KSU named among top 25 HBCUs in nation

Two former administrators spoke of their time in Brown’s KSU administration with the State Journal, both calling it the most stressful and toxic time of their lives. (Hannah Brown | The State Journal) 

Kentucky State University is facing several lawsuits that allege misconduct by administrators, including President M. Christopher Brown II, per a report by the Herald-Leader published on Friday.

The lawsuits range from the firing of a whistleblower who complained of alleged sexual harassment of students by former university officials to a now-settled complaint alleging that Brown “improperly interfered” in the bidding process for a student dining contract.

Of note, another lawsuit alleged that Brown used crude or offensive language to refer to women’s appearance, including “ratchet, ugly and dirty,” as well as “kitchen bitch.” The school denied this claim in its court response, per the Herald-Leader.

In a statement sent out to the campus community following the article’s publication, Brown said that he was “struck by how far our campus community has come” during his tenure. 

“Earlier today I read an article examining the experiences of several former Kentucky State University students and employees,” Brown wrote. “I was immediately struck by how far our campus community has come over the last four years and equally weighted by the need to redouble our efforts toward creating a healthy, strong, and sustainable campus community. Every student, professor, staff member, and visitor to our campus deserves the right to learn, work, and live in an environment free of intimidation, offense, or fear.”

Brown also said that a campus climate and culture assessment survey was forthcoming, and that prior to the article’s publication the university had engaged a company to assist in “developing best-practices for creating a climate of compliance and support for individuals who unfortunately experience harassment, hostility and/or retaliation."

In an interview with the Herald Leader, Brown said that he would not talk about any specific allegations made in lawsuits “past, present or future.”

The lawsuits

One lawsuit, per the Herald-Leader, involved former assistant director of Student Support Services at KSU Xavier Dillard. 

Dillard, a KSU alum and former longtime employee, claims in the suit that he was fired for advocating on behalf of two students who had made sexual harassment complaints. KSU said it fired him for violating a federal law by including the students’ names in a mass email sent to KSU admin, then-Gov. Matt Bevin, as well as state and national media outlets. 

Dillard told the Herald-Leader that KSU was a “toxic environment” and that students “don’t feel like they have any help.” He also noted that he had written authorization from the students to share their stories.

One of the students Dillard consulted was Miyache Ashworth, who already complained of sexual harassment from her softball coaches publicly on social media in 2017. She also said at the time that the university was not adequately responding to her complaint.

The State Journal wrote about Ashworth’s complaint, which involved two former coaches — a father-son duo — allegedly commenting on players’ sexuality and inappropriately touching Ashworth. Those coaches were since terminated for unrelated reasons, but later filed wrongful termination lawsuits, which were dismissed in federal court.

Last month, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd ruled against KSU’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. He said there was a real question of whether the university fired Dillard for bringing the allegations to light.

“Was the university — in terminating Mr. Dillard — were they really trying to protect the privacy of students?” Shepherd asked. “Or were they trying to protect some administrators who engaged in what is alleged to be some really shocking, shocking and horrible course of conduct of preying on students for sexual favors in an absolutely horrible fashion? And frankly, I think it’s going to be up to the jury to decide.”

The other student, whose name has not been released, filed a lawsuit himself against KSU in U.S. District Court of Eastern Kentucky. He also named Brown, former school Title IX Coordinator Brandon Williams and former director of admissions Justin Mathis in the lawsuit. The State Journal has previously reported on this lawsuit, which now has a jury date set for next January.

Mathis is identified as allegedly insisting that he and Doe sleep in the same room during a school trip to Washington, D.C., and later making sexual comments that led the student to complain to the university. The perpetrator moved on to work in admissions in Georgia, resigned from KSU shortly after Doe’s mother called Brown directly — five months after Doe started complaining to the university in 2017 per the lawsuit.

“The night of Sept. 29, 2017, and into the morning of Sept. 30, 2017, Defendant Mathis made multiple comments to the Plaintiff that were sexual in nature and refused to book the additional room for the Plaintiff until one of the Plaintiff’s friends sent Mathis a message telling him to get another room or they would have to report him,” the complaint reads.

Another lawsuit identified in the Herald-Leader story includes a whistleblower suit in which KSU settled for $150,000. Holly J. Clark claims she was fired for pointing out that Brown “improperly interfered” with the bidding process for a dining services contract in favor of Sodexo, the school’s current dining service provider. Brown denied this claim, per the Herald-Leader.

Brown, who was hired in 2017 in a 7-3 vote by KSU’s Board of Regents, resigned from Alcorn State University in 2014 as state investigators were looking into the school’s purchasing practices. 

An Associated Press story from the time details Alcorn State’s spending $89,000 on the president’s house without following state bid law, as well as other expenses auditors were researching. After Alcorn State, Brown held positions at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities and Southern University.

Two other lawsuits involve alleged wrongful termination — KSU denies the circumstances described in both.

Geraldine Young, a former associate professor of nursing, claims that she was fired for expressing ethical concerns to her bosses about the school allegedly misusing federal funds and admitting unqualified students “to increase the numbers,” according to the Herald-Leader.

Damien Hodge, former executive director of KSU’s Office of Building, Recruitment, Enrollment and Discovery Services, also claims he was wrongfully fired, and alleges “a pattern of hostility in the working environment” at KSU. 

He claims that Brown used crude language to refer to women, including “ratchet, ugly and dirty,” as well as “kitchen bitch.” KSU denied Hodge’s claims in court documents, per the Herald-Leader, and submitted its own complaints about Hodge’s behavior in response.

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