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Travel Audit at Root of Strayhorn’s Departure from Ohio State

Dr. Terrell Strayhorn is a prominent diversity scholar, well-known throughout academic circles.

Over the past several years, he has made frequent appearances at colleges, universities and academic conferences, keynoting discussions and leading sessions on leadership and equity.

Dr. Terrell StrayhornDr. Terrell Strayhorn

According to a news release on Carthage College’s website, Strayhorn is  set to deliver the institution’s 2017 Commencement address on May 21, one of many such engagements that Strayhorn has or had lined up for this year.

In its news release, Carthage identified Strayhorn as a current full professor at Ohio State University. According to OSU, however, that title is no longer accurate.

In an email on Wednesday, OSU told Diverse that Strayhorn resigned from his faculty position in the College of  Education and Human Ecology effective May 3 and is no longer with the university. The university also said that it had terminated Strayhorn’s employment as the Center for Higher Education Enterprise (CHEE) director on March 17. At the time, the university quietly removed his bio from the CHEE website but made no official statement about the move at the time.

A university spokesperson declined to comment further on Strayhorn’s departure on Thursday.

In the same year, he was appointed director of CHEE, a research entity last helmed by the notable Dr. Gordon Gee, current West Virginia University president.

“I’ve decided to focus my time on my scholarship and my speaking and consulting opportunities,” Strayhorn told Diverse on Thursday.

“I’m focusing my time on all of my speaking engagements,” Strayhorn added. “I have quite a few engagements coming up.”

Strayhorn has continued to speak at conferences and other events since March.

University documents sent to Diverse, however, reveal that OSU decided to fire Strayhorn as CHEE director following a university audit that revealed that Strayhorn was engaged in too many speaking engagements and other appearances made in his capacity as CHEE director.

As CHEE director, Strayhorn was considered a staff member of the university. University documents stated that OSU staff are not permitted to “use their positions to secure anything of value, financial gain, or personal benefit that would not ordinarily accrue to them in the performance of their official duties.”

The university audit found that Strayhorn took part in 32 paid speaking events in his role as CHEE director between July 1 2015 to September 15, 2016, for which he earned more than $130,000.

OSU met with Strayhorn in the fall 2016 to discuss the honorariums he was receiving through speaking engagements. According to university documents, Strayhorn maintained that he was accustomed to receiving honorariums as a faculty member and that he had never been apprised that as CHEE director, he would be required to refrain from collecting payment for these activities.

In a November meeting with university officials, the university maintains that Strayhorn was informed that his CHEE-related travels would be audited, and that he would not be permitted to engage in further travel or accept further compensation for speaking engagements as CHEE director.

Despite the November meeting and subsequent communications from OSU, university documents stated that Strayhorn continued to make appearances at universities and conferences across the country from January to March 2017, accepting sums of money ranging anywhere from $2,500 to $15,000 for each engagement.

In non-compliance with university policy, Strayhorn also failed to submit leave or travel requests for travel for some speaking and consulting engagement at colleges, universities, and meetings across the country for which he also received compensation, according to university documents.

As a result of his failure to comply with OSU policy, the university decided to terminate his position as CHEE director in March and review his compliance with university policies as a faculty member.

The documents also shed light on working conditions at CHEE during Strayhorn’s tenure. Due to his frequent absences for speaking engagements, Strayhorn was often out of the office, leaving management of day-to-day operations to former CHEE policy analyst, Dr. Royel M. Johnson. According to university documents, the CHEE office was characterized by rapid turnover under Strayhorn’s direction. In his two years there, five of the 10 CHEE staff members voluntarily resigned.

Current and previous executive assistants said that half of their time was dedicated to coordinating events and travel for Strayhorn, who according to university documents, “consistently received four to five and sometimes more requests for speaking engagements a day.”

Johnson, who has left CHEE, will join the faculty of Pennsylvania State University as assistant professor of higher education within the Department of Educational Policy Studies and as research associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education this fall. OSU did not respond to questions on Thursday about Johnson’s departure.

Strayhorn updated his LinkedIn profile in early April to add a position as the founder and CEO of his educational consulting firm, Do Good Work. He is known for the hashtag #DoGoodWork on social media. As of Thursday, he was still listed as an OSU professor on LinkedIn.

According to an OSU spokesperson, the university is not searching for a replacement director for CHEE at this time.

In full disclosure, Strayhorn was named as one of the Emerging Scholars in 2011 by Diverse. In addition, Diverse has partnered with Strayhorn on multiple research projects, including an upcoming survey of “Most Promising Places to Work in Community Colleges,” which is set to appear in print on May 18.

Staff writer Catherine Morris can be reached at [email protected].

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