Wright State provost fired for visa scandal could get faculty job back

Sundaram Narayanan was fired in June 2018 by the WSU board of trustees after being on paid leave in a faculty position for more than three years. Narayanan was one of four administrators placed on paid leave in May 2015 when a federal investigation was launched into violations of immigration laws at WSU, which the university settled for $1 million in November.

Following the 2015 suspensions, this news organization revealed that Wright State sponsored 19 foreign workers who came to the U.S. to work at an area information technology staffing company that paid the workers less than what local graduates typically make for similar IT work. The arrangement violated immigration laws designed to prevent staffing agencies from trafficking in cheap labor from overseas.

» RELATED: Wright State settles 3-year federal visa investigation for $1 million

Leaders of the school’s faculty union are now taking Narayanan’s case to arbitration because they believe “the administration violated the faculty member’s due process rights,” said Martin Kich, president of the Wright State chapter of the American Association of University Professors. A hearing is scheduled for next week, Kich said.

AAUP-WSU leaders think the administration had the right to fire Narayanan as provost, but Kich said they do not believe the correct process was followed to remove him from his tenured faculty job.

“The AAUP is not arguing that the former provost should not have been removed from his administrative position or even, for that matter, that he should not have been removed from his faculty position,” Kich said. “What we are arguing is that if the administration wished to terminate him as a faculty member, it was obligated to adhere to the process much more scrupulously than it did in this case.”

Board of trustees chairman Doug Fecher said he does not agree with Kich and that the administration was “very careful to follow procedure exactly.”

“I think it’s ironic that the union would be working to return to the university one of the principle architects that cost the university millions,” Fecher said, referencing Wright State’s ongoing budget problems that forced the school to reduce spending by nearly $53 million in fiscal year 2018.

The issue, Kich said, stems from an April 2018 hearing before a special board comprised of three faculty appointed by the union and three picked by the administration. 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,” Narayanan’s attorney Ted Copetas said last year.

» TIMELINE: Federal investigation into Wright State visa ending

It’s standard procedure for the WSU administration 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 has said. Narayanan and the faculty union also received copies of the transcript for review.

Schrader’s office did not request a copy of the transcript until June 6, Copetas said. But Copetas and Kich have both said Schrader sent a letter recommending Narayanan’s firing to the board of trustees nearly two weeks earlier on May 21.

The union was not required to take up Narayanan’s cause but it has the “sole discretion” to do so, said WSU spokesman Seth Bauguess.

“The union chose in favor of Dr. Narayanan to seek his reinstatement to faculty. If reinstated as a faculty member, the university would be forced to hire Dr. Narayanan back,” Bauguess said.

The arbitration hearing comes just five weeks or so after a tense 20-day faculty union strike ended at Wright State.

The school’s faculty senate — which includes AAUP-WSU members but is a separate group — is also in the midst of facilitating a faculty-wide vote of no confidence in the board of trustees. That vote is set to end Friday with results being made public by Monday.

The issue of Narayanan’s arbitration was mentioned in a public rebuttal by trustees to the no confidence vote.

“They know that it’s kind of a hot button issue and they want to create divisions among the faculty,” Kich said.”They’re saying: ‘Oh you’re standing with the union, but look at what the union’s doing.’”

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