While attending the Summer Institute, I was asked fairly frequently to comment on a video that had just been released by Wright State that was linked to in brief articles in both the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed.
The video featured statements by both the university president, David Hopkins, and Michael Bridges, the chair of the university’s board of trustees. Although its ostensible purpose was to address the ongoing investigation that had led to the provost and several others being placed on paid administrative leave on May 4, all but about half a minute of the four-minute video was devoted to describing what a great place Wright State University continues to be. There was very little information on the investigation because after three months of very tight control on the release of any information about the case, there was still very little that anyone was willing to or able to say about the issues involved.
The video would not have caused much stir if it had been released three months earlier, but released three months into an extended institutional silence on the issues, it came across as somewhat cynical. Indeed, quite paradoxically and ironically, the obvious earnestness of the president and of the chair of the Board of Trustees as they made their statements seemed almost to heighten the impression that the video represented a cynical strategy.
As president of the AAUP chapter at Wright State, I felt that I should not write about these issues until there was something to report beyond speculation.
This week, President Hopkins sent the following message to our campus community:
“Today, for the first time, I am able to share information concerning a federal investigation being conducted at Wright State University. Federal authorities have been and continue to review the use of the H-1B visa program at our institution.
“The H-1B is a category of visa that allows American employers to sponsor a highly trained professional from another country to come to the United States and work in a specialty occupation. This typically means areas like, but not limited to, biotechnology, engineering, chemistry, and computer science. Furthermore, the foreign national being sponsored, who must have a least a bachelor’s degree, does not become a U.S. citizen through the program.
“Initially, I was asked not to share the nature of or to take any action that might obstruct the investigation. However, our Board of Trustees was informed immediately; and we began to cooperate fully with investigators to help them gather facts. We have provided tens of thousands of pages of documents, and the investigators have interviewed more than a dozen members of our university. In addition, we have engaged with the Office of the Ohio Attorney General and assembled a team of external experts to assist us with our own internal review of our processes and procedures.
“While that internal review continues, based on initial recommendations we are expanding our Office of the General Counsel and, as already announced, reorganized and enhanced the research compliance capabilities of our WSRI and ARC.
“As we prepare for a new academic year, I have decided that in the best interest of our university moving forward to remove Dr. Sundaram Narayanan from the Provost position. Per his contract, he will return to the faculty of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
“For many years, Wright State University has operated under a model where the Provost served as both the Chief Academic Officer and Chief Operating Officer of the university. After consultation with the Board of Trustees, administrative colleagues, Faculty Senate leadership, USAC/CSAC leaders, and a review of best practices nationally, I believe our increasing growth and the complexity of the environment in which we all work merits a rethinking of the administrative structure.
“Effectively immediately, I am appointing Dr. Tom Sudkamp to serve as our Chief Academic Officer, Provost and Vice President for Curriculum and Instruction. As many of you know, Dr. Sudkamp was a finalist in our previous Provost search. In addition, I am appointing Dr. Mark Polatajko to serve as our Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Business and Finance.
“We will get this right because we know it matters. Our work matters. I am confident that we will emerge from this ordeal stronger and with more capacity in our quest to be the Best University FOR the World.
“Thank you for your good work and support.
“David R. Hopkins
I will soon post an annotated list of the media coverage that has followed the release of this statement.