An Ohio University associate professor of journalism has dropped her complaint against the university in the Ohio Court of Claims. She had alleged discrimination by the university and retaliation against her for reporting that alleged discrimination.
But the professor, Michelle Ferrier, claimed in a recent interview that she’s still being retaliated against, this time for filing the complaint against the university in the first place. She said in an interview in early January, before classes started, that she believes her office was broken into in late November, which she said is one of the “triggers” for her dropping the lawsuit. She said at the time that she was becoming worried about her safety, and so she’s been teaching her classes remotely this semester.
According to the complaint filed in June 2017, Michelle Ferrier was the only African-American administrator in the Scripps College of Communication at the time that she allegedly was stripped of her deanship by Communication Dean Scott Titsworth and Heather Krugman, chief financial officer/director of operations for that college. Ferrier was hired in 2013 as the Scripps College’s associate dean for innovation, research/creative activity and graduate studies, though now she’s an associate professor of journalism.
Ferrier alleged in the suit that there was a “history of abuse” at the Scripps College against African-American women in leadership roles, and argued in her complaint that she was removed from her administrative role (losing about $15,000 a year) after being “harassed” and “denigrated” due to her race. She also told The NEWS that she felt she was being punished for speaking out against reports she had received of graduate students being taken advantage of by university staff.
At some point after she filed that lawsuit, both Titsworth and Krugman were dismissed as defendants, and the university filed an answer to her complaint arguing that it had done nothing wrong in what it admitted was a “reorganization” of the administrative roles at Scripps.
Ferrier dismissed the lawsuit on Jan. 5, 2018 without prejudice, meaning she can file it again if she so chooses.
“Fighting litigation with the university, a state entity that has deeper pockets, has been a long and costly fight, and (has been) emotionally draining,” she said.
Ferrier said she’s now looking at “other tactics” to address issues brought up by her complaint. She also filed a complaint with OU’s Office for Equity and Civil Rights Compliance (OU ECRC) in April 2016, and said she hasn’t heard back about whether that entity has completed its investigation.
An OU spokesperson said in mid-January that ECRC was finishing its final report on the matter, but didn’t provide a timeline or any further comment on Ferrier’s allegations.
According to a police report obtained from the OU Police Department on Jan. 15, Ferrier reported that she had found the door to her office in Schoonover Hall open on Nov. 21 (she had locked the door prior to this discovery). The police report stated that “no signs of criminal activity were found” in her office.
“The room was neat in appearance, and Ms. Ferrier said she did not find anything missing or moved,” a follow-up report from an OU Police officer reads. “I was informed by other staff that the custodians clean on Mondays and Thursdays, and Ms. Ferrier did say she noticed her trash had been emptied from under her desk. When I informed Ms. Ferrier that based upon her information and my experience, it appeared there was no criminal activity, she informed me that she was currently suing the university and was concerned someone may have planted a listening device in her office. I asked if she had found any such device and she stated, ‘no.’”
Ferrier noted that despite the lawsuit and her demotion from the administrative role, she’s continued to be celebrated for her work by the university and others. She was named one of the 10 top “Faculty Newsmakers” at the university in 2017 for the 2016 year, with 85 media placements in publications that year. She was also named a recipient for one of 10 awards granted by the Online News Association for a rural remote reporting project she worked on at OU. Meanwhile, she was most recently honored as one of 20 journalism educators nationwide who have innovative approaches to teaching classes, in the inaugural EducationShift20 list by the website MediaShift.org.
Ferrier provided a copy of an “evidence packet” she received from OU’s ECRC office to The NEWS last fall, which provides further details about the issues between Ferrier and Krugman and Titsworth. Also in the packet, Ferrier told the ECRC investigator that a graduate adviser in the Scripps School had a “history of abuse” toward graduate students.
“Complainant (Ferrier) said that she was trying to help the student get through her program of study, and the student disclosed that she was unable to work with her current adviser (a faculty member in the College),” the evidence packet reads. “The student told Complainant that she had been repeatedly ‘emotionally abused’ by her adviser. This abuse was so severe that Complainant contemplated suicide. Complainant worked with this student to make sure that the student could complete her degree.”
OU ECRC followed up with the student, but the student never responded to communications from ECRC, the evidence packet reads. Ferrier then submitted a complaint of discrimination/harassment on behalf of the student a few weeks later, although the student had already graduated by that point, according to the packet.