May 22, 2007
By George Mauzy
An ongoing case involving Ohio University Professor of Marketing Ashok Gupta reached its conclusion last week, when Provost Kathy Krendl formally accepted the disciplinary recommendations of a university ethics committee.
The College of Business Professional Ethics Committee found Gupta in violation of two of the six charges that 22 of his college's faculty members brought against him in October 2006. The committee presented its findings and recommendations to Gupta on April 25. Krendl approved the recommendations May 15.
"The committee took care and professional responsibility in carrying out its difficult task. The members remained focused on fairness. I greatly appreciate their efforts and am fully supportive of their findings," Krendl said.
For the charge of deliberately withholding grades from students in retaliation for a dispute over his personal compensation, Gupta received the strongest penalty an internal ethics committee can recommend for an ethical violation -- censure. According to the Ohio University Faculty Handbook (pdf), censure is reserved for the most serious violations of professional ethics.
Gupta also was found in violation of a second charge, which accused him of sending anonymous e-mails to faculty, external constituents and the media under the identity of a "CoB Observer." The sanction for this violation was a reprimand, which the handbook states is reserved for "moderately serious" ethical violations.
"We were diligent in carrying out the assignment given to us," committee chair Lenie Holbrook, an associate professor of management systems, said. "We did this by closely following the guidelines set forth by the Faculty Handbook."
The committee wrote in its April 24 report to Krendl that Gupta's actions violated several policies in the handbook's Statement on Professional Ethics section. The section states that faculty should strive to be objective in their professional judgment of colleagues and should at all times be accurate, exercise appropriate restraint and show respect for the opinions of others.
"We believe that the damage inflicted on innocent students in the form of withholding grades and prolonging graduation is a more severe violation because of its consequences for students," the committee's letter read.
The committee did not find him in violation on the other four charges: 1) making defamatory statements to the media about students; 2) making repeated false and defamatory statements to the media about specific faculty and administrators; 3) teaching in and helping develop a competitive Marshall University MBA program in Bangalore, India, and doing so without proper prior notification to the College of Business; and 4) showing complete disregard for the integrity of the university investigative process, deliberately wasting university resources and taxpayer dollars with frivolous accusations.
In her letter to Holbrook, Krendl thanked the committee for its work and Dawn Deeter-Schmelz, chair of the Department of Marketing, for her earlier efforts to resolve the matter.
The committee's report was a response to an Oct. 27, 2006, formal complaint against Gupta by 22 College of Business faculty members because of his "long-term escalating pattern of unethical and unprofessional behavior," the complaint stated. Based on policy, they requested the following disciplinary actions be considered: a formal public apology from Gupta to the media and everyone affected by his allegations; his teaching for Marshall University be declared an unethical conflict of interest; a five-year probationary period that makes him refrain from abuse of students and colleagues, which starts over if there is another incident; and a financial penalty that is commensurate with the severity of his actions.
The history of the case dates back to winter 2002 when Gupta failed to turn in grades for an MBA class for nearly six months. On May 3, 2002, he told The Post that he didn't turn in the grades because he was not told how to do so; however, he admitted in a May 2002 e-mail to a colleague that he withheld the grades because of a dispute over compensation for teaching the course.
Charge 2 stemmed from a fall 2003 incident in which anonymous e-mails went to College of Business faculty and staff, the provost, The Columbus Dispatch, The Post, The Athens News, then-College of Arts and Sciences Dean Leslie Flemming and members of the College of Business Executive Advisory Board.
The e-mails accused College of Business Associate Dean Nanda Rangan of nepotism and illegally changing the grade of a student. The anonymous e-mails eventually were linked to Gupta. In March 2005, an internal investigation by the college's Professional Ethics Committee cleared Rangan of Gupta's accusations.
In September 2006, Gupta accused Corlett of misappropriate use of the O'Bleness Endowment funds in an article in The Post. An internal audit of the College of Business eventually found Gupta's allegations against Corlett to be groundless.
Gupta filled for protection as a whistle-blower under university policy and procedure. However, University Legal Affairs determined that he did not qualify for whistle-blower status.
"We hope that our findings can bring closure to the matter so that all parties can continue their service to students, the college and academe, and move forward as productive citizens of Ohio University," Holbrook said in concluding his letter to Krendl.