Former Husson University President William Beardsley acknowledged Monday that he did not categorically ban the Rev. Robert Carlson from campus after Carlson resigned abruptly as chaplain in 2006.
Carlson, who committed suicide in November, a day after he learned that state police were investigating claims that he had sexually abused a minor, continued attending activities at Husson for at least four years after Beardsley says he told the minister he shouldn’t be on the campus in Bangor.
The revelations surfaced Monday, five days after police released a 104-page report detailing allegations that Carlson abused several children over 40 years.
Beardsley, who is now Maine’s conservation commissioner, is among several people named in the report who may have been told about Carlson’s behavior.
As late as 2010, Carlson led student orientation exercises and appeared at events alongside Husson officials. His participation in Husson events is widely documented in photographs, school newsletters and news accounts.
Beardsley, whose 22 years as president of Husson overlapped with Carlson’s nine-year tenure as chaplain, acknowledged that Carlson continued to attend public events after he resigned.
The Portland Press Herald learned of Carlson’s continued on-campus activities from a former Husson student, who provided the newspaper with links to online photo albums that show Carlson in various school settings.
Beardsley’s suggestion last week that he told Carlson that he shouldn’t be on campus — and his explanation of the conversation that prompted Carlson’s immediate resignation — leave many questions.
Beardsley says his conversation with Carlson in 2006 followed a call from an anonymous person who told him that “(Carlson) had participated in a sexual relationship with someone years ago.”
Beardsley has told police that the caller’s story prompted him to question whether Carlson had done anything unlawful.
“Commissioner Beardsley reported that he told (Carlson) that if he ever found any evidence that (Carlson) was engaged in any unlawful or inappropriate activity there would be no place for him at Husson,” the police report says.
When asked about the conversation last week, Beardsley told the Press Herald that Carlson resigned “in a matter of hours.”
“When I accepted (his resignation) I basically told him he shouldn’t be on our campus,” Beardsley said last week.
Beardsley’s response suggests that the caller’s information was serious enough to make him believe that Carlson’s presence on campus was not in Husson’s best interest.
But school officials say they got no directive from the president to ban Carlson, who continued to show up at university Christmas parties and other public events.
In August 2009, the former chaplain led a student orientation exercise, according to photos taken by the former administrative assistant to Rodney Larson, dean of the School of Pharmacy.
Carlson later attended a ribbon-cutting for the pharmacy school’s conference room and posed in photos alongside Larson and other school officials.
In 2010, Carlson was a presenter at the pharmacy school’s “white coat” ceremony, where he appeared alongside current Husson President Robert Clark.
Larson said Monday that he was unaware of any restrictions that would have prevented Carlson from attending school functions.
“He was certainly back on the campus after his resignation,” said Julie Green, Husson’s communications director. “Of course, we did not know then what we know now.”
The extent to which Beardsley knew of the allegations against Carlson is still in question.
Beardsley insists that he knew of no illegal activity.
He also denies a claim by a person interviewed by police that Beardsley had been told about abuse involving a Husson student who was younger than 18.
Beardsley was asked Monday about his statement that Carlson should not return to campus after his resignation. He replied that he didn’t remember exactly what he said.
“Bob Carlson was never categorically banned from the campus or told he couldn’t be there,” he said. “I think in the context of this situation, I said, ‘Gee, if he was going to step down, his relationship with the college was obviously going to be limited.’
“I said, basically, the ball is in your court. If you decide to leave, you know, basically, that’s the end of our relationship — I don’t remember what the exact words were,” Beardsley said.
He could not explain why he thought Carlson’s visits to Husson should be limited — or why Carlson should resign immediately — if the sexual encounter the minister had had several years earlier was legal.
“Remember, he was married,” Beardsley said. “He has a son in town. He has a grandson in town.”
State police Lt. Christopher Coleman, the supervising officer in the Major Crimes Unit, which conducted the investigation, said Monday that the state police have little to add to their report.
“The report speaks for itself,” Coleman said. “(Beardsley’s) responses to our questions are there and I’m going to leave it at that.”
Beardsley was asked why he didn’t initially want to be interviewed by police when he was approached shortly after Carlson’s death in November. Attorney Tony Beardsley, his brother, told police at the time that the commissioner was concerned about “information getting to the media.”
Tony Beardsley told police that if there was an active investigation, in which someone would be charged, his brother would talk.
Asked why he relented, William Beardsley said Monday, “I just decided it would be a good thing to do.”
Beardsley will leave his job as conservation commissioner when the Department of Conservation merges with the Department of Agriculture on Sept. 1.
Although Beardsley has come under fire for his involvement in the Carlson case, he has the backing of Gov. Paul LePage.
Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s spokeswoman, said last week that the governor has “the utmost confidence” in Beardsley.
Staff Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: [email protected]