WSU firing long-suspended provost; researcher resigns

Wright State University's leaders have taken steps to fire former provost Sundaram Narayanan, who has been on paid suspension for more than two years during a federal investigation of possible violation of immigration laws, according to records obtained by the I-Team.

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

A Sept. 22 letter to Narayanan from university President Cheryl Schrader says he is charged with “substantial and manifest neglect of duty” under the faculty union contract, initiating the process to terminate him.

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“Dr. Narayanan’s neglect of duty has been manifest by multiple investigations resulting from his and/or his direct subordinates’ involvement in activities in the university and with other entities, his or his direct subordinates’ management of budgetary affairs, and his or his direct subordinates’ involvement in personnel matters outside of accepted university practices,” said a Sept. 7 letter to Schrader from current Provost Thomas Sudkamp recommending Narayanan’s termination.

Narayanan and Kidambi were two of four university administrators initially suspended in May 2015 because of the federal investigation, which an I-Team 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.

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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 is still pending in the Ohio Court of Claims.

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Narayanan and Kidambi were both terminated from their administrative roles but kept on as faculty, meaning they were protected by the university's collective bargaining agreement with faculty. A January investigation by the I-Team found the federal probe cost the public university more than $2 million, including $567,119 in total paid in salary to Narayanan and $152,735 paid to Kidambi.

The university records obtained by the I-Team show that Narayanan did pick up work while suspended, consulting with Galgotias University in Uttar Pradesh, India from January to May 2017. Records show he was paid 314,000 Indian Rupees a month, the equivalent of $4,597 U.S. dollars.

He notified the university of this contract and had that amount deducted from his $24,390 monthly university salary, the records show.

The records also include a July 28 email from Kidambi to university officials notifying them he was resigning with an active date of Aug. 21.

Dean of the College of Enginnering and Computer Science Nathan Klingbeil accepted the resignation in a July 31 email, saying “Thank you for your years of dedicated service to Wright State University, and best wishes in all your future endeavors.”

In addition to the ongoing federal immigration investigation, the university has faced several controversies in recent years that may be referenced in their letter expressing the intent to fire Narayanan. And university trustees have been increasingly vocal in their intent to fire Narayanan and Kidambi.

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An internal audit conducted in the wake of the federal probe found numerous other potential oversight lapses at the university’s research arm, and the university announced it is facing a massive budget deficit after years of over-spending.

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