The example of one of the largest U.S. universities

Part Two

All the issues remain on the table despite more than two decades of ignoring, stalling, denying, and lying. Where is university compliance and integrity? Nowhere to be found on the ground, across campus, and the adjacent University District where most students live, or in the lives and well-being of present and former students.

On campus, faculty sexual abuse of students goes almost universally unpunished. In rare cases, OSU waits until the offender retires, and then strips them of their honorary “emeritus” title. For decades, OSU ignores or buries almost all reports of scientific misconduct especially in the Medical Center. There is a documented history of efforts to fire whistleblowers. Those with resources to fight back often win. Younger researchers without tenure, especially women, have their academic careers end. (See m “The enterprise of scientific misconduct: Malpractice at Ohio State University”)

The Office of Student Life on and off campus ignores city, state, and federal laws with impunity. Dormitories do not meet zoning codes. Rapes and sexual abuse are not reported. Yet for university financial gain, students are now required to reside on campus for two years rather than one.

There is one major exception: second year students may move to fraternities and sororities where there is even less regulation and protection. The public university directly subsidizes the private off-campus social and residential houses. Many are owned by absentee private landlords who dominate the student rental market in general, and who contribute handsomely to the university. OSU prioritizes private landlords who lie, cheat, and steal from their student tenants—and are frequently sued—over their own students’ rights and well-being. Both court and under-resourced Student Legal Services records confirm this.

This is one of many university subsidies for which OSU is paid handsomely. The large landlord against whom the most complaints and lawsuits are filed—NorthSteppe Realty—donated at least $5 million and was long permitted to claim on the university’s own website that it is OSU Student Housing when it is a private independent owner and renter. NorthSteppe and other absentee landlords have stated publicly, including in courts of law, that “the law does not apply to them.” Compliance and Integrity and Student Life fall into line.

Private property owners OSUlive, OSUapartments, OSUproperties, and OSU Properties, among others, use “OSU”—implying legitimation or relationship with Ohio State University--without permission or endorsement. There is  no word of clarification from the university and no caution to students on the Off-Campus Student Life website, 

Nor are there  any notes of caution or warning on the very limited, untrustworthy “ratings” and “rankings” of landlords also on the site. Some, if not all of these large, absentee property owners reward the university very well for its implied endorsement and silence.

For at least two decades, Student Life has promised both University District homeowners and students that it would state that the University District remains a historic residentially zoned district of the City of Columbus, and that all laws apply. Student Life provides less information today than it did 15 years ago. Many students are surprised to learn that “off-campus” is not campus, and that City laws apply—as they should but are not enforced on campus. Their conduct reflects OSU’s noncompliance and lack of integrity.

Similarly, despite at least as many requests and empty promises, OSU does not provide directly relevant information on either the basic laws that students must respect and at least a summary of students’ own rights, including tenants’ rights.

Student Life, especially Off-Campus Student Life and Fraternity and Sorority Buckeye Life, along with Compliance and Integrity and Legal Affairs, are well aware of the amount of illegal activity in fraternities, sororities, their extensions into private rental houses typically to escape minimal regulations, and student tenants more generally. Although a minority of all off-campus students, neither Fraternity and Sorority Buckeye Life nor Student Conduct have any interest in requiring compliance among frequent major law violators. Too much in capital returns from private landlords and fraternity and  sorority alumni is at stake.

Compliance and Integrity are also forgotten when OSU joins with the City of Columbus Zoning Enforcement and Inspection and Public Service and absentee private landlords in secret illegal agreements not to conduct required inspections or enforce zoning codes. They are actively threatening the safety and well-being of all University District residents and especially their own fee-paying student lives (as opposed to Student Life).

In mid-August 2023, 10 student tenants were evacuated by the Columbus Fire Department  from a major electrical fire in an uninspected NorthSteppe house three blocks from campus. The smoke detectors did not operate. OSU did not send out any safety alarms. NorthSteppe began repairs the next morning before required fire department inspection. $5 million buys a lot of Student Life and  student lives.

All student-related OSU offices play loose and fast with the legal obligations of the Clery Act and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). They repeatedly refer to them when they do not apply to specific cases such as out-of-class illegal conduct especially  by fraternities and sororities. Aside from issues of compliance and integrity, there are matters of basic literacy.

This was underscored to me recently. After repeated illegal actions by the eight members of Chi Omega sorority who rent a HomeTeam Realty house beside mine—and their chapters members, and one fraternity member who lives in the next house--all seniors, I filed multiple complaints with Fraternity and Sorority Buckeye Life and Student Conduct offices. Other than an unnecessarily rude acknowledgement to only my first report, they refuse to answer any questions or provide any reports. They will not even describe their processes (if any).

Through a Campus Safety detective—my “single point of contact” with Student Life—I am told that their silence results from FERPA privacy regulations. It does not matter in the fantasy land of Compliance and Integrity that these non-academic violations of the law and codes of conduct are  not covered by FERPA. I checked and re-checked. Facts, actual laws, and respect for University District homeowners are irrelevant to OSU.

Nevertheless, I am not to ask Student Life staff to meet their responsibilities, ask for progress reports, or request that they comply, conduct themselves with integrity, or obey the laws.

Stunningly, the Vice President of  Compliance and Integrity, who claims a Yale University School of Law degree, refuses to respond to my telephone and email requests for his help. At the same time, Vice President Gates Garrity-Rokous and his Office of Compliance and Integrity state:

“What is compliance?
Compliance means abiding by applicable laws, regulations, and policies.   

“What is integrity?
Integrity means doing the right thing at all times and in all circumstances. It means upholding the values of the university; behaving in an ethical manner; performing all duties with professionalism, accountability, competence, and honesty; focusing on solutions rather than fault and blame; and acting with initiative. When members of the university community operate with integrity, it generates trust, enhances communication, improves the university’s culture, and supports the university's mission.”

“The Office of Compliance and Integrity coordinates these activities, working with leaders throughout the university to identify and fulfill legal and policy responsibilities. Integrity results when leaders identify and resolve issues, and when all members of the university act ethically. Ultimately therefore, successful compliance and integrity depend on the individual commitment of every university community member. “ 

What are the benefits of a university compliance office?
A university compliance and integrity office:

  • Fosters a university culture that does not tolerate illegal or unethical behavior and prompts faculty and staff to consider the potentially adverse consequences of unethical conduct;
  • Solves problems by improving collaboration, and communication;
  • Reduces the risks of non-compliance, while increasing the likelihood of early detection and correction;
  • Provides a source of best practices and assistance for the entire university community.”

How can they do any of this if they themselves refuse compliance and integrity? Clearly, that is the wrong question to pose.

Of course, the Office of Compliance and Integrity hosts faculty and staff, but not students or neighbors, for “Shared Values Summits.” With nothing defined or applied, they collectively sloganeer about “Excellence and Impact; Diversity and Innovation; Inclusion and Equity; Care and Compassion; Integrity and Respect.” There are no connective threads, no relationships, no connections among the elements in these seemingly random pairings.

It is far more than ironic but disingenuous and contradictory that Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers asserts, “I urge everyone to remember that our Shared Values [capitalized] are not just words on a screen. Nor are they just something else to add to our to-do list. They are both actions and commitments we made to each other, to our students and to the community that we serve.”

Shivers and the “Summit’s” sole example is one service project. This is neither compliance nor integrity.

When asked for a copy of her extremely large and disconnected office’s annual report in Spring 2023, Shivers never responded. Instead, she had the Office of Legal Affairs inform me, “there are no responsive documents.” When I asked for an English translation, I received no answer.

“Not just words….” With what and whom is OSU in compliance? Where, specifically, is evidence of integrity? Not on or off campus. Not at this university.

Relevant Essays by Harvey J. Graff

On university slogans

“The Banality of University Slogans: Whether its ad campaigns for football season, gauzy reports from the provost, or rhetoric from the school’s president, higher education abounds with empty rhetoric,” Washington Monthly, Jan. 10, 2022

“Slogans are no substitute for concrete university policies and programmes,” Times Higher Education, Jan. 17, 2022

“Sloganeering and the Limits of Leadership,” Academe Blog, Jan. 19, 2022

“The OSU Way: Slogans over Truth and Honesty in Graduation Rates and Student Well-Being,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Oct. 27, 2022)

Background and relevant information on Ohio State University

“OSU Falters Once Again, a continuing tragedy,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Feb. 28, 2022

“The United States’ most disorganized university? Ohio State’s ‘5½ D’s’: Disorganization, dysfunction, disengagement, depression, dishonest, and undisciplined, Part One,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Aug. 28, 2022

“The United States’ most disorganized university? Ohio State’s ‘5½ D’s’: Disorganization, dysfunction, disengagement, depression, dishonest, and undisciplined, Part Two,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Aug. 31, 2022

“The OSU Way: Slogans over Truth and Honesty in Graduation Rates and Student Well-Being,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Oct. 27, 2022

“How universities fail their students: The president may be ‘born to be a Buckeye,’ but the students are not. A call to eliminate Offices of Student Life and invest directly in students’ lives,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 10, 2022

“University bragging rights: OSU whimpers but doesn’t bite or swallow,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 27, 2022

The Ohio State University: Not ‘a failed presidency,’ by itself, but a failing university, Part

            One,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Jan. 7, 2023

The Ohio State University: Not ‘a failed presidency,’ by itself, but a failing university, Part Two,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Jan.  11, 2023

“Kristina Johnson breaks her two-and-a-half months of silence and begins an anti-factual,

     myth-making campaign for rehabilitation,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Feb.

     22, 2023

“After more than 150 years, The Ohio State University administration abandons campus

and the landmark Oval, and secretly goes into hiding off-campus,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, June 21, 2023

“The 150-year-old, 90,000 student-staff-and faculty university that won’t grow up: The

Ohio State University Buckeyes led by Brutus Buckeye, Part One,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Aug. 23, 2023

The Ohio State University Fumbles Again: The Board of Trustees who have no

            understanding of higher education selects the most unqualified campus president in

            modern American university history,” Columbus Free Press. Aug. 26, 2023

“The 150-year-old, 90,000 student-staff-and faculty university that won’t grow up: The

Ohio State University Buckeyes led by Brutus Buckeye, Part Two,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Aug. 30, 2023

“Out of control fraternities and sororities control the 21st century university on and off

campus, Part One,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Oct. 10, 2023

“Universities must embrace, not hinder, student journalism: Nurturing investigative skills will

make for a better democracy—even if it embarrasses campus administrators in the

process,” Times Higher Education, October, 16,  2023

Crime and safety

“OSU isn’t having a crime crisis; it’s having a leadership crisis,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov 2, 2021

“‘Update’ to Ohio State isn’t having a crime crisis,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Nov. 13, 2021

“The Ohio State University promotes public health crises,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Dec. 6, 2021

“Ohio State versus ‘campus safety,’” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Mar. 13, 2022

Dr. Richard Strauss

The Ohio Student University vs. The Students, The Law, and The Truth. The Victims of

     Dr. Richard Strass and of OSU,” Busting Myths, Columbus Free Press, Mar. 14, 2023

Scientific misconduct

The enterprise of scientific misconduct: Malpractice at Ohio State University,” Busting Myths,

Columbus Free Press, Oct. 26, 2022


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History, inaugural Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies, and Academy Professor at The Ohio State University . Author of many books, he writes about a variety of contemporary and historical topics for Times Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, Academe Blog, Washington Monthly, Publishers Weekly, Against the Current, Columbus Free Press, and newspapers. Searching for Literacy: The Social and Intellectual Origins of Literacy Studies was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2022. My Life with Literacy: The Continuing Education of a Historian. The Intersections of the Personal, the Political, the Academic, and Place is forthcoming. “Reconstructing the ‘uni-versity’ from the ashes of the ‘multi- and mega-versity’” is in progress.