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A dive into the Faculty Senate hearing of ex-Ohio University professor Kalyango

From the Timeline: Kalyango and Ohio University series
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Before Yusuf Kalyango, a former journalism faculty member who was found by the Title IX office to have sexually harassed two students, was stripped of his tenure and terminated in April by the Ohio University Board of Trustees, he and two dozen other witnesses appeared before a Faculty Senate committee as part of his tenure revocation appeal to hash out the finer details of the case.

That hearing, a two-day proceeding held virtually in December 2020, resulted in the Faculty Senate Hearing Committee recommending that Kalyango should not lose tenure and immediately be reinstated as a full professor in the Scripps College of Communication, despite several official university channels recommending otherwise.

The recommendation was met with blowback from both the university community and the Board of Trustees, the final arbiter to determine the fate of Kalyango’s tenure that ordered the committee to reconsider its findings. In a reconsideration report, the committee doubled down on its original conclusions, arguing the hearing and supplemental evidence led them to believe Kalyango was denied due process within the polarized Scripps College. The Board of Trustees overrode the committee’s recommendations and handed down to Kalyango an academic death sentence.

A more than 700-page transcript (obtained by The Athens NEWS and redacted by the university in accordance with academic privacy laws) of the committee’s hearing sheds light on what exactly unfolded over the course of those two days that led to the group’s adamant recommendations to uphold Kalyango’s tenure.

The hearing played out akin to a legal trial, but was governed by university procedures. Kalyango and his attorneys called in witnesses on their behalf, while the university’s legal counsel summoned others to testify on behalf of the institution. All witnesses were cross-examined by both the university’s counsel and Kalyango’s attorneys, followed by questions from members of the hearing committee — ostensibly the jurors.

Here are eleven takeaways from the redacted transcripts, which have been published alongside this report:

Kalyango’s defense: The law and due process

The heart of Kalyango’s defense, argued by Canton-based attorneys Mel Lute, Andrea Ziarko and Gregory Beck, rested on the assertion that he was deprived of due process rights and that the university, a public institution beholden to federal law, didn’t abide by the law in the investigation process. They argued the investigation was unfairly derailed by the university’s reaction to the “Me Too” movement, which had spawned around the time the complaint was brought against Kalyango.

“In many ways, this is the kind of thing that constitutional scholars warned about when the Me Too movement arose, which is, let’s not strip away due process, Constitutional protection, privacy protections in favor of a slogan. Let’s not expose people unwittingly to scurrilous allegations without any evidence. And that’s what happened in this case,” Beck said during opening remarks.

For much of the hearing they wrestled with the question of whether the investigation, overseen by Ohio University’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance Civil Rights, or Title IX office, Investigator and Hearing Panel Chair George “Tony” Anaya, was to be governed by federal law or university policy. 

During Anaya’s testimony, Lute repeatedly claimed that the investigator’s report wasn’t conducted in accordance with case law born out of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Ohio University. Anaya replied: “This is not a case before the Sixth Circuit … I am bound by law, but this -- but this is a situation where we are applying university policy to what occurred.”

The trio also attempted to sow further doubt in the investigation and Anaya’s ability to conduct it thoroughly, saying the investigator’s office wasn’t able to devote adequate resources to the case because they were overwhelmed and that Anaya was inexperienced in the role.

Kalyango and his attorneys argued that he was never adequately given a voice through the years-long investigation process, apart from the several times he was interviewed by Anaya. 

Scripps College Dean Scott Titsworth, a witness called on behalf of the university, said during his testimony that he contacted Kalyango four times for a consultation meeting and that the former professor declined each time.

During Kalayngo’s testimony, which was significantly longer than most other witnesses, he practically begged the hearing committee members to ask him more questions, seemingly in an effort to have more speaking time to rest his case. He was asked questions by each committee member except for Mark Franz, who said his questions were all already answered.

The former professor denied all allegations of wrongdoing during the hearing and pleaded with the committee to recommend for him a sentence lighter than detenuring.

OU’s defense: The power imbalance between faculty and students

The thrust behind OU’s case against Kalyango, argued by OU Office of Legal Affairs Senior Associate General Counsel Adam Loukx, was that an inherent power imbalance exists between a graduate student and faculty member, which the former professor allegedly abused.

Kalyango, who oversaw several school-sanctioned trips abroad, allegedly kissed a female student, Lindsay Boyle, years ago while at a university program and was accused of attempting to get another student, Tess Herman, to share a hotel room with him on a school trip to Africa. Both students allegedly felt they couldn’t contest Kalyango because he was a gatekeeper with power over academic and employment opportunities. 

Loukx made numerous attempts to press witnesses on the topic of power disparity. Titsworth, argued the point in explicit terms when Loukx inquired about the idea’s applicability to Kalyango’s case.

“So that disparity of power as I interpret it in the circumstances is that he was able to use his status as a faculty member that would be rightly taking students potentially on research trips and doing other activities with them, he was able to create conditions that allowed the behaviors to occur that the students found violated their ability to engage in education without harassment,” Titsworth said.

Polarization in the Scripps College

While the finer details of Kalyango’s case remain hazy, one fundamental truth held throughout the investigatory and detenuring processes: The Scripps College was immensely divided over the matter.

A question was raised during the hearing about why Boyle’s years-old case was revived in the conversation surrounding Kalyango’s detenuring. A 2011-2012 case involving her claims of Kalyango kissing her without consent was previously investigated by the university and found to be unsubstantiated. But Boyle claimed in the aftermath that she had lied to investigators about the circumstances to protect herself from losing a job opportunity with Kalyango during a time when money was tight.

Her case in recent years was reinvestigated by Anaya and subsequently substantiated in 2019 following Herman’s complaint being upheld.

Ziarko questioned Boyle, who was called to testify on behalf of the university, about whether somebody from within the college called to inform her of the claims Herman brought against Kalyango and encouraged her to come forward about her experience with the former professor in an effort to build a case against him.

Boyle maintained that nobody called and asked her to pursue a claim against Kalyango. The former student said she heard about Herman’s case through the proverbial grapevine and that she reached out to Robert Stewart, the now-retired director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, about the matter.

“Journalists talk. I -- It's unfortunate, but that's -- there are very, very few things that we don't hear. Uhm, we're a plugged-in community, and that's -- that goes for Ohio University and every other newsroom I've ever worked,” Boyle said, denying that anybody from within the college told her about Herman’s case.

Michael Sweeney, a journalism professor and the former chair of the graduate admissions committee who was called to testify on behalf of the university, later said during the hearing without being prompted that he called somebody, whose name is redacted in the documents, to inform them of circumstances surrounding Kalyango’s case, but it’s not clear precisely what or who he was referring to.

“Why did I call (REDACTED)? I called her because it was a piece of news that I thought she needed to know. I did not speak to (REDACTED) I did not ask (REDACTED) to do anything. This is a piece of news in Athens, Ohio that we think you should know in (REDACTED),” Sweeney said.

In an interview with The NEWS, Sweeney declined to comment on who he was referring to, saying he did not want to provide Kalyango any opportunity to file another lawsuit against the university. 

He was an outspoken advocate for Herman and another student who he helped gain admission into the journalism school’s competitive Ph.D. program after Kalyango allegedly convinced members of the graduate committee to reject her during a meeting where Sweeney was absent.

Jatin Srivastava, an associate professor of journalism who was called by Kalyango to testify, said during the hearing that Sweeney intimidated the graduate committee into admitting the student and retaliated against Kalyango as a result. Srivastava said that he declined to take a side in the detenuring discussion, but felt the process in the Scripps College was “compromised.”

Another noteworthy point of contention throughout the hearing was the issue of Stewart consulting with faculty members over whether to recommend detenuring for Kalyango in accordance with the Faculty Handbook.

Stewart opted to communicate with members of the faculty individually, rather than in a large meeting, to avoid conflict within the school, which he saw consume the OU English Department in the past concerning a separate sexual misconduct claim. Kalyango’s attorneys argued that Stewart was required to have a large meeting with the entire faculty to discuss the matter.

“I made those decisions based on, ah, what I thought would -- would be a very difficult meeting. There were strong feelings on both sides,” Stewart, who was called to testify on behalf of the university, said. “And I -- I was concerned that it would be difficult for the faculty to actually sort of move on from that conversation.”

Other current and former Scripps College faculty members who felt strongly about the case being mishandled included Mary Rogus, Elizabeth Hendrickson and Michelle Ferrier. All were called by Kalyango to testify.

Ferrier, a Black former faculty member who filed a now-dropped lawsuit against the university in 2017 alleging she was retaliated against in the Scripps College, argued there was a hostile work environment within the college for people of color that Kalyango got swept up in.

Hendrickson, who had worked with Kalyango for years prior to them both coming to OU and whose children are close friends with Kalyango’s kids, testified that the former professor was “collateral damage during a Trifecta of bad timing: administrative and policy changes, colleagues with nefarious motives, and a collective unwillingness to believe a person could actually be innocent of alleged misconduct.”

“I believe it's now time for us as an institution to repair itself, and really it's time to rectify the situation and allow Yusuf to rebuild his reputation in good faith,” she said.

Kalyango’s defense calls investigation’s lengthy timeline into question

The Title IX office’s investigation into Kalyango spanned more than a year between July 2017 and August 2018, when the office’s guidelines specify that it should have taken no longer than 90 days.

Kalayngo’s defense team and several witnesses argued that because the investigation was prolonged, it allowed more time for public sentiment toward Kalyango to wane, harming his reputation and further dividing the Scripps College. If an investigation surpasses 90 days, the investigator is required to notify the complainant and provide explanation as to why, which Kalyango said he never received.

Anaya, who was called to testify by the university, and OU’s legal counsel argued that the 90 day stipulation is merely an aspirational deadline, and that it’s not unusual for investigations to span longer depending on their complexity. Anaya said that a main reason for the investigation’s elongation was that Kalyango took more than 150 days to produce evidentiary documents from the U.S. Department of State.

“So it was -- it was, I think, very clear to Dr. Kalyango that we were going to be unable to resolve this in -- in that initial 90 days,” Anaya said, arguing the investigation wouldn’t have been conducted fairly had it been rushed.

The investigator also had to schedule interviews with more than 20 witnesses from across the world in different time zones.

Ferrier, who filed her own Title IX complaint against Scripps College leadership, complained during the hearing that her investigation was pending within the university for 17 months.

“17 months is an inordinate and abusive length of time for any kind of investigation of this sort, whether we're talking about sexual assault or the mental health of our students or disabilities, uhm, or even of faculty themselves. 17 months is -- is abusive in and of itself,” she said.

Expense reports were highly referenced, but details varied

Expense reports from the trip to Africa that Herman attended with Kalyango were a hotly contested topic, with many witnesses offering information with differing details.

Herman’s responsibility on the trip was to document expenses through a system that classified them under a few different categories, organizing receipts by currency. The upkeep of expense reports was an important task, given the handling of federal grant money.

“We had to ensure absolutely that every penny was accounted for and there was a receipt for every penny,” Rogus said during her testimony. She was an assistant to the YALI and SUSI programs, both managed by Kalyango, and often helped with financial reconciliation. “It was absolutely vital, because nothing can kill a grant program faster than problems with the financials.”

Herman described to the committee that the expense reports she filed were “perfect.”

“They were only off by, like, one U.S. cent after converting all of the different currencies,” she said. Herman noted during her testimony that she received a scathing email from Kalyango in regard to the expense reports, where she said Kalyango stated the reports were incorrect without giving her an opportunity to look over them another time to correct possible errors.

Kalyango’s legal representation quoted a portion of his email to Herman, where Kalyango said “It is entirely my fault that I placed so much confidence in your independent ability to handle things without me micromanaging your work. I therefore squarely blame myself for not being vigilant.” Beck noted that note was read by Anaya as being insincere.

Herman told the committee she believed the reports were altered in order to cast doubt on her workplace competence and possibly fuel means to terminate her employment. Herman ultimately resigned from the role.

“So he wanted a paper trail to blame me, saying they were bad; when, really, for some reason on his end, I felt like he wanted them to be modified internally,” she said. Herman also said she initially attempted to meet with Kalyango to discuss expenses, sometimes waiting at his office until nighttime. Herman ultimately dropped off the documents and receipts to Kalyango before she made a trip to visit family.

Kalyango denied the claim that he altered the expense reports during his testimony, also claiming to committee members that he made attempts to meet with Herman. Evidence to support this claim was not provided.

“But the fact of the matter is I really wanted everything to be completed. I was discouraged. So there is no way I would not have met with her,” he said. “We made appointments, and sometimes she was not there. And then she went to see her family, and she doesn't deny that.”

Kalyango’s legal defense alleged the expense reports were “very, very sloppy and improperly done.”

“He can't account for thousands of dollars of money,” Lute said. “The receipts don't make any sense. And he's upset by it." Although, Lute provided no evidence during the hearing that this was the case.

‘I would cut his balls off’ if Kalyango was discovered to be lying, Rogus said

Rogus, a longtime faculty member and colleague of Kalyango who’s been an outspoken critic of the university investigations into his conduct and received backlash after making disparaging comments about sexual misconduct survivors on Twitter, was a witness during the first round of proceedings, called upon to speak on behalf of Kalyango.

During her testimony, aside from discussing procedures around expense reports, Rogus denied Herman’s claim that she discouraged the former student from filing a complaint against Kalyango.

“(Herman) lied,” Rogus said. “She said that … I was only trying to get her not to file a complaint because of, you know, my working relationship with Dr. Kalyango.”

Rogus told the hearing committee that she spent the first five years of her broadcast news career in a newsroom in which she was the only female, so she “knows what sexual harassment is” and knows “about living through a hostile workplace.”

She told the committee that although she did not think Kalyango acted inappropriately toward students, her relationship with him would dramatically change if she learned he wasn’t being truthful.

“I told him flat out -- and excuse my language, but, you know, I told him after I read the reports and the interviews and everything, I said, Look, you know, if I ever find out that this is true, that you made an indecent proposal, I told him I would cut his balls off,” she told the committee.

Rogus also denied acts of retaliation levied at students in the college in connection to Kalyango’s sexual harassment allegations, but noted she felt students’ attitudes toward the professor changed rapidly following Herman’s complaint.

“The relationship between the two grad assistants who were also in her master's cohort and Dr. Kalyango. There was hostility … there was direct, you know, disrespect even in front of the scholars,” she said.

Working for Kalyango was ‘the single worst work experience’ of a witness’ life

The woman, who was student at the time of the hearing and whose name was redacted in the documents, testified on the first day of proceedings that she is a survivor of sexual abuse, and thus knew signs of recent trauma and saw those red flags in her friend, Herman, following the trip to Africa.

Herman reportedly went from being “adventurous and effervescent and full of life and energy and curiosity,” to repeating stories she had already told and struggling to remember words while talking, the witness said. Later, Herman reportedly asked this witness if an interaction she had with Kalyango was inappropriate.

She testified that she pointed Herman toward support resources “should she choose to make a report.”

The witness continued to work for Kalyango during the summer of 2017 following that conversation with Herman, noting to the committee that during that time, Kalyango would contact her “after an hour … appropriate for a person in a position of power to contact a student,” and the professor would hold meetings at night in his Schoonover Center office.

Kalyango’s defense argued that the former professor sent texts late at night because he was busy with childcare and other parenting responsibilities in the evenings.

“Working for Dr. Kalyango was the single worst work experience I have ever had in my life,” she told the committee. “And that comes from someone who has worked multiple part-time jobs simultaneously from the age of 15 including waitressing, bartending, working retail, and teaching preschoolers how to swim.” 

Following the witnesses involvement in the Title IX office investigation into Kalyango, she was barred from entering the university’s Ph.D. program. The decision not to admit her was ultimately overturned after Sweeney intervened, but the student told the committee that she felt the initial denial was sparked by a campaign against her job performance and character crafted by Kalyango and other faculty members.

Since her admission as a Ph.D. student, the witness said she felt unable to take certain classes taught by vocal supporters Kalyango because they made her “feel unwelcome.”

The former student told the committee that the power dynamics that exist in academia between students and their professors or advisors can “make or break” careers. In the field of journalism, too, she said rates of race and gender-based harassment are “sky high.” 

At the local level, the witness pointed to a newsroom in Schoonover Center that was formerly called the Roger Ailes Broadcast Newsroom. The former Fox News CEO was sued for sexual harassment by a former employee in 2017, and other employees came forward with accounts of harassment as a result.

“These are not just big-city problems or famous people issues,” the former student said during her testimony. “This is happening right here at your university to your students, and you have the chance to do something about it.”

Culture and language barriers create confusion

A multitude of scholars from different countries in Africa and Asia testified on the second day of the hearing. A lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, a professor at the University of Uyo in Nigeria and an author from Botswana were among speakers for the day.

Each witness was cross-examined by legal representation of both Kalyango and the university, and some questions created confusion because of either language or cultural barriers.

Jeanette Moumake, who attended the Africa trip and was called by Kalyango to testify, was asked by Loukx if she had an intimate friendship with Herman, to which she didn’t understand.

“... she gave me a present when she left. She gave me earrings with pineapple, like pineapple earrings,” Moumake said. “And that was the point, like, we started dancing as sisters. So we were close.”

Loukx pressed: “Okay. But it was not a long-term, standing friendship. You ... were not a long-term bestie, I guess as they would say here, best friends?” 

“It was supposed to have been like that?” Moumake replied.

Nancy Katu-Ogundimu, a faculty member at University of Jos and a Scripps College graduate who was also called by Kalyango to testify, pointed to possible cultural differences between Ohioans and those living in countries such as her home, Nigeria.

“When I found some of the issues were, you know, like, there were messages Dr. K was supposed to have sent about telling the student she looked beautiful, she looked pretty, and all those compliments and all that; and when I saw that, I asked myself, Is this really, like, the reason or the reason it became a sexual harassment thing, among tied to other things?” Katu-Ogundimu said.

“I asked that, because, you're beautiful, you're pretty, you're whatever, from where I come from, that compliment is like telling somebody the sky is blue, you know, when you're just trying to be polite ... culturally, and I would always say that, a typical African woman probably expect a lot of those compliments everyday.

Title IX investigations: Stewart and Titsworth

Testimony from Kalyango on the second day of the hearing provided more information surrounding Title IX investigations into current and past Scripps leadership, prompted by complaints Kalyango filed last year. Previously, the reason for the claims being filed wasn’t clear as Kalyango, the university and those under investigation declined to comment.

The Title IX complaints he filed last year against Stewart and Titsworth, Kalyango said during the hearing, dealt with discrimination and retaliation against him.

Kalyango previously alleged in a since-dropped lawsuit filed against the university in federal court last year that both men treated him unfairly and retaliated against him because of his race during the detenuring process.

Praise across the board for Kalyango’s academic record

Loukx began his opening statement on the first day of the proceedings by clarifying what the tenure hearings were not about: Kalyango’s academic record or academic freedom.

“He has very impressive academic credentials,” Loukx said. “There's no doubt that Dr. Kalyango has been … a super professor; and in terms of academics … he has contributed a lot professionally to the university. And the university has great respect for that.”

The attorney representing the university told the committee in his opening remarks that they should expect to hear testimony from multiple people who, regardless of how they felt about the status of Kalyango’s tenure, were assisted by him in some way or even helped him professionally since he joined the university in 2008.

Stewart described to the committee his relationship with Kalyango as being “very collegial and very mutually beneficial.”

“I think I was seen by the faculty in general as -- as a keen supporter of his and in all of the different things that he was involved in,” he said during the hearing.

Stewart gave up his appointment as director of the university’s Institute of International Journalism (IIJ) so that it could be offered to Kalyango to “entice him to come to Ohio University.”

Sweeney described Kalyango as a “very well-respected researcher who has made a name for himself internationally with the quality and quantity of his research about global communication,” noting that he had an admiration for the scholar. Sweeney was later the head of the promotion and tenure committee, where he said he encouraged Kalyango and faculty members sitting on the committee to have Kalyango go up early for promotions.

“I did that because Dr. Kalyango was a star, and we wanted to nail him down before he got poached by another university,” Sweeney said. “I hold no grudge against Dr. Kalyango, no personal animosity, no vendetta.”

The second day of the hearing consisted of witnesses who were called upon by Kalyango, and they all pointed to his scholastic prowess as they detailed their personal experiences working with him.

Nnmadi Ekeanyanwu, who works as a professor of international and strategic communication in Nigeria and is also a scholar of the Study for U.S. Institutes program that Kalyango formerly headed, said her first interaction with the former professor was when he sent her an email congratulating her on her scholarship into the program.

“The Kalyango I met at Ohio University was a very, very respectful scholar, very detailed, very attentive, and very strict, because he handled us well in terms of some of us, we were in America for the first time and making sure that we were within the bounds of the program and we didn't go outside our expectations,” Ekeanyanwu, who was called to testify by Kalyango, said.

‘Can you hear me now?’

The hearings, which spanned two days in late December at the height of the pandemic in the United States, proceeded digitally, with witnesses testifying via Zoom. Audio issues occurred regularly, and at one point — mid-testimony — Anaya’s computer shut down when his battery died. 

Muhammad requested at the beginning of the proceedings that witnesses mute their mics when they are not speaking, and also requested that speakers keep their video on during their testimony. Speakers were allowed into the “meeting lobby” in Zoom as their testimonies were set to begin.

On the first and second day of proceedings, audio lags were prevalent as multiple witnesses called in remotely, many from across the globe.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction in a witness name. Jeanette Moumake discussed her friendship with Herman. This story has also been updated to reflect clarifications in arguments presented by Kalyango's legal defense. 

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