A witness has alleged that she heard a top college official announce that he would like to “beat the s–t out of that girl” after a fractious confrontation in his office with a student seeking to get the college to install a green roof atop the Media Production Center, 1600 S. State St.
Sophomore marketing communication major Toni Andreina said she was meeting with John Kavouris, associate vice president of Facilities & Operations, on Feb. 28 when tempers flared on both sides regarding the proposed rooftop garden. Andreina said she and several colleagues were then, in her words, “kicked out” of Kavouris’ office.
Shortly afterward, he is alleged to have uttered the statement, “I just want to beat the s–t out of that girl,” within earshot of a student workaid.
Caro Griffin, senior interdisciplinary arts major who works in the Facilities & Operations Office, confirmed to The Chronicle that she heard Kavouris make the remark, and said she was surprised no one else in the office reacted to the remark.
“He said it very loudly and everyone heard it, but it was a passing comment part of a larger rant,” Griffin said. “I couldn’t believe that no one else seemed to understand the gravity of
Griffin later told Andreina of the remark.
Kavouris denies that he made the statement regarding Andreina.
After two meetings with him, Andreina is now looking to other administrators to address her frustration with the obstacles she has encountered getting the garden proposal approved.
If Kavouris truly used such language, it is the second time in one month that an administrator lost his temper around students. During his State of the College address to students March 21, President Warrick L. Carter told a student to “shut up” when asked about his salary.
An informational meeting between Andreina and Kavouris was scheduled on Feb. 21 to go over the preliminary plan she put together with Molly Meyer, owner of Rooftop Green Works. According to Kavouris, he told Andreina at the meeting that this was not the time to build a rooftop garden, and she told him she would come back with more information.
Andreina planned to meet with Kavouris again Feb. 28. She brought Meyer with her so that he could talk directly to a garden designer. She also invited four members of the Environmental Protection Initiative at Columbia, whom Kavouris did not know were attending until the meeting started, according to him.
“In retrospect, I guess it was not proper etiquette to invite all those people,” Andreina said. “I don’t feel bad that I did because they were all there for a reason.”
According to her, after she explained why everyone was at the meeting, Kavouris’ behavior became rude and he
interrupted them. He said Andreina was the first one to lose her cool after he told her that the garden wouldn’t work because students are not allowed on the roofs of Columbia buildings for safety reasons.
“There are a lot of technical reasons why [the roof] can’t be done,” Kavouris said. “They didn’t want to hear that. [Andreina] kept saying ‘but, but, but’ and I said, ‘I’m sorry, but this is how it is.’ She kept saying ‘Why?’ and actually finally she screamed at me to answer her question.”
Andreina does admit to yelling, “Now you listen here, buster,” at Kavouris.
He did offer them a solution: an available lot near Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S. Wabash Ave. According to him, a raised bed garden could be planted in this area.
Andreina did not accept this option because she thought it would have less impact than building a student-produced rooftop garden. She explained that a garden on ground level in Chicago would not be a good idea because of pollution.
Kavouris said the meeting ended with him escorting the students out of his office and threatening to call security because they were being disrespectful.
“Of all the students I have met with, this is the first time that anybody has ever treated me this way,” he said. “The students, in my experience, are very respectful and understanding.”
Andreina has been working to have the situation investigated by higher administrators like Alicia Berg, vice president of Campus Environment and Kavouris’ boss; Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs; Sharon Wilson-Taylor, associate vice president and dean of students; and Ellen Krutz, outgoing vice president of Human Resources. According to Andreina, most of these people referred her to someone else, but only Krutz took the situation seriously, met with her and promised she would take a deeper look into the situation.
As this was a personnel matter, Krutz, whose resignation takes place on April 26, could not speak specifically to this case. However, she stated that she investigates any complaint made against an employee. She said an immediate supervisor does help her with finding facts and talking to the employee and any witnesses.
“We make some determination about whether the complaint about activity in fact did occur and whether it did violate any policies, practices or expectations of the college,” Krutz said. “Then [we] take whatever appropriate actions are necessary based on the facts of the circumstance.”
Because of her experience, Andreina said she believes it is difficult to communicate with the administration.
However, Griffin, who has been part of many organizations on campus, such as Words N Stuff and EPIC, said she believes that for the most part, the administration is easy to work with.
“I honestly feel that most [of the administration] is approachable and they want to help,” Griffin said. “Just like in any group, there are a couple people who aren’t as helpful as they should be.”