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Embattled SPJC leader resigns

Accused of sexual harassment and facing pressure from women's groups, an embattled community college administrator resigned this week.

Mac Cunningham, St. Petersburg Junior College's vice president for business services, submitted a letter Wednesday "as an offer to avoid further damage" to the school, he wrote.

In his letter, Cunningham, 59, said SPJC President Carl Kuttler had asked him to take a 10-day suspension for "inappropriate language and poor judgment."

"While such action (a suspension) would not be warranted," Cunningham wrote, "I realize that to prove this there would be a need for lengthy hearings that would be both costly and time-consuming for the college and for myself."

Cunningham, who took Friday off, could not be reached for comment. He has worked at the college since 1982. His annual salary is $81,099.20.

College officials accepted the resignation, effective Dec. 31, and said they were relieved to resolve the issue.

"It's a matter that has been something of a controversy, and I'm just glad it has resolved itself finally," said Joseph Lang, chairman of SPJC's board of trustees.

Executive vice president Jerry Odom, who accepted Cunningham's resignation, said his understanding was that Cunningham's resignation meant that he would not have to serve the suspension.

The case has troubled SPJC for more than two years.

Accounting clerk Iris Wilson, 42, first filed a complaint against Cunningham in March 1993, saying he created a hostile working environment with sexually offensive behavior and then tried to retaliate against her when she complained.

The federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission found in a 1993 study that Cunningham had harassed Wilson for years. In 1994, she filed a federal lawsuit, and in March a judge pushed the case toward mediation.

Cunningham has denied the accusations all along, but in April the college board agreed to settle the issue by allowing its insurance company to award Wilson and her attorney $60,000.

At the time, Wilson and the local chapter of the National Organization for Women criticized college officials for standing by Cunningham.

And in what college leaders said was an unrelated development, a federal civil rights investigator arrived in May to examine the school's adherence to Title IX, a 1972 amendment to federal education laws that bans sex discrimination. Federal officials have not completed their study.

Reached in the business services office Friday, Wilson said she was pleased to hear of her boss' announcement.

But she worried that school leaders were trying to clean up their act in time for an August tax referendum in which SPJC hopes to raise money for capital improvements.

"If they wanted to reprimand him they could have done it a long time ago, none of this would have happened," said Wilson, who has worked at the school since 1980. "It's all political."

But Lang said the resignation had nothing to do with the referendum.

"The matters are totally unrelated," he said. "I think this has followed a reasonable timeline for affording due process to all of the parties involved."

The board chairman said he felt the college would have won had the case gone to trial.

"I thought at the time that both employees engaged in behavior that was inappropriate," Lang said. "Clearly the college as an institution and an administration behaved properly."

When asked to describe what he termed Wilson's inappropriate behavior, Lang declined to elaborate. "It was clearly a two-sided street, not a one-sided street," the chairman said.

Wilson said she did nothing wrong.

"I behaved inappropriately by complaining, by not backing off my complaint," she said. "If that is inappropriate behavior, I accept full responsibility for it."