BLOG: The Rickel/Ransom Case Study on attention to detail and public accountability

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You don’t have to make $300,000 a year to make ‘honest mistakes’ at UA but it sure helps

a blog by blogger Chris Horne, or whatever it’s called

When my four-year-old daughter closes her eyes and hides, she thinks she’s disappeared. Invisible. Can’t be seen. Gone. It won’t be long, I’m sure, before she’ll plug her ears with her fingers and tell me she can’t hear a word I’m saying. Because that’s all it takes to make something go away, right?

Which reminds me: Neither the university, nor the administration, UA spokesman Wayne Hill says, will comment any further on Dr. Todd Rickel’s curriculum vitae despite the new, unanswered and relevant questions I posed. Clearly, the public has no right to expect legitimate answers to legitimate questions about the hiring of a man making nearly $300,000 a year with a $1500 monthly car allowance at a state-supported public university.

rickel_v3
This is the third version of Dr. Rickel’s CV. If you can’t read that, it says “Enter Dr. Samels panel title.”

I asked how a third version of Rickel’s CV ended up in his UA personnel file with fill-in-blank text in lieu of presentation titles (see image). And, I asked why he claimed on his vita to work at Knowledge Investment Partners for more than two years when his LinkedIn resume, which he has recently updated to reflect his new job but hidden or deleted all the experience prior to it (download the old version here), says it was an eight-month stint.
Hill wrote via email:

“…as it relates to your questions concerning Dean Rickel, the University has responded to numerous questions and public records requests concerning Dean Rickel’s CV and we have made available the information and explanation that we are going to provide.”

To be clear, the university has not answered, or provided documents that answer either of those questions, nor has it explained why Dr. Scarborough considers the errors inconsequential.

This is after the president and Board of Trustees chair stood in front of TV cameras and various news reporters pledging to communicate better, to be more transparent with their plans.

Also worth noting, I’ve verified Dr. Rickel has participated in four scholarly panels (even though he’s only listed three on his CV) and they were all moderated by Dr. James Samels, the leader of the Education Alliance, who was a guest speaker at UA in 2011.

I recently discovered that the "Transformers" cartoon I grew up with is referred to now as "G1" which sounds better than calling Optimus Prime an OG.
I recently discovered that the “Transformers” cartoon I grew up with is referred to now as “G1” which sounds better than calling Optimus Prime an OG.

Oh, and earlier this month, for UniversityBusiness.com, Dr. Samels and his fellow “Future Shock” columnist Dr. James Martin sang the University of Akron’s praises, mistaking its polytechnic rebranding for transformation.

“In a bold and decisive move, The University of Akron (Ohio) transformed into a more focused, attractive, and competitive polytechnic institution in response to the emergent demand for a highly skilled smartcollar workforce.”

In the same email requesting answers about Dr. Rickel, I asked why Dr. Lakeesha Ransom’s vita listed her as an associate professor at the University of Toledo when the contract she signed with Scarborough, who was the Toledo provost at the time, says she’s an assistant professor. I included a copy of the contract. I had also been told by a university spokesperson at UT that Ransom was not promoted in her two years.

This would be, for academics, the equivalent of “stolen valor,” someone claiming a rank they had not earned. For instance, in the military, one wouldn’t confuse being a corporal with being a major. At a university, an assistant professor typically works six years or so—researching and publishing while maintaining excellence in the classroom—for the opportunity to become an associate professor, which is often when tenure is conferred.

But the university says that’s not the case, that there’s some kind of mix-up.

Monday, Hill said when Dr. Scarborough was provost at UT, he offered Dr. Ransom, whose only academic position as a Ph.d was as a part-time visiting professor at a university in Thailand, the job of dean of the Jesup Honors College and the rank of associate professor without tenure. [Note: Dr. Ransom did not list her rank as Associate Professor Without Tenure on her curriculum vita, which would be an important distinction because most associate professors are tenured and that “AWOT” rank is specific.]

Hill added, via email, “UA officials have been in contact with The University of Toledo to try to determine where and how a change occurred in the final contract to have the title of assistant professor.”

Dr. Ransom, who I hear is an extremely nice person, posted a note on her bio page addressing this.

“It is unclear as to how, why, and when the faculty title was changed to Assistant, as the signature page on that document was not dated. Officials at UT tell me they are working diligently to resolve this discrepancy,” she writes.

For this scenario to be true, it means neither Scarborough nor Ransom noticed that the change in the contract they were both signing with UT President Lloyd Jacobs—AND that someone at UT with access to the offer letter changed it before submitting the contract without advising the president, the provost or the new dean. It could have happened that way.

asst prof wo tenureAfter all, per her signed contract, Provost Scarborough gave her a $36,000 bonus for hitting 5 percent increases in five areas, including enrollment, graduation and charitable giving. She didn’t hit the enrollment growth target, according to this letter she sent Scarborough, but to reach the graduation goal, the Honors College would only have to produce three more grads than the previous year, and charitable giving would only have to increase by $639. That said, she helped raise $2880 and Jesup graduated 39 more students over the 2012-2013 year. Her most impressive feat was improving the operating margin to more than 45 percent, which it seems she did by reducing faculty and labor costs.

Since the university had decided—without asking the search committee—that the questions about Dr. Rickel’s vita wouldn’t have affected the outcome, I reached out to several Honors College search committee members to ask how it would have impacted the process. Hill also did, emailing them a copy of the unsigned offer letter, after which point I asked them again. Those who responded, including a couple who had been sympathetic to Dr. Ransom as a candidate, were suspicious of the defense offered by the university.

No other document released by UT has associate professor attached to her title and her confirmation by their Board of Trustees only lists her job as dean. But, unless I see evidence that contradicts their story, I’ll move right along.

More than anything, I’m impressed with how quickly they were able to find and produce two-year-old emails.

Since August, I’ve made multiple requests for emails from the administration regarding some of the budget cuts. After waiting around two weeks for a response, I’ve been told my requests are “ambiguous and overly broad.” (If they were ambiguous and overly broad, why did it take two weeks to tell me that?) The state attorney general writes that “a public office has no duty to fulfill requests that do not specifically and particularly describe the records the requester is seeking” because the requester has to be able to provide enough information that the agency will be able to find the records, if they exist. But even seemingly valid requests can be denied this way because of how loosely “overly broad” is itself defined.

Here is one request that was denied:

“Under the Ohio Open Records Law, §149.43 et seq., I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of public records that describe work-related emails from July 7 to July 12 sent by Nathan Mortimer, whether using a university-provided account or a personal account, in his role as either the University of Akron’s chief financial officer or its interim athletic director.”

My grandmother, who is still sharp as a whip but not so great with technology, could locate those emails. I’d bet the university can too.

Ohio’s Public Records Act “was designed by the General Assembly to allow public scrutiny of public offices” (State ex rel. Oriana House, Inc. v. Montgomery) and that’s because not only do state-supported agencies operate with taxpayer money, but more importantly, because they operate in the interests of the public good with the trust of the public.

The trust of the public seems to be low for UA, and because past behavior is the best predictor of future results, I’d bet the president would point a finger at the media if asked about that.

However, despite how much the university has been in the news, how much do you really know about its strategic plan? How much do you know about the direction the Board of Trustees wants the university to go?

I know there are people who are tired of the extended coverage about the university—good gravy, I am too—but all I’ve wanted from the beginning is to understand the thinking. Why lay-off 161 people—and why this position instead of that—and why cut baseball and gut the Office of Multicultural Development and outsource students support, dining, online nursing programs and IT, etc.?

A lot of thinking has gone into all of this. There is a philosophy. The debate should be over the merits of the plan. We, the community, don’t have to agree but we should be allowed to have that conversation. Instead, it’s about whether they’re hiding something from us.

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