Questions About Job Candidate's Past

Anonymous faculty members at NC State object to candidate for professorship who was ousted from a prior position at Ohio State over financial misconduct and other concerns.

April 11, 2018
 
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Terrell Strayhorn

A group of anonymous professors at North Carolina State University want to know why Terrell Strayhorn is a finalist for an education faculty position there even after he was fired from a center directorship at Ohio State University last year over financial misconduct.

“Strayhorn used his faculty position at Ohio State to enrich himself by over $100,000 a year, using state employees to schedule and book his private business engagements,” reads a letter sent to the North Carolina Legislature, the the University of North Carolina System's Board of Governors and news media Tuesday evening. The letter’s authors identify themselves only as “Faculty of the [North Carolina State] College of Education Opposed to Hiring Criminals and Sexual Harassers.”

Referring to Strayhorn’s job talk at North Carolina State earlier that day, the letter says, "we are ashamed and embarrassed that he was brought to campus for an interview.”

The charges relate to Strayhorn's pocketing approximately $200,000 over less than three years on the lecture and consulting circuit, much of it through unapproved travel during the workweek while he was a professor of higher education and director of the Center for Higher Education Enterprise at Ohio State. During a preliminary travel audit, Ohio state administrators told him to stop accepting honoraria in his role as a center director, but Strayhorn continued to accept speaking fees for appearances out of town -- often using university resources to make arrangements.

A subsequent university investigation found that Strayhorn also had neglected his professorial duties. Between January and March of last year, for example, according to Ohio State documents obtained via an open-records request, Strayhorn was off campus for 22 of 42 working days, 19 of which included paid speaking engagements.

Strayhorn told Inside Higher Ed upon his departure from Ohio State that he was confused about campus policies on speaking engagements and that he was leaving voluntarily. He may have continued to speak off campus after being warned, he said, but did so in his dual role as a professor. Yet he’d already been terminated as director of the university’s Center for Higher Education Enterprise and otherwise suspended indefinitely, as the university weighed additional disciplinary action against him.

As part of an agreement with Ohio State, Strayhorn said he’d pay the university back $29,000 in “restitution for issues identified in the course of his employment.” The university retained the right to cooperate in any criminal proceedings against him.

Ohio State also accused Strayhorn of engaging “in inappropriate conduct through the appearance of favoritism and possible conflict of interest” related to a former student of Strayhorn's who worked at the center. The former student denied any impropriety to investigators and Strayhorn said they remained friends.

Even though there was no gray area for the university, Strayhorn addressed his time at the university in a January blog post on Medium called “An Open Letter to Create Closure: Why I Left Ohio State” (emphasis his throughout).

“My belief that faculty members’ engagement in external professional activities, including public speaking, generally serves the academic interests of the university is shared by The Ohio State University,” he wrote. “Further, Ohio State acknowledges that it is both allowable and fairly common for university faculty to receive nominal honoraria for such activities. Indeed, I contributed significantly to the university’s mission as a faculty member by engaging in public outreach activities of this kind since 2010, earned honoraria and even received [university] and national awards for my work.”

In March, faculty members at North Carolina State and elsewhere began to agitate -- quietly, denying immediate interview requests -- at the news that Strayhorn was being considered for a professorship on that campus. In so doing, they circulated an internal email from Alyssa N. Rockenbach, professor of higher education, announcing that Strayhorn was one of three candidates for an open associate professorship in the College of Education and would soon be speaking on campus.

Strayhorn, well-known in academic circles for his research on belonging and college completion, was set to give a talk on Tuesday called “Sense of Belonging as a Predictor of College Students’ Academic Motivation, Achievement and Well-Being: Differences by Race/Ethnicity.”

Strayhorn’s bio in the announcement email -- reflecting those on his social media accounts and in his email signature -- still identified him as a professor and founding CEO of Do Good Work Educational Consulting, the LLC he established while he was at Ohio State.

Prior to Strayhorn’s appearance on campus, Rockenbach told Inside Higher Ed via email that “Per confidentiality agreements, members of the search committee cannot comment on applicants for our open faculty position.”

A professor of education at North Carolina State who did not want to be identified by name, citing fears of possible retaliation, said Tuesday that members of the department had noticed unusual secrecy regarding the search process, including unmet requests that Strayhorn's CV be circulated. (Ohio State also raised concerns about an unfinished law degree appearing on Strayhorn's CV as completed at various points, but Strayhorn attributed that to a computer error, saying he'd always been candid about his status.)

"This is the first time we've ever had a faculty search where the faculty are not allowed to see a [CV]," the professor said. "We're faculty -- this a measure of who we are."

Over all, the professor said, "The faculty here are in an uproar. We can’t understand how he managed to end up in the top three of a national K-16 search."

Strayhorn did not immediately respond to a copy of the faculty letter Tuesday, but he said earlier via email that he would respond to names and facts, not “innuendo, allegations or smears. I am working to move on.”

The university said in a statement late Tuesday that a “faculty search committee in the College of Education decided which candidates to invite to campus to interview for the position. No hiring decision has been made at this point. Before any hiring decision is made, the college will do its due diligence in conducting thorough reference and background checks.”

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