused, bullied and belittled.

I commend Thacher for wanting to take drastic steps to make sure that this pattern does not continue in the future. However, removing the Mulligan name from the dining hall and athletic steps strikes me as unnecessarily punitive, and flies in the face of the best of Mulligan’s leadership.

It seems that the board is requiring Mulligan to take a hit for institutional practices that were beyond his control.

I agree with the outrage over the various incidents and how they were handled (and according to his statement, Mulligan does, too), but I would expect a more intelligent response from a school as special as Thacher.

 

Thacher scapegoats former headmaster

BRUCE GLADSTONE — Ojai

Thumbs down and shame on the Thacher School Board for voting “unanimously” to sanction (punish) retired Head of School Michael Mulligan by removing his and his wife’s name from their prominent displays in the school dining hall and athletic field.

As the Thacher community became aware of the abuses occurring on campus, it would have been more appropriate for the Board of Directors, administrators and faculty to meet together for open discussion about how to address the problem and to get professional guidance on how to proceed. However, scapegoating Michael Mulligan did not address the problem, but only helped Thacher’s shadow to remain in the shadows.

 

Forever grateful to Michael Mulligan

TOBY BLUE — Manhattan Beach, California

I sent this message to retired head of Thacher School Michael Mulligan:

First and foremost, you have my support. Unlike a lot of people who have been involved, I have firsthand knowledge of the genuinely kind and fair people that you are. Indeed, at a very formative time for me, Michael represented what it meant to be a good man and a decent human being.

You returned to Thacher during my sophomore year and Michael became a teacher, coach, co-lead singer in the barbershop quartet and role model. I could argue that the exposure I had to Michael at that time was as much as any other student and I couldn’t be more grateful for that.

It has been difficult to reconcile some of the details around those years and I have taken great comfort in the conversations I have been able to have with several classmates the last several weeks.

I have found it to be very difficult to litigate something by today’s standards and expectations that took place in a different reality. However, one thing is unimpeachable and will never change and that is the superb character, judgment and integrity of Michael.

I will forever be grateful and feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn and be taught what it looks and sounds like to be a kind, generous and decent human being by Michael and join so many other people whom I respect deeply in having your back.

 

Name removal an empty gesture

TERRI COHEN — Newport Beach

I strongly agree with Michael Mulligan’s OpEd published in the online edition of the Ojai Valley News Aug. 12 and in the print edition Aug. 20.

We knew Mr. Mulligan to be a kind and caring man of great character.

During our years as part of the Thacher family, we found his leadership to be principled and honorable, with a mix of kindness and approachability — along with a willingness for stern measures when called for — that served his students well.

No one can disagree that any inappropriate or criminal behavior at The Thacher School must be addressed and prevented in the future. However, it is unfair to put blame on Mr. Mulligan, who acted appropriately and according to the rules in place at the time.

And to blame him for events that he was unaware of is doubly unfair. Whether it be simply removing the honor of a named building or the much more severe public besmirching of his good name, this reaction strikes me as an empty gesture and ignores his decades of service to Thacher and our children. It accomplishes nothing except to make the current leadership and board feel better.

 

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