An incomplete law enforcement investigation has left an unfortunate cloud of doubt over the distinguished record of former Husson University President Bill Beardsley.
It has also left the public wondering whether law enforcement officials curtailed an investigation of sex abuse due to Beardsley's prominence and political connections.
At issue is whether Beardsley knew of child sex abuse allegations against the college's chaplain, the Rev. Robert Carlson. The Bangor minister and social activist killed himself in 2011 after learning police were investigating charges he sexually abused an 11-year-old boy.
The issue reared its head again Thursday when a Maine State Senate committee voted to confirm Beardsley's nomination to the state Board of Education. The former Husson University president had been serving as commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation.
The Beardsley nomination received a split vote from the Legislature's Education Committee: 18 Republicans and one independent senator voted yes, while 13 Democrats voted against confirmation.
Gov. Paul LePage, himself a Husson graduate, blasted the opposition to his nominee.
"Today's demonstration by Democrats to vote against Bill Beardsley's nomination is a new all-time low, even for them," the governor said in a statement.
He pointed to Beardsley's "impeccable" experience and lifelong career in education and accused Democrats and newspapers of unjustly dragging his "name into the mud."
"Democrats clearly do not understand the facts as they relate to the Carlson case and their lack of conscience in trying to sully Bill's reputation is appalling."
Perhaps the governor has a special understanding of the facts, but a State Police investigation of the accusations against Carlson left a troubling number of unanswered questions.
That report says two students, whose names were redacted in the report, claim a Husson official knew of Carlson's abuse and that one of the students went to President Beardsley with that information.
Beardsley later told the Bangor Daily News "that never happened," and that he had "no knowledge of anything illegal or unlawful of anything Bob Carlson ever did."
For his part, Beardsley told the investigator he received a call in 2005 from a minister friend in Vermont telling him Carlson "had a sexual relationship years ago with a seminary student in Massachusetts."
Beardsley said he never called police because "I had nothing to go to the authorities with." The Vermont minister could have confirmed Beardsley's account, but Beardsley refused to give the investigating officer his name, according to the police report.
Beardsley also told police he received a phone call in 2007 or 2008 in which a caller said Carlson "had participated in a sexual relationship with someone years ago."
Beardsley later told police in 2011 the caller told him to repeat the information to Carlson and, if Beardsley did not, the caller would go public with the information.
That sounds like extortion, which should have been reason enough for Beardsley to contact police.
Instead, Beardsley did as the caller dictated, he called Carlson into his office, repeated the information and, the next day, Carlson resigned, ending his relationship with Husson College.
Rightly or wrongly, that fits an established pattern of how reports of abuse are too often handled by prominent institutions: seeking quiet resolution without risking the public exposure that a call to police might bring.
But as we have seen time and time again, that path of least resistance enables abusers to continue abusing children.
That's why Maine law mandates that people working in education and other professions immediately inform police when they suspect abuse.
Beardsley says he had nothing to tell police. Unfortunately, law enforcement officials seem unusually willing to accept his explanation without verification.
That hurts public confidence, but it also hurts Beardsley who should, more than anyone, want a complete and thorough investigation.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.