A civil lawsuit was filed in federal court over the weekend against Ohio University and one of its journalism professors, alleging that the university infringed on a journalism graduate student’s civil rights under federal Title IX law.
The initial complaint alleges that OU was “deliberately indifferent” to misconduct on the part of OU journalism professor Yusuf Kalyango, empowering him to “confidently abuse his authority.”
The suit, filed by Athens lawyer Michael Fradin on behalf of journalism and environmental studies graduate student Tess Herman, comes as the university is in the process of considering discipline for Kalyango, with OU’s provost recommending that Kalyango’s school initiate dismissal proceedings against him.
So far, a university professional ethics committee convened for the purpose of considering discipline against the professor has recommended that Kalyango face detenuring and dismissal, and OU Provost Chaden Djalali has agreed with that recommendation. Kalyango has appealed that decision by Djalali to OU President Duane Nellis, and an OU spokesperson confirmed Wednesday that Nellis has denied that appeal. Now it's up to OU's journalism school to determine what kind of disciplinary measures Kalyango could face.
"I am forwarding the record of this case to your school for further proceedings," Nellis wrote.
Kalyango was found through a university Title IX investigation report issued earlier this year to have sexually harassed a graduate student who worked in programs led by Kalyango in 2017 and created a hostile work environment for that student, through a “preponderance of evidence” standard.
Kalyango has denied these allegations, which are contained in a university Office for Equity and Civil Rights Compliance (Title IX office) memorandum of finding from summer 2018.
OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood declined to comment on the lawsuit in a Tuesday email.
The university in November 2018 settled a separate lawsuit filed against it by attorney Fradin alleging that the university had violated two female graduate students’ rights after a Title IX investigation found that OU English professor Andrew Escobedo had sexually touched those students without their consent, and sexually harassed them.
Fradin and Herman in the just-filed lawsuit alleged that Kalyango tried to enter into a romantic relationship with Herman, texting her frequently, complimenting her physical appearance and offering “frequent invitations to late-night dinners, ostensibly so (Herman) could get a ‘break’ from work.”
According to the student’s allegations in the university’s ECRC report, Kalyango’s behavior toward the student became “cold” after she rejected an alleged offer to stay with him in a room at a “resort” hotel in Rwanda after the conclusion of the 2017 summer YALI trip. Specifically, she reported that after that incident, Kalyango severely criticized her for her work recording YALI program participants’ evaluations, and for her tabulation of receipts from the program.
When reviewing the evaluations, ECRC investigator Antonio Anaya noted a total of nine instances in which Kalyango allegedly altered the content of the actual evaluation forms submitted by the participants, in order to either “downplay a criticism of the YALI program, increase the criticism of (the student), increase the praise of (Kalyango) or the program as a whole, or, in the most egregious case, absolutely contradicted a scathing criticism of Witness M (another program staffer).”
Asked to respond to those issues in response to the findings in the ECRC report, Kalyango asserted that the forms were “intentionally falsified” by the student. However, according to the report, the investigator failed to find any evidence that she had done so, noting that the student’s compilation of the evaluations “precisely matches” the evaluation forms as submitted by the YALI program participants.
Kalyango disputed those findings in a letter he sent to members of the University Professional Ethics Committee (UPEC) in early October. He provided The NEWS with a copy of that letter this week.
Kalyango offered several defenses of himself in that letter:
• He alleges that he did not ask Herman to “share a room” with him in Rwanda, pointing to an apparent statement from his “host” in Rwanda who booked the room, who said that the room was booked for Kalyango and his son (who could not make the trip).
• He alleges that the evaluations that allegedly inaccurately portrayed program participants’ comments were compiled by his assistant, not by himself.
• The ECRC investigation did not consider “critical evidence” provided by two female OU professors who spoke in Kalyango’s defense. In particular, Kalyango quoted the two professors’ statements to the ECRC investigator, saying they had “never” witnessed any inappropriate behavior from Kalyango, including against Herman.
Kalyango also this week provided a letter that he sent to OU Provost Chaden Djalali on Nov. 15 last year, challenging the UPEC group’s findings. That group in its findings agreed with “all of the ECRC findings,” and argued that Kalyango engaged in “grooming behaviors” toward the student, on top of a “pattern of unprofessional and inappropriate behavior,” according to a copy of the UPEC group’s decision.
Kalyango in his response alleged that he was not provided a full opportunity to defend himself in front of the UPEC group, and was denied the opportunity to bring witnesses with him.
Kalyango added that the language relating to “grooming” in the finding was “highly inflammatory, prejudicial and racist.” He added that not a single member of the faculty who made up the UPEC was African American, and none of them had experience with study-abroad programs.
THE LAWSUIT ALLEGES that it was common knowledge at OU’s journalism school, in particular the Institute for International Journalism, that Kalyango showed “preferential treatment” to women he was “attracted” to.
“It is well-known within the Department and Institute that defendant Kalyango shows preferential treatment toward certain female graduate students – but it is also well known that if these women do not ‘play his games’ and rebuff his advances, these women are at risk of receiving disadvantageous, and possibly retaliatory, treatment from defendant Kalyango,” the lawsuit reads.
The suit also alleges a large failure at the institutional level by OU, citing Fradin’s previous lawsuit against OU and a request in that suit for the university to provide “mandatory training for all mandatory reporters using trauma-informed principles.”
Specifically, Fradin notes in this current lawsuit that an OU professor failed to report to OU’s ECRC Office that Herman had told him about alleged misconduct by Kalyango.
“Defendant Ohio University has enabled the type of sexual harassment and misconduct that defendant Kalyango engaged in by continuously failing to implement sufficient mechanisms to prevent professors from using their authority to seek sexual and romantic relationships with students, and by continuously failing to inform and train professors who witness this type of behavior how to correctly respond to it,” Fradin wrote in the complaint.
The attorney also maintained in the complaint that “there are pending at least two other ECRC investigations into defendant Kalyango’s misconduct, in addition to the one involving plaintiff.”
Kalyango denied that claim in a press release issued Tuesday night, saying, “There are definitely not three women who filed complaints/claims of sexual harassment investigated by Ohio University or anyone else.”
Kalyango also denied that the U.S. Department of State is investigating any “inappropriate use of grant finances” with the SUSI or YALI programs.
“That was a site visit way back in November 2018, which was one of five site visits conducted in the nine years of running that federal grant,” Kalyango wrote.
The university on Nov. 8 and 9 received a visit from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, according to public records obtained by The NEWS. A representative of that agency emailed OU’s legal staff in October and said the agency would look at the records relating to the SUSI and YALI programs “as a result of the recent happenings concerning the former PI, Yusuf Kalyongo (sic).”
Meanwhile, Ron Koch, a law-enforcement liaison officer with the federal Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, also emailed the university’s legal staff in September and asked for a copy of the university’s ECRC investigation.
“We recently received information that a Dr. Yusuf Kalyango, head of the Department of State’s SUSI and YALI programs at your university, had been subject to a Ohio University investigation into sexual harassment; and also as part of the same investigation, it was found that he may have altered evaluations for the program and that financial records may also have been altered/changed,” Koch wrote. “Since our Bureau and Department take these allegations very seriously, I was inquiring if the university did conduct such an investigation(s), and if possible, would you send me a copy of them for our use in evaluating our programs and any issues related to them.”
The State Department had not provided a response to OU on the results of that visit as of Jan. 7, OU spokesperson Leatherwood said at the time.