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Cutler Hall outside

Cutler Hall, home of the office of the president of Ohio University. File photo.

Ohio University on Monday filed a motion to dismiss a civil lawsuit alleging that the university and an OU journalism professor violated a graduate student’s civil rights under federal Title IX law.

The lawsuit in its initial complaint alleged that the university 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 disciplining Kalyango, with OU’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism School considering dismissal proceedings against him.

The university said in a response to the lawsuit that it doesn’t deny the results of its Title IX investigation – finding that Kalyango sexually harassed Herman, who worked in programs led by Kalyango in 2017, and created a hostile work environment for that student, through a “preponderance of evidence” standard. Some of Herman’s charges against Kalyango involved alleged incidents that occurred on an educational trip to Rwanda in Central Africa.

However, the university in its response denied that it was liable for any alleged misconduct by Kalyango, and argued that it did not have “actual knowledge” of the alleged harassment Herman was receiving up until Herman approached OU’s Title IX office (the officer for Equity and Civil Rights Compliance).

“At the outset, the university would like to make clear that in defending itself and discharging its duty of stewardship over public funds, it does not seek to diminish the fact that a university investigator found it more likely than not that Dr. Kalyango subjected Ms. Herman to behaviors that violated university policy,” the motion to dismiss reads. “However, the university respectfully disagrees with the allegation that it was deliberately indifferent to her Title IX rights. On the contrary, upon learning of Ms. Herman’s concerns, the university conducted a thorough investigation and has taken remedial action.”

Kalyango has denied that he did anything wrong previously and most recently in a response to Herman’s lawsuit filed last week.

Grad student Herman’s 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.”

The university in its response argued that despite Herman approaching two OU professors about alleged misconduct by Kalyango, nothing she said to those professors amounted to her educational environment being “altered” by Kalyango, and also, neither of the professors was an “appropriate person” with authority to implement corrective measures.

In one of those cases, according to Herman’s initial lawsuit, a professor who was a supervisor on the trip to Africa that included the apparent side-trip to Rwanda told Herman that “enduring Dr. Kalyango’s misconduct and bad behavior was an unfortunate part of the job, that she had learned to go along with his requests, and that Ms. Herman should do whatever he says if she wanted to stay on the job.”

This is despite university-wide training on sexual misconduct and federal Title IX law that every university employee has been encouraged to take by OU President Duane Nellis (although this training wasn’t implemented until after Nellis took office in June 2017). As of mid-September 2018, roughly 92 percent of all employees had voluntarily taken that training, Nellis has said.  

MEANWHILE, KALYANGO provided a copy of a notice he received from the ECRC Office last week notifying him that an allegation of retaliation against a female student made against him was “unsubstantiated, meaning that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that it was more likely than not the allegation was true.”

According to a copy of the initial letter notifying him of the investigation sent in March 2018, the complainant in that case (who is not Herman) alleged that Kalyango advocated against her admission to a Scripps School of Communication Ph.D. program because she participated in the university’s investigation into the complaint another student (likely Herman) made against Kalyango.

According to that letter, the allegations were based on the suggestions that Kalyango “delivered an ultimatum to the Admissions Committee that (Kalyango) would never work with another graduate student at Ohio University if this complainant was admitted to the Ph.D. program,” and that Kalyango allegedly based that decision on the complainant’s friendship with Herman, as well as his allegation that the woman had substandard performance at the SUSI (Study of the U.S. Institutes) program at OU run by Kalyango.

WOUB Public Media, which has gotten a copy of the memorandum of findings in this latest case, reported this week that “after Kalyango resigned from the committee, the woman’s application was reconsidered and she was admitted to the program.”

Herman’s attorney, Fradin, has also alleged in the initial complaint that “there are pending at least two other ECRC investigations into defendant Kalyango’s misconduct, in addition to the one involving plaintiff.” This likely would be one of those investigations.

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