The Ohio University Faculty Senate committee that initially recommended the Board of Trustees reinstate journalism professor Yusuf Kalyango and refrain from revoking his tenure, reaffirmed its conclusions in a report, defending in great detail what it believed to be the merits of its review that the Trustees and other faculty called into question.
While the Board of Trustees ultimately rebuffed the Faculty Senate Hearing Committee’s reconsideration report on Friday morning, voting unanimously to terminate Kalyango’s employment and revoke his tenure, a copy of the document obtained by The Athens NEWS on Friday afternoon tells a story of a group working diligently to follow procedure before and after its two-day hearing in December 2020 where they reviewed Kalyango’s appealing of tenure revocation through evidence and testimonies from faculty and both women who alleged they were sexually harassed.
The group stressed in the reconsideration report, which was filed three days past the deadline the Trustees originally prescribed, that its role was to remain impartial through the appeals process and that procedure specifically stated the hearing was intended to be governed by academic policies and not function akin to a trial. Procedure, according to the committee, called for the group’s recommendation to be solely based on evidence presented at the hearing, which in many cases was conflicting.
“Given the testimony and evidence on both sides that the case unfolded in a work environment that was contentious and potentially damaging to students, staff, and faculty, the Hearing Committee was looking for evidence of due process in a very polarized and vocal academic unit,” the reconsideration report said with regard to the Scripps College of Communication.
A primary point of contention with the original report was the evidentiary standard used by the committee in reaching its conclusion, which was different from the standard used in both investigations into Kalyango conducted by the Office for Equity and Civil Rights Compliance, or Title IX office.
The committee argued the “clear and convincing” standard they used was stipulated within the tenure hearing procedure guidelines created by the OU Office of Legal Affairs years ago. The university’s legal counsel, according to the document, didn’t request that they change the procedures prior to the hearing, and the group contended that the evidentiary standard has been consistently used going back to the 1990s.
Before the hearing, the “Attorney General Office,” seemingly referring to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s office, met in consultation with Dr. Robin Muhammad, Faculty Senate chair who also presided over the committee, and did not recommend that the committee change the evidentiary standard, according to the reconsideration report. Muhammad reportedly relayed that information to the university’s legal office in February after the initial report was made public.
The Board of Trustees also requested that the committee outline explicit findings in its reconsideration report. The committee cited an “extensive record” that exists within the hearing’s transcript, which reportedly spans more than 700 pages and contains testimony from multiple students and faculty. The Athens NEWS filed a public records request with the university for the transcript in February, which remains pending as of Friday evening.
The group found that journalism professor Michael Sweeney admitted in his testimony that he spoke with a reporter who worked for The NEWS in 2018 about the Kalyango investigation and “expressed his support” for the women while the investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct by Kalyango was still ongoing, the report said. He reportedly defended his involvement during his cross-examination.
Kalyango argued in a lawsuit filed against the university last year that faculty within the Scripps College were racist toward him, saying Sweeney, a journalism professor and the former chair of the graduate admissions committee, allegedly favored “non-minority American students” in the graduate admissions process. Sweeney allegedly denied several prospective graduate students from the Middle-East that Kalyango reportedly personally recruited, the lawsuit said.
Additionally, the committee pointed to the testimony of journalism professor Mary Rogus, who “strongly implied” during the hearing that students who were working in the Study of the U.S. Institute (SUSI) program, which Kalyango helped to manage, “became hostile” toward him after the resignation of a student in the program who reported his alleged misconduct. The student’s name was redacted in the document in accordance with academic privacy laws.
Rogus is a friend of Kalyango’s who’s been an outspoken critic of the university investigations into his conduct, most recently coming under fire for social media posts that disparaged both women who accused him of sexual harassment.
Another explicit finding the hearing committee reported involved the testimony of journalism professor Michelle Ferrier. Ferrier claimed that Kalyango was “singled out” while other faculty members were “eschewed responsibility for their abuses,” citing times where her reports of faculty members mistreating students “were ignored,” the reconsideration report said. Ferrier previously filed a complaint against the university in Ohio Court of Claims in 2017, alleging discrimination by the university and retaliation against her for reporting it.
She alleged that Scripps College Dean Scott Titsworth retaliated by removing her from a position on behalf of “a senior faculty member/school director in the college,” according to the reconsideration report.
Titsworth and the recently retired director of The E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Robert Stewart, are both under investigation by the Title IX office after Kalyango filed a complaint against them last year. The nature of his complaint isn’t clear.
The hearing committee listed a discrepancy within the testimony of an unnamed OU faculty member who claimed to have not known the identity of Kalyango in conversation, although the investigatory findings indicated “positive identification” associated with the faculty member and Kalyango.
The reconsideration report also noted that the only form of disciplinary action discussed for Kalyango, with discussion occurring as the investigation was still ongoing, was the revocation of his tenure.
Additionally, the hearing committee reaffirmed the questioning it posed in its original report as to whether Kalyango had an opportunity to respond to allegations during the investigation, pointing to the length of time that had passed during the investigation, which spanned over a year. The connection between Kalyango’s opportunities to respond and time that passed during the Title IX investigations isn’t made clear in the reconsideration report.
The committee also found no evidence that Kalyango underwent a formal consultation as required by the faculty handbook.
The Board of Trustees asked that the committee explain why the university’s legal counsel wasn’t allowed to question Kalyango. The committee responded by saying the legal counsel didn’t request to cross-examine Kalyango, and that they never asked to amend the hearing's itinerary to allow time for questioning while changing the schedule for other matters.
“These requests from the University’s legal counsel were allowed, so the hearing committee notes the Board’s objection, but concludes that the University’s legal counsel is responsible for not raising the issue of cross-examination in a timely manner,” the reconsideration report said.