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Wright State may fire suspended provost despite recommendation, attorney says

Wright State University’s president is taking steps to fire former provost Sundaram Narayanan despite a special board’s recommendation against his termination, Narayanan’s attorney told this news organization.

Narayanan, who has been on paid leave for more than three years during a federal investigation of possible violation of immigration laws, could learn his fate as a faculty member by June 20. On that day, Wright State’s board of trustees will meet in a closed-door executive session with Narayanan and his attorney.

Trustees may make their decision that day, said board chairman Doug Fecher.

“I’d like to hear what they have to say and then the board will have to go from there,” Fecher said. “Until I hear what’s said at that meeting, I can’t comment.”

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WSU president Cheryl Schrader initiated the process to terminate Narayanan as a faculty member in a Sept. 22 letter in which she told him he was charged with “substantial and manifest neglect of duty” under the faculty union contract.

Narayanan was one of four university administrators initially suspended in May 2015 because of the federal probe, which a Dayton Daily News investigation revealed was related to the university’s use of H-1B temporary work visas to secure employees for an area IT staffing firm in possible violation of immigration rules.

After Narayanan was removed from the provost position, Tom Sudkamp took over the position. Sudkamp is stepping down from the role at the end of June and the university has already hired Susan Edwards to replace him.

A hearing was conducted on April 19 and April 20 and a board comprised of three faculty union members and three people appointed by the WSU administration reviewed the evidence against Narayanan, his attorney Ted Copetas said. The board recommended that Narayanan not be fired because the “university had not met its burden to prove there was substantial and manifest neglect of duty,” Copetas said.

As standard procedure, the WSU administration is able to request a copy of the hearing’s transcript so the president can make a decision on a final recommendation to the board of trustees, Copetas said. Narayanan and the faculty union also receive copies of the transcript for review.

Schrader’s office did not request a copy of the transcript until June 6, Copetas said. But he said Schrader sent a letter recommending Narayanan’s firing to the board of trustees nearly two weeks earlier on May 21. The Dayton Daily News submitted a public records request on Monday for copies of any such correspondence.

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“On the one hand, we have the board that evaluated, made a determination that the termination was not appropriate,” Copetas said. “On the other hand, we have the president who made her recommendation without actually reviewing evidence.”

Copetas declined to disclose the format of the closed-door hearing scheduled for next week with trustees. He also declined to share documents he referenced during his interview with this news organization.

Copetas would not say whether he and Narayanan plan to file a lawsuit if the university ultimately terminates the former provost.

“We simply hope to convince the board (of trustees) to follow the recommendation of the hearing board, which is based on facts and evidence,” Copetas said. “We’ll have to evaluate our options after the board of trustees makes that decision.”

When contacted on Monday, Wright State spokesman Seth Bauguess declined to immediately respond to Copetas’s comments and the status of the termination proceedings against Narayanan.

“Consistent with its long established practice, Wright State University does not comment on employee personnel matters,” Bauguess said via email.

» RELATED: Wright State trustees approve 2019 budget: A breakdown of funding by department

Narayanan was paid $274,296 in 2017 during his suspension, which made him the 14th highest paid person at Wright State last year, according to the Dayton Daily News’ Payroll Project.

University researcher Phani Kidambi, who was also suspended since May 2015 because of the federal probe, resigned from the university in August, records show.

The two others were university chief general counsel Gwen Mattison and senior advisor to the provost Ryan Fendley. Mattison was forced to retire in August 2015 with a $301,331 separation payment.

Fendley was fired in August 2015, but then filed two lawsuits against the university. A breach of contract suit was settled with Wright State Applied Research Corporation paying him $13,209. A wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Fendley in the Ohio Court of Claims was decided in Wright State’s favor in September.

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