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Ohio State Trustees Move To Fire Business Professor Over Conflicts Of Interest

The Ohio State University campus sign
Angie Wang
Associated Press

The Ohio State University is poised to fire an associate professor from the Fisher College of Business for steering a state Medicaid contract to her private business.

A committee for the Board of Trustees on Thursday approved the firing of Deborah Mitchell, an associate professor in the business school who focuses on marketing and branding. University President Michael Drake explained Mitchell used her position to secure a $1.6 million state Medicaid contract for CypressTree Corporation.

“A company which she founded and of which she currently serves as president,” Drake said. “The Fisher College of Business had previously provided training to the Ohio Department of Medicaid and Mitchell was the academic director of that project.”

The original complaint was made in January 2017 by Paul Velasco, the former director of Fisher Executive Education. By the time hearings were held on the matter, Velasco had left the program.

In a letter to the committee, Mitchell contends her department chair’s investigation found that she had not violated the school’s conflict of interest policy. Mitchell also provided letters from two other faculty members attesting to her innocence.

Mitchell argued in a document accompanying her letter that she unknowingly failed to fill out a form related to outside consulting arrangements. She notes many other faculty members, mostly men, have done the same thing without facing repercussions.

“The number of violations by male Fisher faculty members over the years is estimated to be in the thousands, given the number of faculty and the frequency of their involvement in paid external consulting,” she wrote.

Still, Provost Bruce McPheron insisted to committee members that at each level of review, university panels or officials found evidence to support Mitchell’s dismissal.

“Faculty members have a responsibility to avoid and disclose potential conflicts of interest,” McPheron said. “The evidence shows professor Mitchell did not take the necessary steps in this case and instead entered into a significant contract for her private business.”

The full board takes up the matter at its meeting Friday.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.