Ohio University Board Says Professor Accused Of Sexual Harassment Should Be Fired

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The Ohio University board of trustees voted unanimously Friday morning that a professor found to have sexually harassed two female students should be fired.

The board rejected a recommendation by a special committee of the Faculty Senate, which said journalism professor Yusuf Kalyango should keep his tenure and be reinstated as a full faculty member.

“I am very relieved by the board of trustee’s decision to revoke Dr. Kalyango’s tenure and dismiss him,” Tess Herman, one of the two former students who filed a sexual harassment complaint against Kalyango, said in a statement. “This decision will have a positive rippling effect to make our school, and schools beyond, safer and more nurturing learning environments. Let this be a warning to those considering abusing their positions. I was only one of the many at our school who fought for years for justice. If you are fighting a similar battle, know that you are not alone.

“My hope is that future survivors will not have to face a multiyear-long process, rife with retaliation, in order to find justice.”

This was the second time the special committee had made such a recommendation regarding Kalyango’s fate. The first was in late December.

That report was leaked to the media and it triggered a backlash by students and others. It also led to a vote by the full Faculty Senate that the report be withdrawn from the board’s consideration.

The board decided to go ahead and take up the committee’s recommendation. At a special meeting in March, the board raised multiple concerns about the process leading to the recommendation, and it directed the committee to reconsider its decision and report back to the board.

Yusuf Kalyango

The committee came back with the same recommendation in a report submitted last week.

In rejecting the committee’s recommendation the second time, the board said that it was clear that Kalyango had sexually harassed the two women, both former students.

Lindsay Boyle, the other student who filed a complaint against Kalyango, also issued a statement:

“I’m happy the board of trustees recognized and rebuked the disturbing behavior Yusuf Kalyango exhibited over several years toward multiple students. One less predator on campus is a win for staff, students and alumni alike. That said, the result likely would have been different were it not for a team of players who acted as a system of checks and balances where one did not exist.

“If the Athens News hadn’t obtained and published the subcommittee’s original decision, the smart members of the larger OU staff and student body wouldn’t have been able to dissect and point out all its flaws. Without their voices, the board may have taken the original report at face value rather than ordering the subcommittee to revisit its work. I implore OU to evaluate and change the process that allowed a committee to privately make a recommendation that nearly overturned the hard work of the ECRC.” (The acronym is a reference to the university’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance.)

WOUB reached out by phone and email to Kalyango for comment but did not receive a response by the time this story was published.

The standard for weighing the evidence against Kalyango was one of the concerns the board of trustees raised with the special committee’s recommendation. The committee had used a clear and convincing standard, which is a much higher burden to meet than preponderance of the evidence. It defended the use of this standard in its second report to the board.

The board said its decision would have been the same under either standard.

University policy stipulates that the preponderance standard, which means more likely than not, should be used in sexual misconduct cases.

This was the standard used by the university’s Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance when it investigated the complaints filed by the two women and concluded that Kalyango had sexually harassed them.

These investigations led to hearings by two University Professional Ethics Committees, which also found that the evidence supported the sexual harassment allegations and recommended Kalyango lose his tenure and be fired.

The board detailed the allegations against Kalyango in its decision Friday to revoke his tenure and direct the university’s president to fire him.

With regard to one of the students, the board said the evidence showed Kalyango hired her as an assistant for an international program without following the normal hiring process. Kalyango booked a hotel room for the two to share in Rwanda during a trip to Africa. The student refused to share a room and Kalyango retaliated against her to the point where she resigned her position and said she felt unsafe working with him.

Kalyango provided contradictory explanations regarding the room-sharing arrangement and at one point said a colleague had booked the room. The colleague denied this.

With regard to the other student, the board said the evidence showed that during an education abroad program Kalyango invited her to his room to dance. He invited her to a bar at a neighboring hotel where he bought her drinks and kissed her. He invited her to accompany him to a professional journalism conference in Chile and told her the only way the university would pay for her hotel costs was if she shared a room with him.

On another occasion she drove him to Washington, D.C., for a meeting and when they arrived she learned that he had reserved a single suite for the two to share. At bedtime he sat on her bed and put his arm around her.

This student initially denied the account of what had happened during the study abroad program, which had been reported to the university by someone else on the trip.

She said she did so out of concern that it would jeopardize her opportunity to continue working with Kalyango as a student assistant, a position that paid well and was helping her cover college costs. She also said she needed to stay in Kalyango’s good graces because of his reputation and contacts in the profession.

She said she decided to come forward in light of the other student’s complaint against Kalyango.

The board said these allegations were supported by a preponderance of the evidence and either of the former students’ cases was enough to justify firing Kalyango.

“We are especially grateful to the two women who courageously stepped forward to share their stories and make public their painful experiences with sexual misconduct on our campus,” board Chair Janelle Coleman said immediately after the vote. “These brave women and other people in our community took many difficult steps to bring intolerable behavior to light.”

Kalyango has continued to work for the university while the cases against him proceeded, but was not allowed to teach classes or otherwise have direct contact with students.

In September he filed a civil rights lawsuit against the university contending that the sexual harassment investigations against him were illegally tainted by discrimination because he is Black and male. He also contends that the university violated its own policies on multiple occasions throughout its investigations.

The lawsuit is pending in federal court.