The Brethren Church’s stand against the LGBTQ community, and its impact on AU

The Collegian has a very important story in it this week about the consistent attempts of students to get an LGBTQ student organization approved by Ashland University, and how university administrators and the Board of Trustees are making that difficult.

According to the Collegian, the organization — Eagles for PRIDE — seeks to make AU an accepting community, one in which everyone has a place regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

This is not the first time students have tried to get an officially recognized and funded LGBTQ student organization on campus. They’ve been doing that, and getting turned down, for decades. It happened when I was the editor-in-chief of the Collegian all the way back in the late 1990s. It happened again when I was the faculty adviser of the Collegian sometime between 2008 and 2011.

Students would often gain a provisional charter, only to be strung along by the university and its Board of Trustees before ultimately being denied its official recognition, which is necessary for it to receive university funding.

This Collegian story says that the university has written a proposed social issues policy aimed at student organizations. That policy, according to the Collegian, was shared with Faculty Senate and Student Senate, and says “clubs that promote lifestyle choices, activities, and belief systems that are contrary to these historical Brethren values will not be approved for institutional funding or recognition.”

In case you’re curious about Brethren values when it comes to the LGBTQ community, you should check out the Church’s own social issues policy. It addresses homosexuality starting on page 20.

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 1.18.36 PM“Brethren affirm Scripture to teach that marriage is between a man and a woman and that within the marriage relationship is found the ultimate expression of sexual love that promotes the flourishing of an intimate relationship between two people,” the Brethren Church’s Social Issues Statement says in its introduction on homosexuality.

It goes on to say that the Brethren Church does not allow unmarried sex and is wholly against homosexuality. And like that introduction to this section says, the church has concluded that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 1.18.54 PM“All of the above brings us to the necessary concluding question,” the Social Issues Statement says. “If unmarried sex is out, and same-sex sex is out, and being married is not an option, what is left? The Brethren suggest two alternatives while recognizing the extraordinary difficulty of both options: celibacy as sexual restraint and conversion of sexual orientation.”

Now, there are 15 states in the country that have outlawed such conversion therapies. There are also six cities in Ohio — Cincinnati, Toledo, Columbus, Athens, Lakewood, and Dayton — who have also outlawed conversion therapy. That should tell you all you need to know about the church’s reliance on conversion therapy (a side note: You should read the book Boy Erased by Garrard Conley, which is about the hideous nature of conversion therapy. It was also turned into a movie).

Sadly, it’s not hard to see that the Ashland University Board of Trustees, of which 51 percent of its members are appointed by the Brethren Church, will never allow a student organization focused on the LGBTQ community. These students will never be allowed to officially attempt make the campus a better community for everyone, regardless of sexual preference or gender identity.

Ashland University president calls muni court judge a ‘hillbilly judge’

Ashland University President Carlos Campo called Ashland County Municipal Court Judge John L. Good a “hillbilly judge” during an address he gave to the university’s Faculty Senate earlier this month, according to multiple people who were in the meeting.

Campo claimed that “hillbilly judge” is Good’s Twitter name. However, a review of Good’s Twitter account shows that his Twitter name is actually John Good, and his Twitter handle is @JudgeJohnGood. In his description, Good describes himself as “Father, Husband, Hunter, Fisherman, Beer Maker, Banjo Player, Lover of Sports Cars and Jeeps, Former Prosecutor, Hillbilly Judge.”

People who were in the meeting said the hillbilly judge comments followed Campo’s remarks about the controversy surrounding the university’s hiring of his son, Brandon Campo, who was arrested in June 2018 on campus. He ultimately pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drug and child endangerment charges and was sentenced by Good to a maximum 180 days in jail.

Sources, all of whom wish to remain anonymous because they fear retribution from the university for speaking up, say that Campo started out apologetically, but then showed anger that was focused at Good. Sources also said that Campo claimed that Good punished his son as severely as he did because the judge was not happy with the fact that he frequently saw AU student athletes in his courtroom.

Campo, according to those in the meeting, also said that Good said things that weren’t factual, and that were unethical, during Brandon Campo’s sentencing hearing. That hearing was live-streamed on Facebook by Ashland County Pictures and has been watched more than 7,000 times.

“He started talking about Judge Good and became really, really scary,” said one person who was in the meeting. “He used the expression ‘hillbilly judge’ and was increasingly unhinged before getting himself back under control.”

Another person in the meeting said it was despicable.

Good said in an email that he could not “ethically comment on a pending case or a case likely to come before my Court, nor can I receive any information on such cases from any source on an ex parte basis.”

 

Ashland University BOT hiring & drug policy review completed

A summary of the Ashland University Board of Trustees’ review into the university’s hiring and drug policies was emailed to faculty yesterday. If you need to know why the BOT wanted to conduct this review, click here.

The BOT calls this an independent review, but that is not accurate. That’s because the BOT hired the law firm Barnes & Thornburg to conduct this review, the same law firm that is representing AU in the lawsuit filed by six former tenured faculty members who were fired in 2015.

READ THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES LETTER BY CLICKING HERE

Barnes & Thornburg could never produce something that made President Carlos Campo or the university look bad, because they have to defend Campo and the university, show them in a positive light, when the faculty lawsuit trial starts on April 17 in Ashland County Judge Ronald Forsthoefel’s courtroom. The only way this review could have been considered independent is if it had been conducted by an investigator or lawyers with no ties to AU. 

READ THE MEMO FROM BARNES & THORNBURG TO THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES BY CLICKING HERE

So, not surprisingly, the summary says that it found “no evidence that President Campo attempted to influence the hiring of his son.” It also says that the review found that no university policies had been violated in the hiring process.

The summary says that the board concluded that Carlos Campo’s “actions in dealing with his son’s employment within the University constituted a clear lapse of judgement,” and that Campo should have recognized the potential risk of the situation. But ultimately, the board affirmed its support of Campo, claiming that he has “encouraged a culture of academic excellence and student success, while leading the University from a period of serious financial strain to a more secure financial position.” (Side note: How does one encourage a culture of academic excellence when one of the first things Campo did as president was fire tenured faculty members, including faculty members who had just been granted tenure and those who had just been granted sabbaticals?)

Take the report with a grain of salt. Again, the BOT was never going to significantly rebuke Campo. After all, they also just gave him a three-year contract. But keep in mind that there are a lot of other concerning issues that stem from the hiring and later promotion of Brandon Campo.

Ultimately, when you look at the big picture view of Brandon Campo’s hiring, it’s hard to believe that the president didn’t play a very strong role in making sure his son was employed by the university.

Here’s why:

  • In January or early February 2017, Brandon Campo, who at the time was 33 years old, got an undergraduate student pregnant. We know this because the baby was born in October.
  • He was hired by the university no later than April 2017. This happened right around the same time that Brandon Campo married Madeline (Knowles) Campo, the nursing student that he got pregnant. They got married on April 15, 2017, a very short time after their engagement was announced. 
  • Brandon Campo was also, at some point in time, taking undergraduate classes at AU, trying to finish a bachelor’s degree. The earliest he could have started those courses is the summer of 2016. I don’t know when he finally earned an undergraduate degree, but it’s entirely possible that it wasn’t until May 2017, which means he could have been hired by the university before he was officially a college graduate.
  • I’ve been told that Brandon Campo was hired by Bernie Bannin. Bannin is currently the director of graduate and online admissions at AU. But when Bannin was hired in January 2017, he came in as the program manager of admissions and advising, according to his LinkedIn page. He then became the interim director of graduate and online admissions one month after he started at AU. It makes sense that Bannin did the hiring considering Brandon Campo was hired into the admissions office (that is according to the BOT letter that went to faculty yesterday).
  • Bannin came to Ashland from Regent University. He worked there from May 2008 through December 2016, which means he was there when Carlos Campo was the president from 2010-2013 (Campo abruptly left Regent just as the Fall 2013 semester started, something that he won’t talk about, even in a legal deposition).
  • Brandon Campo finished an MBA degree at AU in May 2018. That’s a one-year advanced degree. He was then promoted to a position that reported to Dan Lawson, who is an Associate Vice President and Chief Corporate Relations Officer. Brandon Campo was arrested on campus just about one month later.

What does all this mean? One would be hard-pressed to believe that Bannin did not know of Brandon Campo’s criminal history. I say this because Bannin was working at Regent University when Brandon was getting arrested (and convicted) of everything from Operating a Vehicle while Intoxicated to identity theft to buying alcohol for people who were under 21 years of age to probation violations. Some of this was happening in Virginia Beach, some in Las Vegas. Indeed, it was in 2012 that Brandon Campo was convicted of a felony OVI charge and sentenced to 18 months in prison in Las Vegas. I have a hard time believing that people who worked at Regent at that time did not know what their university president’s son was up to.

Given that it’s highly likely that Bannin knew Brandon Campo’s past run-ins with law enforcement, why would he have hired him? Because the president, who had just lured Bannin away from Virginia Beach, told him to. There is really no other explanation despite what the Barnes & Thornburg review says.

But the Board of Trustees can’t admit to that, because that would look really bad for the university. And this BOT has a history of making really bad decisions — especially when it comes to hiring presidents — and then ignoring the problems or trying to sweep them under the rug.

That’s what they’re doing right now.

Why I write about AU

Some people have asked me why I continue to write about what is going on at Ashland University. It’s a question I’ve asked myself numerous times. After all, I escaped AU and landed in a place — Fairfield University — that has made me believe in the wonders of higher education again, a place that has let me see that there are indeed institutions where the administrators and the faculty work together with a common mindset aimed at transforming student lives.

jdm 4 life
The red tag is from Tom Prizeman, a student who transferred away from AU after his favorite professors left. The signature below his belongs to Tim McCarty, a JDM faculty member who was cut in 2014. The one on the bottom is mine, after I left in 2016.

By the time I left AU in 2016, I didn’t have that mindset. It had been washed away by so many maddening and anger-inducing interactions with administrators who made idiotic and sometimes unethical decisions. Of course, one of those last decisions, at least in my time, was the termination of tenured faculty members (14 to be exact, six of whom have filed a lawsuit against AU). Those faculty were all integral to their departments, and worked hard to make a difference in the lives of students.

I left Ashland University in the summer of 2016 because I couldn’t take it anymore. I gave up and walked away from an institution I cared about deeply. That, ultimately, is why I keep finding myself drawn back to writing about what is going on at Ashland University, because truth be told, I love the place. It wasn’t just the university that gave me my first job as a professor. It was also the place where I got my undergraduate degree, where I learned how to be a reporter and why that was important to society, and, most of all, where the faculty transformed me into the man I am today.

I really do love Ashland University, but I have watched presidents and other highly-paid administrators (far more highly-paid than the faculty) and even the board of trustees systematically place their own special interests ahead of the university for far too long. And that, quite frankly, pisses me off.

The BOT and last two presidents of AU have cut the faculty to the bone.

au jdm in vegas
From left: Gretchen Dworznik, myself, Steve Suess, and David McCoy. We were all part of the Journalism and Digital Media Department at AU. Only McCoy is still at AU now.

In 2014, 15 non-tenured faculty were told their contracts were not being renewed. Less than one year later, after Carlos Campo had been president for less than three months, the university cut another 21 faculty, including 14 tenured professors. The latter has resulted in a lawsuit against the university, which is one of the things I first started writing about when I finally got out of Ashland.

Between August 1, 2015 and April 19, 2017, another 27 faculty quit, a number that includes myself. Many of us were not replaced. I was tenured when I quit, but was replaced with a non-tenure, professional instructor position.

I mention the decimation of the faculty at AU because the result has been lots of adjuncts teaching classes, but even worse, many of the full-time faculty having to teach six or even seven courses a semester, all because enough adjuncts can’t be found (or enough refuse to work for the meager pay AU offers) to handle all of the courses that terminated faculty once taught.

This means that faculty — and I know this because I hear from professors from all across the university on a regular basis — just don’t have the time or the energy to have the kind of impact on students’ lives that they used to. They just can’t.

matt au id
My AU student ID, circa 1994-98.

I know even the great Dan Lehman and Joe Mackall, the two English professors who shaped me into the man, writer, and professor that I am today, could not have made the difference they made on me if they were teaching six courses a semester while simultaneously finding themselves embroiled in arguments with university administrators over everything from faculty cuts to no pay raises to the university hiring the president’s 35-year-old son for an on-campus job despite the fact said son had a lengthy criminal record, and, it turns out, active arrest warrants, a son that would barely a year after being hired, be arrested on campus for drug dealing.

So I write about what is going on at Ashland University because I love Ashland

collegian ona
The Collegian staff and myself at the Ohio Newspaper Association annual meeting.

University. I get excited when I see the men’s and women’s basketball teams both sporting 18-1 records this season. I get excited when I see the amazing stuff the Journalism and Digital Media Department is doing when it comes to live-streaming virtually every event that happens on campus (despite the fact they are down to just two faculty, even as their enrollments go through the roof). I get excited when I see that Ashland University is included in the Say Yes to Education campaign. I get excited when Psychology professors at Fairfield University tell me they know Christopher Chartier, an AU Psychology professor, because of the Psychological Science Accelerator that he created.

bils and bucheit
Ashland University JDM grads Chris Bils and Elizabeth Bucheit work a women’s basketball game when they were students. Bils is now working for the Austin American Statesman covering Major League Soccer. Bucheit is a production coordinator at ESPN.

There is still great stuff happening at Ashland University, but none of it is happening on the administrative side or because of administrators. It’s happening in spite of them. And the great things that are happening at AU would increase in number and as well as greatness if the university just had credible, competent, ethical leaders.

There is a vortex of leadership on the administrative side of AU, and it is sucking everything at the university down with it.

That leads to the other reason I write about what is happening at AU; somebody needs to keep an eye on those making the decisions there. The Times Gazette and the Collegian do the best they can, but they can only do so much. And if the board and Campo are able to go about doing whatever they want to do, whenever they want to, Ashland University will crumble.

I write about the goings-on at AU because I want the place to get better. And I can tell you right now that sweeping things under the rug and hoping they go away, hoping that nobody is paying attention, is never the recipe for improvement. It’s a recipe for continued incompetence and corruption.

It’s not going to get fixed if it’s not visible. I’m doing my best to make it visible.

AU Board opens independent investigation into university hiring procedures, drug policies

The Ashland University Board of Trustees has hired a law firm to conduct an independent review of the university’s hiring practices and its substance abuse policies, according to an email sent to university faculty, staff, and students on Wednesday, January 23.

The email was signed by Kevin L. Doss, the chairman of the AU Board, and said the investigation, which will be done by the law firm Barnes & Thornburg, is being done in light of Brandon Campo’s recent conviction and sentencing for child endangerment and drug charges. The email was forwarded to me by someone who is not an AU employee or student. You can read the full email below.

Brandon Campo, the son of AU President Carlos Campo, had been working at the university and was arrested on campus. He was convicted of buying drugs from a student, as well as selling drugs from his home. He was living with his wife, Madeline, and their infant in the basement of Carlos Campo’s house. 


When Ashland Municipal Court Judge John Good sentenced Campo to the maximum 180 days in the county jail, he mentioned the fact that Brandon Campo has two active warrants for his arrest in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

“I write to express our dismay and disappointment upon learning of Brandon Campo’s recent guilty plea and additional concerns that came to light during his sentencing hearing,” Doss wrote in his email. “As an employee of this university until June 2018 and as the son of our president, Brandon’s case left us with many unanswered questions that demand our timely and thorough inquiry.”

When Good sentenced Brandon Campo on January 18, he mentioned a letter that Margaret Pomfret, the vice president of institutional advancement, wrote as a testament to Brandon Campo’s character.

Good read from the Pomfret letter the following sentence: “I believe the poor choices he made that caused him to be charged was a one-off event, and not reflective of his character.”

“This is not a one-off event,” Good then said to Brandon Campo. “You have a criminal record that is extremely extensive.”

He then asked who was doing background checks at AU when it came to hiring administrators before launching into a long list of Brandon Campo’s criminal record, which includes multiple convictions for operating a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, including a felony OVI conviction in Las Vegas in 2012, which he he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for. He has also been convicted of theft, obstruction of justice, public intoxication, and identity theft, and arrested for possession of drugs, including crack and black tar heroin, the latter of which Good said he couldn’t find out what happened in the courts with regards to those charges. 

Good then mentioned the arrest warrants, which stem from multiple probation violations in Virginia Beach, which is where Regent University is located. Carlos Campo was president there from August 2010 to October 2013, when he quit in the middle of the academic year’s first semester. Carlos Campo was asked questions about his departure from Regent University during his deposition tied to the lawsuit filed by fired tenured faculty members against the university, but Carlos Campo said he couldn’t say why he left because there was a confidentiality agreement tied to his resignation.

“We are determined to gather all of the facts surrounding this situation and to carefully examine their implications for Ashland University,” Doss said in his email to AU faculty, staff, and students.  

He said the university hired the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg, and that they would get back to the board of trustees within 30 days.

screen shot 2019-01-24 at 11.40.42 am

Deposition of AU President Carlos Campo

Here is the deposition of Ashland University President Carlos Campo. Once again, this is tied to the lawsuit that six former tenured faculty members have filed against the university, claiming that their termination was a breach of contract (which essentially means they’re claiming their firings were done in violation of Faculty Rules and Regulations).

Screen Shot 2018-12-08 at 4.12.59 PM

There are a few things that stood out to me in this deposition.

• The university is arguing that it terminated faculty because of “the formal restructuring of a program or department not mandated by financial exigency.” This is one of the three reasons given in the Faculty Rules and Regulations for terminating tenured faculty.

Campo actually argues, though, that simply terminating a faculty member is indeed restructuring.

In fact, many of the courses that were taught by the tenured faculty who were fired are still being taught, but now they’re being taught by adjuncts. No majors or minors were eliminated. No departments were eliminated. The College of Arts and Sciences did actually start combining departments in late 2015, several months after the faculty were terminated, but it was clear (to me at the time) that this was being done to protect the university in a possible lawsuit, a lawsuit that was ultimately filed a few months later. The college did save a bit of money because of this. Since they combined departments, they didn’t have to have as many chairs the meager stipends that department chairs get.

Still, how does one explain a new department of Philosophy, Math and Computer Science?

• Campo claimed to have never read the 1982 Settlement Agreement that stemmed from faculty members being treated unfairly by what was then Ashland College administrators. In fact, that mediated settlement agreement was in many ways the document that ultimately gave power to the university’s Faculty Rules and Regulations.

You can read that agreement for yourself here: 1982 Settlement Agreement

• Even though Campo claimed to have never read the settlement agreement, he argues that it doesn’t have any power because it was a document tied to Ashland College, not Ashland University. He essentially argued that Ashland College and Ashland University were not the same institution. The name was changed in 1989 to more accurately reflect what the institution had become.

• These terminations were done purely for financial reasons. In the year prior to Campo arriving on campus (academic year 2014-15), the university had somewhere close to $65 million in debt, versus just $41 million in its endowment (info according to AU’s IRS 990 form from that year). The university was also trying to refinance that debt, but since Moody’s had downgraded its credit rating to near junk bond status in 2014, it was finding it hard to find bond holders willing to refinance.

Campo actually testified that after the university’s academic programs completed its prioritization process, that information was turned over to the Board of Trustees who then told Campo to cut 15 percent of the faculty compensation budget. There was nothing from the BOT about academic programs or departments to be eliminated. They simply wanted to cut about $3 million.

• Which leads to another one of Campo’s arguments, and that’s that some of the restructuring that was done was to the university’s budget (remember, the FRR says that it must be an academic program or department that must be restructured, not the university budget). Campo even claimed that with the money saved by cutting tenured faculty, he could spend more on university athletics. Which AU did recently, when they started ESports as a varsity team, hired a coach and created a scholarship for FortNite players.

This should be distressing for anyone in higher education. What Campo is arguing is that he can terminate a faculty member anytime he wants, so long as he’s thought about it for a long time.

If Ashland University prevails in this lawsuit, then tenure there is dead.

Deposition of CAS Dean Dawn Weber

Here is the testimony of College of Arts and Sciences Dean Dawn Weber. Weber arrived at Ashland University in the Fall of 2008, the same year I was hired as an assistant professor of English and Journalism. She was the only dean I had in eight years at AU. Screen Shot 2018-12-07 at 7.34.03 PM

Reading through this deposition makes me think that Weber either has an incredibly horrible memory or she is not being entirely truthful. I mean, she testified that she didn’t know who the president of the university was in May 2014.

I’ll tell you who it was: It was Fred Finks, and the provost was Frank Pettigrew. And early in May 2014, Faculty Senate passed a vote of No Confidence in Finks and Pettigrew after we became aware of a proposal Finks turned in to the Board of Trustees that recommended, among other things, eliminating tenured faculty.

Fifteen months later, 14 tenured faculty were eliminated.