I have been writing about the trial of education writer, speaker, and consultant Douglas Reeves, who was acquitted earlier this month on a charge of indecent assault. Reeves was accused of inappropriately touching a nine-year-old girl in his home in 2006. He denied the accusation and, after numerous delays (he was first arraigned in August 2012), a trial commenced on April 1 and he was found not guilty by a jury three days later.
Today I had a chance to talk with Reeves about the trial and his future. While acknowledging that his reputation may have been permanently damaged despite his acquittal, Reeves emphasized his hope that educators would continue to focus on the evidence for the ideas he has promoted in his writing and speaking, rather than their personal judgments about him.
"Ideas are more important than personalities," he said. "My respectful request would be that people consider the strength of the ideas and research I have presented in the past. I have never said that you should evaluate a policy or practice based on the simple fact that I advocated it."
"Maybe [people] expect me to come out swinging [in my own defense] but that is not who I am and not what I'm going to do...I have nothing negative to say about them [the complaining witness and her family] or anybody else. That would serve no good purpose...I am not joyful or relieved [about the outcome]....There are no winners in a case like this."
Reeves' former organization, The Leadership and Learning Center, severed ties with him soon after the case became public. Education publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt had already purchased the organization prior to these events and at the time Reeves was an independent contractor. His contract was suspended after his arraignment and then canceled by mutual agreement when it became clear the issue would not be resolved quickly.
Reeves said his speaking engagements were typically scheduled over a year in advance and all but a few were cancelled almost immediately. "I went from being booked 120 days or more a year to one or two. People just wanted to wait and see what was going to happen."
Reeves said he spent the next 20 months focusing on volunteer work, including offering a free service to doctoral students to help them successfully complete their dissertations, and on-going research and writing projects. Among other things, Reeves said he has been writing about how to better nurture creativity in leaders, teachers, and students. "Everybody talks a good game about how creativity is a 21st century learning skill, but in fact we don't encourage it and may often undermine creativity because we don't allow the risk that's involved," he said.
He has launched a new website, www.changeleaders.com, to facilitate his future work. The emphasis is on organizational leadership in general, rather than just education. Reeves said he hopes to expand his writing into other areas, such as leadership in the non-profit sector, and is conducting an original research study on how successful non-profits have weathered the economic recession since 2008.
Reeves said he is realistic about the challenges to his credibility in light of the publicity surrounding this trial. Soon after the case became public the Swampscott Patch reported that Reeves plead guilty and spent a brief time in federal prison for securities fraud in 1993.
Reeves said that case involved $10 million dollars in investments, of which approximately $200,000 was a real estate offering in which he had a personal ownership interest.
"That situation requires that you disclose your ownership," Reeves said. "I failed to do that. Restitution was immediately made but failure to disclose is still a [criminal] violation. I plead guilty. There is no equivocation on my part. I should have made the disclosure. I failed to do it. I was wrong."
Reeves again emphasized that his personal failures and accusations against him should not undermine the value of the teaching and leadership practices he has promoted in his work.
"Just as an example - take the importance of non-fiction writing," he said. "I'm hardly the first person who has said that, and there is a huge quantity of research out there supporting the value of non-fiction writing for improving student learning...Improving grading practices is another [area where]...it's not just a matter of personal philosophy. I just hope that these ideas would not be harmed because there is someone out there who doesn't like me personally."
The overarching theme of my conversation with Doug Reeves was his concern that educators stay focused on their work of school improvement and less on his personal troubles.
"Some people will welcome me back and others won't," he said. "I'm well aware that there are people out there who do not like me and never will. I just have to do what I've always done, which is just to do the best I can in my research and writing and let the results speak for themselves."