Wright State visa investigation turns 3: What we’ve learned since 2015

The federal criminal investigation of Wright State University’s temporary work visa program marks its third anniversary today.

The probe, first reported by this news organization, led to four WSU officials being placed on paid leave with pay on May 4, 2015.

Former provost Sundaram Narayanan, general counsel Gwen Mattison, senior advisor to the provost Ryan Fendley and researcher Phani Kidambi were all put on paid leave nearly three years ago.

RELATED: Wright State was warned that more cuts were needed a year ago

Three years later, the federal investigation continues and fallout from the probe and financial trouble at Wright State has continued to draw intense scrutiny on the school.

Here are the latest developments on the fallout from the investigation:

1. Former provost still getting paid by WSU

Wright State University paid $274,296 last year to the school's former provost who has been suspended from the university for nearly three years, according to the I-Team Payroll Project searchable database of public employees.

Sundaram Narayanan was WSU’s second-in-command before he was placed on paid leave and demoted in 2015 amid an ongoing investigation into the university’s possible misuse of federal work visas. Since then, he has been prohibited from doing any work for the school but has remained on its payroll as a faculty member in biomedical, industrial and human factors engineering.

University leaders took steps to fire Narayanan in September, but he then went on sick leave and remains employed by the university, according to school officials.

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2. The researcher on paid leave resigned just a few months ago

Though Kidambi was fired from his research job at Wright State Research Institute, he remained at the university as a faculty member on paid leave until last fall.

Kidambi resigned in August 2017. He was paid $50,404 last year, according to the I-Team Payroll Project.

The Wright State board of trustees officially accepted Kidambi’s resignation during a public meeting on Oct. 6.

3. Visa investigation may have cost WSU millions in international student tuition

Wright State’s international enrollment has decreased by 779 students since 2015, the same year that an investigation into possible immigration related wrongdoing was revealed.

The school estimates it has lost around $15 million in net tuition revenue from the lower international student enrollment in the last two years. International students pay out-of-state tuition prices and they typically pay full price because they are not eligible for federal aid.

RELATED: Top financial executive at Wright State to retire

The visas Wright State is under investigation for are not the same as student visas and were handled by a completely different office at the university. But, the investigation may be one of several reasons for the decline in foreign students at Wright State, said Bill Holmes, new WSU vice president of international affairs.

4. Multiple agencies have launched their own investigations

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations started looking into Wright State for issues stemming from possible H-1B visa fraud, this news organization reported in October.

On Oct. 6, the WSU board of trustees approved a waiver of attorney-client privilege to allow the Air Force office to access an internal audit.

The university does so for several other agencies, including the U.S. Attorney’s office, the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Ohio Inspector General and NASA.


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