Tuesday, May 23, 2017
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Education

Review ends with UT firing 4 employees

Negligence, violations found inside YouCollege

Clarification: This story should have stated that Dean D’Naie Jacobs was terminated without cause.

Four University of Toledo employees will lose their jobs after an internal review uncovered a culture of unprofessional behavior, bad management, and policy violations in the college where they worked.

YouCollege dean D’Naie Jacobs, 42; associate dean Crystal Taylor, 45; and success coaches Michael Gregorich, 35, and Dan Johnson, 43, were notified last month that they had been fired, according to documents obtained by The Blade through public records requests. Each had been put on paid administrative leave in March, pending internal investigations.

None of the employees had been disciplined before, but reports prepared by a UT human resources consultant found allegations made against them to be “sufficiently egregious to warrant the skipping of disciplinary steps.”

Jovita Thomas-Williams, vice president and chief human resources officer, made the decision to dismiss the employees in consultation with interim Provost John Barrett, who supervises the college’s leadership.

All four will continue to receive their full salary for 90 days, through mid-July. None of the employees could be reached for comment.

YouCollege will continue to serve students and operate under acting dean Julie Fischer-Kinney, said spokesman Jon Strunk. The portal college, like other parts of the university, is in transition as UT awaits the arrival of its new president Sharon Gaber, who is expected to start her job this summer.

The beleaguered YouCollege, born of strategic planning done in 2012, was created to provide students with success coaching, advising, and other services.

“It’s a lot stronger unit now. Obviously, we had some leadership shortfalls, and additional efforts are already under way,” Mr. Strunk said. “It’s a model that we are very pleased with. We have a person in place right now that is doing a good job and is a very strong leader.”

Allegations contained in public records paint a picture of a workplace that fell into disarray.

Office conflicts led to shouting matches, thrown papers, slammed doors, and profanity-laced and racially insensitive statements, according to a university assessment based on interviews with 18 YouCollege employees and leaders. The review, which led to the firings, took place after success coaches voiced concerns to the provost and human resources offices.

Reviews also found violations of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which requires student education records to be kept confidential; inappropriate, though not criminal, use of a university purchasing card; and other examples of unprofessional or vulgar behaviors.

Ms. Jacobs was hired by UT in 2007, became interim dean in 2013, and dean the following year at a salary of $95,275.

She faced a litany of accusations detailed in a 21-page document devoted to her review. The consultant’s report found Ms. Jacobs failed to address performance issues with the two fired success coaches, violated a UT purchasing card policy when she loaned her card to a part-time employee to finish a transaction, and “displayed a failure of good behavior through her unprofessional interactions.”

The report describes high tensions between her and Ms. Taylor, a UT employee since 2010 who moved into her YouCollege post under Ms. Jacobs in December. Disagreements between the two escalated into “yelling and loud discussions” and eye-rolling, muttering, and slamming doors, the report stated.

Both women rejected those allegations in testimony included in reports. Ms. Taylor said she and her supervisor never screamed at each other but had “loud conversations.” Ms. Jacobs stated they had a respectful relationship but did not always agree.

Ms. Jacobs violated the privacy act “by sending one probationary student another probationary student’s email,” among other university policy violations, some of which “would be considered minor,” a report found. According to the document, Ms. Jacobs denied violating any policies.

She also failed to provide clear direction regarding YouCollege’s organization and job duties and did not ensure new hires received appropriate training, the report stated.

Ms. Taylor, who makes a base salary of $61,500, also violated the privacy act when she discussed students’ probationary status in front of others, the report stated. She also allegedly did a poor job of submitting information about YouCollege for a grant, among other conclusions.

In response, Ms. Taylor denied that she violated any policy and contended allegations were intentionally exaggerated and that the department is “bankrupt of integrity,” according to the report.

Rick Mitchell, who identified himself as an attorney for Ms. Taylor, said in a written statement Wednesday night, "We believe the University has made such extraordinary errors in handling this matter that we question the capacity of the decision makers involved. The University's action has been appealed."

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Gregorich were hired as a success coaches last year at salaries of $35,200. The report found Mr. Johnson “committed a theft of service by leaving early without management’s permission on numerous occasions,” while Mr. Gregorich was faulted for failing to properly reach out in a timely manner to a student who was missing classes and had made statements that she might harm herself, among other complaints against them.

In testimony included in a report, Mr. Gregorich said he has a large student caseload and that he did try to contact the student and eventually walked with her to the counseling center. The report, however, said the earliest email contact with the student that he provided to reviewers was 17 days after concerns about the her welfare were brought to his attention.

Mr. Johnson provided “acceptable evidence” to account for some of his time but not all, according to the report.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.

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