The Ohio University Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance, or ECRC, found Aug. 23 that allegations of racial discrimination and retaliation against two OU faculty members were baseless, according to two memorandums released by the ECRC.
The complaints were filed by former Scripps faculty member Yusuf Kalyango, who was stripped of his tenure status and terminated in April by OU’s Board of Trustees. This decision comes after an earlier ECRC investigation, which found he had sexually harassed two students.
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Kalyango, who is Black and was born outside the U.S., claimed he experienced discrimination based on his race and national origin during the de-tenuring process by Scott Titsworth, dean of the Scripps College of Communication, and Robert Stewart, former director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.
Kalyango’s claims, if substantiated, would place Titsworth and Stewart in violation of OU policy 40.001, which prohibits discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
The ECRC bases its findings on a preponderance of evidence standard, which is lower than the standard of criminal proceedings that requires a defendant to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
In September 2020, Kalyango filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging it discriminated against him during investigations of sexual misconduct. Kalyango dropped the lawsuit in April following his tenure revocation.
According to one of the ECRC’s memorandums, Kalyango alleged Stewart retaliated against him for protected disclosures made by Kalyango in addition to racial discrimination. However, Kalyango provided no evidence for his claims, the ECRC report states.
Kalyango also argued Stewart misrepresented the de-tenuring process and denied Kalyango his due process rights.
The ECRC’s memorandum stated Stewart “provided legitimate, non-discriminatory, non-retaliatory reasons for his actions.”
In his now-rescinded lawsuit, Kalyango accused Stewart of holding meetings in private to further facilitate discriminatory practices, compressing the timeline for review, not meeting with all members of the Promotion and Tenure Committee and claiming Stewart’s recommendation to revoke Kalyango’s tenure was not an accurate representation of the Promotion and Tenure faculty pool.
According to the memorandum’s findings, individual faculty consultations were done through voluntary participation, and no one could have predicted the shift to meeting in an online environment due to the coronavirus pandemic. In response to the compressed timeline claim, the memorandum stated it was almost four weeks before Stewart made a recommendation to Titsworth regarding Kaylango’s tenure status. The faculty handbook does not specify a required time frame.
The handbook also does not require “collegial deliberations” between faculty, nor did Kalyango request a meeting of the entire faculty, the report found. Similarly, the “faculty handbook does not require the department chair to convene a meeting of the promotion and tenure committee, nor does it require a vote.”
The memorandum also stated Stewart had already voiced to Kalyango his plans on how to proceed with his recommendation and followed through, so his actions could not have been a retaliation.
In response to Kaylango’s claim that Stewart’s recommendation did not reflect the majority of the Promotion and Tenure committee, the memorandum stated, “The sentiment expressed by a clear majority of the faculty was that de-tenuring was the correct path forward.”
The ECRC report on Stewart found that claims against him alleging racial discrimination and retaliation against Kalyango were unsubstantiated.
Stewart said he was not prepared to make a comment on the situation at the time of publication.
Titsworth was similarly found to have “provided legitimate, non-discriminatory, non-retaliatory reasons for his actions” through ECRC’s investigation, according to the memorandum.
Kalyango alleged in a spring 2020 complaint that Titsworth threatened and carried out “adverse actions” against him based on discriminatory motives. Kalyango also claimed when he brought Stewart’s alleged “retaliatory actions” to Titsworth that he failed to take action. Titsworth said the claims are false and denied “any and all allegations.”
Kalyango claimed he was unlawfully pressured into considering OU’s Voluntarily Separation Program, also known as a faculty buyout, then was retaliated against when he declined.
Kalyango was found to have declined three separate individual meeting times regarding the de-tenuring process with Titsworth due to family matters and an unfulfilled records request. Titsworth acknowledged the records request but said he would continue with his recommendation to Executive Vice President and Provost Elizabeth Sayrs if Kalyango refused to meet with him in April. Kalyango objected to the April meeting.
Kalyango alleged his inability to use campus facilities was as result of discrimination. However, Titsworth argues those requirements “were based on actual business necessity and crafted in explicit consultation with other academic leaders and university administrators.”
Titsworth clarified Kalyango’s restricted access to campus was done in part to protect victims from emotional trauma. He was also concerned about putting other students at risk, as there were other accusations against Kalyango at the time.
“During consultation with others, consensus emerged that the most appropriate course of action was to suspend [Complainant] from positions of power over students, which included suspension from teaching, advising, and managing the Institute for International Journalism,” Titsworth said in the memorandum.
Kalyango also claimed he was treated inequitably throughout his investigation compared to other faculty who were previously found to be in violation of the faculty handbook. However, other Scripps faculty who were found to be in violation of the handbook were not directly comparable to Kalyango; therefore, it is not possible to say whether he was treated inequitably.
The memorandum concluded that the allegations that Titsworth discriminated against Kalyango based on his race and national origin and that Titsworth retaliated against him in violation of University Policy 40.001 were unsubstantiated.
Titsworth denied a request for comment on the situation.
Abby Miller, Bre Offenberger and Molly Wilson contributed to this report.