Tenured professor sues Provost, Dean, other administrators

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto met with faculty from the College of Communication and Information on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Jacob Eads

Tenured journalism professor Buck Ryan has initiated legal proceedings against some of the University of Kentucky’s top administrative officials, alleging they defamed him and retaliated against him after he refused to resign. 

Ryan’s suit names university administrators Provost David Blackwell, Interim Dean of the College of Communication and Information Derek Lane, Director of the School of Journalism and Media Mike Farrell and chief audit executive Joseph Reed. 

The lawsuit comes after UK administrators initiated termination proceedings against Ryan in May 2018, following the publication of an internal audit that said Ryan profited from the sales of his self-authored textbook that was required for some of his classes.  

The internal audit stated that Ryan had made about $6,000 in royalties from his textbook “Writing Baby, Editing Dog & You: A Friendly Place to Begin Your Writing,” since he began using the book, which has been required for Ryan’s JOU 101 since at least 2009.

When tasked with investigating the charges against Ryan, the University Senate Advisory Committee on Privilege and Tenure unanimously recommended to President Eli Capilouto and the Board of Trustees that Ryan keep his status as tenured professor.

Ryan’s lawsuit alleges the audit, which was overseen by Reed, included “misrepresentations and false statements” that cast him in a false light.

After the publication of the internal audit, Provost David Blackwell told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he believed Ryan “stole from students. And he used university resources to do it.”

Ryan claims Blackwell’s words are false and alleges in his lawsuit that the statement resulted in “staggering damage to his personal and professional reputations.”

UK Spokesman Jay Blanton defended Blackwell’s remarks.

“Our response to this baseless lawsuit is straightforward and simple – the truth. A team of professional auditors conducted a months-long examination of Professor Ryan’s conduct, in response to allegations of misconduct. The audit concluded that he had violated university policies by requiring students to purchase his textbook without prior permission from his department director. Further, he kept the profits from the student purchases of his book, again violating university policy. The provost’s statement to the Herald-Leader was accurate and truthful. As the audit report made clear, Professor Ryan stole from students,” said a statement from Blanton. 

The lawsuit also alleges that after the publication of the internal audit, university administrators repeatedly pressured Ryan to resign, and when he refused, he suffered retaliatory attacks from members of the administration. 

In November 2018, the Kernel reported that College of Communication and Information administrators had stripped Ryan of his teaching and advising duties for the spring 2019 semester. 

Ryan’s lawsuit alleges Lane and Farrell have since continued attempts to coerce him into resigning, and have “retaliated against him by fabricating false and defamatory claims and removing his teaching responsibilities and discharging him constructively as a faculty member.”

Blanton stated that Ryan was stripped of his teaching duties for a “variety of concerns.” 

“…Unrelated to the allegations of misconduct, the Interim Dean removed Professor Ryan from teaching last semester due to a variety of concerns, but all relating to the best interests of our students. There is, moreover, no policy or regulation that guarantees a professor gets to teach what he or she wants to teach when they want to teach it. We look forward to making all of these points in court,” Blanton said.

As of now, Ryan remains a tenured professor at the university, but alleges in his lawsuit that no one from the university has notified him that the efforts to terminate his employment have ceased. 

Ryan is not assigned to teach any courses in the coming semester, according to the fall 2019 semester course catalog.

Ryan’s attorney Robert Abell said he will not comment on the lawsuit at this time. 

The Kernel has reached out individually to Blackwell, Lane, Farrell and Reed for comment on the lawsuit. Blanton spoke on their behalf.

The lawsuit states that Ryan is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from each of the defendants.

You can read the entire lawsuit here: