Report: How Jason Osborne’s tenure as Miami’ University’s provost came to an end

Editor’s note: The following article is by journalists at The Miami Student in Oxford and was shared with Cox First Media newspapers.

On March 17, almost a thousand Miami University faculty members were invited to take an anonymous survey to assess then-Provost Jason Osborne’s three-year tenure.

Over the course of two weeks, more than 37% of eligible faculty members left comments on the survey. The 352 respondents left more than 1,400 comments.

The All-University Faculty Committee for the Evaluation of Administrators reviewed the results and was tasked with writing Osborne’s three-year evaluation report. After presenting its findings with the university’s president, the committee would then share the report with the rest of the Miami community.

But the report was never published.

Instead, Osborne resigned just four days before it would have been finalized.

After months of investigation, The Miami Student obtained the survey results and a rough draft of the committee’s report through multiple public records requests.

In the time since, Osborne has accepted a position as special assistant to the president, even as the university spent $24,000 on an external investigation into his conduct.

In an email to The Student, Jessica Rivinius, interim vice president for communications, wrote that Osborne would be unable to answer questions related to the story.

“Jason Osborne is unavailable to respond at this time,” Rivinius wrote. “He is on intermittent FMLA leave, caring for a terminally ill family member.”

What is a provost and why is it important?

The provost works as the chief academic officer for the university.

According to the position description in Osborne’s personnel file, the provost has “ultimate responsibility for all academic programs, operations, and initiatives.” The provost is also expected to manage a “significant part” of the budget for academic operations.

Who is Jason Osborne?

Osborne was hired by Miami to serve as provost starting the fall of 2019. Before Miami, Osborne was dean of Graduate Studies at Clemson University and a department chair at the University of Louisville.

During his tenure at Miami, Osborne helped oversee the implementation of a new strategic plan, the creation of the Honors College and the transformation of the Global Miami Plan to the Miami Global Plan.

Within Osborne’s first year as provost, Miami also shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving him to lead the university in unprecedented times.

In an email to The Student, President Greg Crawford praised Osborne for his work as provost.

“During his tenure as provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, Dr. Osborne helped to lead the university through an unprecedented and uncertain time in higher education due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Crawford wrote.

What’s a third-year evaluation?

The faculty committee which evaluates administrators reviews the provost, all academic deans, the associate provost for research and dean of the graduate school, the dean and university librarian and the university director of Liberal Education in their third and fifth years at Miami.

The review is intended to help with the professional development of these administrators and help base future decisions for these positions. All responses made on the survey are anonymous.

Third-year reviews for administrators ask a set of standard questions, and the administrators being evaluated are also allowed to add questions of their own.

When Osborne’s raw survey results came in, the comments painted a less than rosy picture.

The survey included 37 questions ranked on a scale from one to five, following the Likert scale. A score of one meant the survey respondent strongly disagreed, while a five meant the respondent strongly agreed.

Across the quantitative questions, Osborne’s highest average was 2.83 in supporting appropriate technology resources — less than a neutral response of 3.

He earned his lowest score, 1.51, in valuing and achieving high faculty morale.

Osborne’s review also motivated significantly more faculty members to respond to the survey compared to the previous provost, Phyllis Callahan. In 2016, Callahan received about half as many responses as Osborne did with a response rate of only 21%. Callahan received an average score between 3 and 4 on all but one section where she scored a 2.96 for valuing and achieving high faculty morale. Callahan retired after serving four years as the provost.

The survey by the comments

In addition to the quantitative questions, participants were invited to answer short response questions. Even though fewer than 400 of the 939 people filled out the survey, they left a combined total of more than 1,400 comments.

“The sheer volume was overwhelming, to say the least,” said, Andrew Paluch, an associate professor in chemical engineering serving on the evaluation committee.

While the majority of comments were negative, going so far as calling Osborne a “useless lump” and other derogatory names, some positive comments shone through. One anonymous respondent referred to Osborne’s leadership as “one of courage, diligence, vision.”

“The amount of people that take the time to actually fill out the short answer questions is usually pretty small,” Paluch said. “[With] the provost, it seemed like everybody took the time to fill them out.”

Beyond a question specifically asking for positive aspects of Osborne’s tenure, in which more than a third of respondents wrote that they had nothing good to say, few comments were supportive. Many positive comments related to his decision-making and communication around health and safety during the pandemic.

Many comments criticized problems with shared governance, diversity and inclusion and hiring decisions.

Osborne and FAM

Miami faculty members announced their intentions to unionize as the Faculty Alliance of Miami (FAM) on Feb. 2. Based on several survey responses, Osborne’s tenure as provost was a major motivating factor for many to join the cause.

“I am iffy on the question of the union,” one respondent wrote, “but what I have witnessed by this provost has pushed me to join FAM.”

Even those against the union recognized Osborne’s central role in its formation.

“Your current management style, disregard of shared governance, centralization of power/finance, non-transparency, extremely poor decision making, disregard of opinions coming from departments/divisions etc., are the primary reasons the union was set into motion,” one faculty member wrote. “Therefore, in order to preserve the current structure and potentially prevent a union from forming, for the well being of the university I urge you to step down from the role of provost.”

Two days after Osborne’s resignation, the FAM announced it was moving from looking for signatures in support of the union to authorization cards that would allow it to file for a vote once it received support from 30% of the faculty.

Criticisms of diversity and inclusion

When Osborne first arrived at Miami, he hoped to improve diversity and inclusion on campus, even partially taking on fulfilling the Climate Survey Task Force recommendations, which had a focus on improving the university’s diversity and inclusion.

In an email to The Student, Rivinius said Osborne also helped with another task force regarding diversity and inclusion.

“In 2020, Miami University President Gregory Crawford appointed the President’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force to make recommendations aimed at building a more inclusive, diverse, safe, and welcoming climate,” Rivinius wrote. “Jason Osborne has been a part of these efforts. Inclusive excellence is part of every single one of the university’s goals.”

Rivinius said since the task force was started, it has achieved 91.9% of the 44 recommendations it presented in 2020.

Some comments applauded Osborne’s work with diversity and inclusion, especially with the Heanon Wilkins Faculty Fellow Program, which recruits 10 culturally diverse scholars to train for a career in higher education each year.

“The DEI and global affairs components of his position are some of the strongest parts of Provost Osborne’s portfolio,” a respondent wrote. “He has added diversity to his senior staff, supported and stabilized our international presence, and he has worked with departments to firm up the Wilkins fellows.”

However, other survey comments did not agree that Osborne was helpful to improving the university’s diversity and inclusion.

“The Provost allows some people to speak and values their opinion more than others,” one respondent wrote. “Even though he is a strong advocate for DEI, his personal approach to who he listens to and allows to speak says otherwise.”

Some comments called out the entire university for a lack of focus on diversity and inclusion during Osborne’s tenure.

“As a female person of color, I have felt even more excluded than at any point in my university career,” one respondent wrote. “At least in the past there was token representation.”

Problems in the Provost’s Office

Some respondents pointed out aggressive behavior they witnessed from Osborne.

“[H]e is a bully,” one respondent wrote. “I have personally watched him bully (or try to bully) women, people of color, and men whom he sees as weak.”

The rest of the comment was redacted.

The same anonymous member of the committee said some of the comments mentioned such concerning topics that General Counsel was consulted. Rivinius confirmed that Paluch went to General Counsel, who then coordinated with the Office of Equity and Equal Opportunity (OEEO) to investigate the claims made against Osborne.

“One of the allegations was serious enough that the chair of our committee scheduled an emergency meeting with the General Counsel to basically ask, ‘What the fuck do we do?’ pardon my French,” the committee member said.

On May 2, a Miami employee also filed a complaint against Osborne with OEEO, a department promoting fairness and justice that ultimately reports to the president’s office. The complainant argued that she was paid unequally based on sex, sexual orientation and disability.

Miami had already hired an outside law firm, Keating Muething & Klekamp (KMK), to investigate the similar claims made in Osborne’s survey results. The investigation cost the university $24,000.

“Some of the responses also included potential reports of harassment, discrimination, hostile work environment based on various protected classes, including sex, sexual orientation, race, and generalized concerns of retaliation,” KMK’s investigation report read. “OEEO also noted that it had received several complaints from other Miami employees regarding alleged discrimination by [Osborne] on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, as well as claims of retaliation.”

However, after interviewing people deemed to have potentially relevant information, KMK wrote in its report that it “was unable to substantiate these allegations.”

Rivinius wrote in an email to The Student that only one formal complaint was made against Osborne. The other complaints were informal, meaning OEEO could not further investigate them.

“The only formal complaint made against Jason Osborne, which was made May 2, 2022 (a few weeks after [he] announced his decision to step down as provost), was thoroughly investigated and deemed unsubstantiated by KMK,” Rivinius wrote.

Osborne’s resignation

On Friday, April 8, Crawford signed a letter approving Osborne’s resignation. That morning, Pickerill emailed Paluch, saying that the committee could have until April 18 to finish the report if they couldn’t make the April 15 deadline.

Osborne announced his resignation in an email to all faculty April 11.

Multiple comments in the survey results had directly called on Osborne to resign. One respondent put it succinctly in a question asking for specific suggestions: “Stop rewarding bad behavior. Give people regular leave. Resign.”

Rivinius shared in an email to The Student that Osborne’s resignation was based on personal matters.

“As Jason Osborne shared in an email to the Miami community on April 11, 2022, his decision to step down as provost was a personal decision, made with his family,” Rivinius wrote. “He later shared that this decision was influenced by his desire and need to focus on his family as they have been battling serious health issues.”

Osborne’s new job

On April 8, three days before announcing his resignation, Osborne received a letter from Crawford accepting his resignation.

In the letter, Crawford also offered Osborne the role of Special Assistant to the President for July 1, 2022, to Dec. 31, 2022. Osborne would keep his salary until that date, which at the time was $390,000 a year.

“In this role as Special Assistant to the President, you will undertake all such duties as may be assigned by the President of Miami University to the benefit of the university,” the letter read. “You shall devote your full time, attention, skill, and efforts to the faithful performance of your duties, and will continue to receive the benefits customary with an administrative appointment of this type.”

In an email to The Student, Crawford said Osborne would be working on some of the programs he started as provost.

Due to print space limitations, portions of this article were cut. Visit the full story and see graphics at miamistudent.net/article/2022/10/resign-osborne-third-year-evaluation.

The Miami Student writers Abby Bammerlin, Cosette Gunter-Stratton and Alice Momany contributed to this report.

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