Riley Scott

Lessons learned
from #MeToo at OU


High-profile notable alumni scandals are helping change OU’s culture years after initial reports

George Shillcock / For The Post

When historians look back at the #MeToo movement’s aftermath, they will remember its profound impact on society and the countless big names that faced consequences for accusations of sexual harassment and assault.

Sexual misconduct in professional settings perpetrated by high-profile individuals isn’t a new phenomenon that has recently been discovered. There have been instances of this for a long time, whether they have been reported or not.

People usually associate the start of the #MeToo movement with the outpouring of social media reactions and stories to the hashtag, after media mogul Harvey Weinstein was accused by multiple women of inappropriate sexual behavior and abuse. Since then, #MeToo has brought down more than 200 powerful men who were accused of sexual assault and harassment.

For Ohio University, the rise of the sexual harassment allegations of celebrity alumni made a significant impact on its public image. It started with the resignation of a high-profile alumnus: the former chairman and CEO of Fox News, Roger Ailes. Soon, Ailes’ resignation was followed by the firing of former Today co-host Matt Lauer in the midst of the #MeToo era.

Robert Foehl

The fall of Roger Ailes

As far as famous alumni go, Ailes’ position as chairman and CEO of Fox News gave him prominence that no one could ignore before he resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment.

OU recognized that, and Ailes visited his alma mater in 2012 to give a talk on freedom of speech and media bias. He even gave a large donation to the school, which resulted in The Roger E. Ailes Newsroom being dedicated to him in 2007. That was a result of the $500,000 donation he made to the university, according to a previous report from The Post.

He agreed to pay in full within five years, but the donation and a $40,000 endowment were returned to him before his death at age 77 in 2017.

“I remember being really proud, and I remember seeing a video of them ripping down that sign off the wall of the Roger Ailes Newsroom,” Mallory Golski, a senior studying strategic communication, who spent a lot of time her freshman year in the WOUB newsroom, said.

Starting in 2014, Ailes was accused by more than 20 women of sexual harassment. In 2016, he resigned from Fox because of the accusations and became a media consultant to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Katherine Jellison, a history professor, said it made sense to quickly remove his name from the newsroom and return Ailes’ donations in order to save face and prevent any lasting harm to the university’s reputation.

The scars that were left on the wall were eventually painted over, but students and faculty members wouldn’t forget the drama anytime soon. His ouster by one of the country’s top media companies affected much more than a name on a wall.

“Most folks around OU would’ve labeled him a sexist at the least ... so when he was exposed for his sexual harassment, people were not as shocked as they were with the news of Matt Lauer,” Jellison said.

Katherine Jellison

Matt Lauer’s #MeToo reckoning

Katherine Jellison

The world was dumbstruck when news initially broke in November 2017 that Matt Lauer was fired from NBC news after 20 years of being a co-host on Today. The news came a week after CBS fired “CBS This Morning” host Charlie Rose almost a month after the Weinstein news broke.

Known as the “Face of Today,” Lauer was given earned an undergraduate degree from OU in 1997 at the age of 39. Lauer was a previous student of the School of Media Arts and Studies in the Scripps College of Communication but dropped out in 1979 to become a producer for WOWK-TV in Huntington, West Virginia.

“Matt Lauer was the obvious example of someone who one might idolize if they were looking to go into broadcast, especially here at OU,” Golski said.

Golski said she recalls waking up to a push notification on the day the accusations came out and initially thinking it was an April Fool’s joke, despite it being November. It became a “flashbulb memory” for her that she won’t forget anytime soon.

Mallory Golski

Lauer, who publicly denied the allegations, was replaced by Hoda Kotb, who has anchored Today with Savannah Guthrie ever since.

The Scripps College of Communication and OU were quick to denounce Lauer’s actions and tweeted a statement expressing their disappointment in the alumnus. Alex Stuckey, a Pulitzer Prize-winning OU and Post alumna, called on the university in a tweet to deal with Lauer’s connection to OU and address the exclusive Today internship that the Scripps College collaborated with Lauer to create.

E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Director Robert Stewart was inspired by Stuckey’s tweet to create an internship task force with the help of student leaders to advise the journalism school on protecting students before, during and after their internships.

Has OU’s reputation been tarnished or strengthened?

As the impact of the #MeToo movement spread across the country, conversations between the university and students continued to grow at OU. Since then, the university experienced a record number of reported sexual assaults on campus during the Fall Semester, and multiple professors have also been accused of sexual harassment since 2017.

Although OU has been making headlines for those reasons, many view that those situations show that OU is showing its ability to handle them correctly and establish conversations that are productive to changing the climate surrounding sexual harassment and assault.

“Reputation is absolutely everything,” Robert Foehl, a business law and ethics professor, said.

Foehl said he believes the university has done all it can to deal with all the situations, whether it is professors, notable alumni or campus crime.

Robert Foehl

“Nothing can happen in a day or two,” Foehl said. “From my vantage point, OU acted deliberately, acted swiftly and acted precisely.”

The Scripps College of Communication may have been hit the hardest compared to other parts of the university with the allegations against Ailes, Lauer and suspended journalism professor Yusuf Kalyango, leading more people to scrutinize the school.

“In neither case did we notice negative attention toward the college or its programs because the alleged behaviors of both individuals happened decades after leaving Ohio University,” Scott Titsworth, the dean of the Scripps College of Communication, said in an email.

Titsworth said he thinks the college will be recognized for the actions it took in response to the accusations rather than for what Lauer and Ailes did.

“We are at a place right now where a lot of universities have to come to terms and reckon with really famous alumni who are also experiencing these same things,” Student Senate President Maddie Sloat, a senior studying communication studies, said.

When prospective students Google “Ohio University Alumni,” Lauer and Ailes will be two of the top results that show up, but there are many other names that they can look to. While those two may be a deterrent for some, other people will see names like Turner Sports reporter Allie LaForce, former Ohio Gov. George Voinovich, Washington Post reporter and former Post Editor-in-Chief Wesley Lowery and Modern Family actor Ed O’Neill.

Golski said she believes students should look to the student movements that are trying to change the narrative at OU. Golski was a key organizer for the Sept. 27 “It's On Us, Bobcats” rally, which came as a response to the reports of sexual assault on campus during the Fall Semester.

Maddie Sloat

Golski — along with Cody Shanklin and Hannah Burke, who is a member of the Post Publishing Board — led the rally of 500 students who marched from College Green and down Court Street, East State Street and South College Street.

Mallory Golski

Golski believes that those situations are not the fault of what the university teaches in the classroom, but of the “boys club mentality” that has been pervasive in the media industry for a long time.

Looking forward

Jellison believes that this movement will be a moment in U.S. history that people won’t forget anytime soon. She said the downfall of high-profile politicians, journalists and entertainers may be what the country needed in order to change the way women are treated.

Katherine Jellison

“We have this even larger #MeToo movement that says we are tired of being the #MeToo person on the plane, on the street, in the crowd or wherever it may occur,” Jellison said. “Women are gaining a voice, presence and level of power to where they can maybe change the basic way we live life in this country and maybe the way women and girls are treated in this country.”

OU and the Scripps College are also finding new ways to move forward and find better proactive and reactive ways to deal with these things.

Titsworth said the Scripps College is exploring various ways in which the topic of sexual harassment can be implemented at multiple points in the curriculum so students have an understanding of legal, moral and ethical issues surrounding those behaviors.

“We want (our) students to be leaders in confronting all types of workplace discrimination and harassment,” Titsworth said in an email.

Robert Foehl

Sloat and Golski said they both believe that the process of changing the culture has already started at OU, but it needs to continue in order for there to be any permanent change.

Sloat said she wishes these things would have changed hundreds of years ago, but it is great to have the chance to be one of the people experiencing and making the change happen.

Maddie Sloat

“It’s taken this generational shift and culture change that's slow to happen, but is happening finally, to bring it to the forefront of this conversation,” Sloat said.

The accusations and backlash against Ailes and Lauer could have the potential to teach the university and its students a valuable lesson about how to discourage this behavior and handle it correctly if it occurs.

Mallory Golski

“While sexual assault and sexual violence still exists in the world, it's not being applauded and ignored here,” Golski said.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Katherine Jellison’s department. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.

Development by: Megan Knapp / Digital Production Editor

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