Questions Surface After Faculty Senate Votes To Withdraw Report Recommending Kalyango Keep Tenure

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Ohio University’s Faculty Senate voted Monday to withdraw a recommendation that a faculty member keep his tenure following investigations that concluded he sexually harassed two female students.

The university’s board of trustees, which has the final say over loss of tenure, issued a statement Tuesday night saying that it plans to review the entire record in the case, including the recommendation the Senate wants to withdraw.

The Senate’s vote Monday followed a social media firestorm over a decision by a special Senate committee.

Yusuf Kalyango, Jr.
Yusuf Kalyango, Jr. [File Photo]
This committee met in December and rejected recommendations by two other faculty committees that journalism professor Yusuf Kalyango be stripped of his tenure.

The Senate committee’s report and recommendations were not made public but exploded into public view late last week when the document was leaked to the media. This triggered a social media backlash, mostly by students and former students.

The backlash was further fueled on Twitter after a tweet by journalism professor Mary Rogus in defense of Kalyango and the committee’s decision. Rogus seemed dismissive of the students’ claims against Kalyango when she wrote that she is a survivor of “real sexual harassment” during her career.

Rogus took down the tweet and apologized for using the word “real.” Meanwhile the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, the Scripps College of Communication and the university’s leadership have issued statements reaffirming their commitment to taking sexual harassment seriously.

Two faculty members drafted a resolution for the Faculty Senate asking that university President Duane Nellis not submit the committee’s report and recommendation to the board of trustees.

When it was learned Monday night that the report had already been submitted to the board, the resolution was amended to request that the report be withdrawn and not considered by the board.

The board issued the following statement Tuesday night:

“We acknowledge and deeply appreciate the engagement of the Faculty Senate with regard to the resolution passed last night.  Pursuant to the process outlined in the Faculty Handbook, the OHIO Board of Trustees will soon consider the detenuring of Dr. Kalyango, and we undertake that effort with the utmost seriousness.

“In order to fully comply with our obligations as final arbiter of this matter, we believe it necessary and appropriate to review the full record, including the report of the Faculty Senate committee, the hearing transcript, the findings of the Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance, the recommendations of the University Professional Ethics Committees, and other relevant documents.

“To that end, we have requested that President Nellis transmit the full record to the trustees for review and consideration.  We are mindful of the gravity of this matter to all parties involved and the greater university community, and dedicate ourselves to a just resolution.”

The university’s civil rights office conducted investigations into two claims of sexual harassment filed against Kalyango by female students. In both cases, the investigations concluded that the evidence supported the claims.

Both investigations resulted in a recommendation that Kalyango be stripped of his tenure. Once professors earn tenure, it is a difficult and multilayered process to fire them.

This process is detailed in the university’s Faculty Handbook. The final step before the matter goes before the board of trustees for a final decision is a hearing by a Faculty Senate special committee.

The resolution adopted by the Senate Monday says this hearing was “fatally flawed and violated university policy.”

The hearing was conducted over two days in early December and included testimony from multiple witnesses, including the two women who filed the harassment complaints against Kalyango.

In a 5-to-1 decision, the committee said that it did not find the evidence of sexual harassment convincing and also said that there were flaws in the original investigations that denied Kalyango of his due process rights.

The resolution says the committee applied the wrong standard of proof. The university’s standard for sexual harassment cases is a preponderance of the evidence, which is a much lower threshold than clear and convincing evidence. Preponderance of the evidence loosely translates to more likely than not.

The resolution also says the committee overstepped its authority by engaging in its own fact finding and basing its decision on this instead of the investigations conducted by the civil rights office.

The resolution cites the university’s sexual harassment policy. This policy makes clear that the civil rights office is the finder of facts in sexual harassment investigations and that a preponderance of the evidence standard applies.

But this policy took effect last August and says it applies only to investigations begun on or after August 14, 2020. The two investigations into Kalyango were begun in 2017 and 2018.

WOUB was provided a copy of the policy in place when the two investigations were launched, which also includes a preponderance standard.

The actions against Kalyango involved two processes. The first was the investigation into the sexual harassment claims. The second was whether he should lose his tenure based on the results of those investigations.

The procedure for stripping a professor of tenure is not addressed in the sexual harassment policy cited in the resolution but is instead detailed in the Faculty Handbook.

The section of the handbook that addresses the hearing by the Senate special committee includes this language: “… the committee shall consider the case on the basis of the statement of persons possessing relevant information and other data … .”

It is not clear from this language whether the committee can engage in its own fact finding in a decision about tenure.

WOUB reached out for clarification on this point. A spokeswoman said the university could not comment because it is defending itself against a federal lawsuit brought by Kalyango, in which he alleges the university violated its own policies in its investigations of the complaints against him.