Shiny James, the former undergraduate orientation director at Boston University, resigned Monday after a six-month external investigation into allegations of verbal and emotional abuse by alumni staff, the university announced this week. James held the position for 15 years, before being reappointed last fall.
The investigation was persuaded by an article in the BU’s independent student newspaper Daily free pressLast October, current students and alumni shared their experiences working under James, many of whom described it as a toxic work environment.
The students quoted public tirades that James delivered to the entire orientation staff, as well as private meetings where he humiliated them for minor errors such as email typo.
In an official statement issued Monday, Boston University did not say whether the investigation confirmed any student allegations – only the result of James’ resignation. The university added that it could no longer provide any public information about the inquiries, citing confidentiality about internal staff.
“We are grateful to those students and alumni who have expressed concern about Mrs. James’ behavior and shared their experiences with outside investigators,” the statement said. “We look forward to positive changes in new leadership and orientation.”
Sally Kim, who worked as an Orientation Student Advisor under James in the summer of 2016, described James’ behavior towards her and other student staff as “inappropriate, vindictive and abusive.”
Kim, who graduated in 2018, recalls an example when she had to reschedule a meeting with an incoming student with James who needed accommodation. He said James only talked about the student for 10 minutes and another half hour “verbally assaulted her” and insulted her character for rescheduling.
“She told me I was qualified and that she had heard from other students that I was selfish and always focused on myself,” Kim said. Inside higher ed. “He said that if I continued to act like this, I would not have any success in the future.”
Later, when she burst into tears at a meeting with another Orientation Administrator, Kim said she was told, “It’s just Shiny.”
“He said, ‘He just wants the best for you – he’s just giving you a hard time,'” Kim recalls. “I just came back that day and remember feeling very bad about myself.”
James did not respond to a request for comment.
More than one former student employee Inside higher ed James held a semi-regular “debriefing meeting” after the Orientation Session, where he gave a long, directed thread about the mistakes made by the group leaders – after which everyone would draw a line to apologize to him personally.
Kim said she was not the only student orientation worker on her team who felt James’ behavior was out of line.
“Shiny had a shared feeling of fear and stress when she spoke,” he said.
Judging from the strong response of October Daily free press Articles, dozens of former employees felt that way. The comments section of the article goes many times longer than the story and is full of testimonials about the students’ tragic experience with James – some signed, some anonymous.
Mike Parnello, who worked as an Orientation Student Advisor in the summer of 2013, said Inside higher ed He was shocked to find that she had suffered trauma while working with James and the sheer number of other former employees who were similarly affected.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Parnello, a 2015 BU graduate.
Parnello described James’ behavior toward student staff as manipulative, verbally abusive, and at times violent.
He recalled a staff meeting in the morning after he and a team of other staff were asked to collect signs posted around campus for incoming students. After working until 1 a.m., Parnello said, they came to the meeting to find a sign that they had forgotten to put on the table next to an annoyed James.
“She started screaming at how we were neglecting, we were really lazy, we should have been better than this,” he said.
James then tore off some of the sign and threw it at them, throwing the rest to the ground. And he kept screaming, Parnello said.
“I remember leaving and a lot of people were upset … but they wanted his approval,” he said. “So takeaway was, we have to do better next week.”
Parnello and Kim both said that such behavior was common from James’s point of view: no matter how small the students were, he made a mistake and he would reprimand them for the personal mistakes he made.
“Anything that is remotely considered unprofessional will immediately turn into an attack on your personal character,” Parnello said. He recalled that once, after emailing a colleague instead of calling James that he was late for a meeting, he publicly embarrassed him by calling him a “coward.”
For student staff, this lag between praise and contempt has proven to be emotionally taxing.
“He hoped we would always be great and perfect when it came to what he was doing and basically, breaking down students through psychological warfare,” Kim said.
Kim said he was afraid to speak out because James had made it clear that he had a wider influence and power not only at BU but also in higher education – a field Kim planned to enter after graduation.
Kim describes the time when James googled the student staff, “to remind us that he had eyes and ears everywhere.”
“I’m terrified that if I say something out of my experience, Shiny will hear about it and blacklist me or something like that,” Kim said.
Both Parnello and Kim said the experience of working under James has had a lasting effect on their mental health, especially at work. Work like sending emails or meeting supervisors one by one, they said, now give them intense concern.
“I was constantly worried that I would make a mistake and that I would be fired. And that remains in the workplace today, even though I still love my job,” said Parnello, who works in social services and public health.
Hope, relief and some skepticism
It’s been six years since working under Kim James, and since then she’s had a lot of experience with her therapist, she said. But he is still passionate about talking about it.
“I think again, and I was really only 19 years old … Legally, you’re an adult, but really you’re still a kid,” she said, holding her breath. “No one has to endure this kind of treatment.”
Both Kim and Parnello said they had “mixed feelings” over the news of James’ resignation.
“All other administrators [leading orientation] Involved with [James’s conduct]Because when he was showing his worst behavior, they were all standing in the room watching and saying nothing, ”said Parnello.
“If this resignation means that Shiny James is no longer perpetuating the kind of abuse that many of us have had to endure, then I’m glad,” Kim said. “I want to be optimistic, but realistically, I don’t know how much will change.”
Still, Kim says her irresistible feelings are a relief.
“People are finally listening to us,” he said. “It has healed so many people.”