Embattled UK journalism professor won’t teach next spring. New concerns surface.

‘I am no thief,’ says embattled UK professor

Termination proceedings begin for UK professor Buck Ryan, accused of profiting off students.
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Termination proceedings begin for UK professor Buck Ryan, accused of profiting off students.

An embattled University of Kentucky journalism professor will not be teaching or advising students next semester, he and UK officials confirmed Monday.

Professor Buck Ryan has been under fire from UK administrators in recent years, including questions about his behavior on a 2015 trip to China and a recommendation for dismissal in May after an internal audit found that he violated policy by requiring students to buy his textbook.

Derek Lane, the acting dean of the College of Communications and Information, told Ryan in a Nov. 21 letter that he would no longer teach Journalism 101 because of numerous student complains about his teaching performance and a “significant” drop in enrollment for that important gateway class next semester.

“I believe this dramatic drop largely is a reflection of student dissatisfaction with your teaching performance this semester,” Lane wrote in the letter. “Given the importance of Journalism 101 to the continued viability of the School of Journalism, I cannot risk further alienation of potential majors.”

Ryan will remain a tenured professor and receive his annual salary of $116,741.25. Lane said Ryan’s duties next semester will consist solely of research and service. The two will discuss those duties in a meeting on Tuesday.

The letter, obtained under the state Open Records Act, did not address allegations against Ryan included in a Kentucky Kernel story published Friday that said a student had made a Title IX complaint against him for texting and calling her outside of class time. The student, who the newspaper did not name, also told the Kernel Ryan offered her tickets to a UK football game.

“The administration has sunk to a new low in its latest efforts to weaponize the Title IX office to smear me with false claims, just like it did in my China case,” Ryan said in a written statement to the Herald-Leader. “When the truth is told about my dealings with the Journalism 101 student in question, the story will spread fear among any professor on this campus who goes out of his way to help a student wanting to succeed.”

Ryan did not comment on Lane’s letter specifically.

In 2016, Ryan was sanctioned by the Office of Institutional Equity, which oversees Title IX complaints, for his behavior on a 2015 trip to China with other UK professors, saying “more than a preponderance of the evidence reveals that Mr. Ryan acted inappropriately in violation of the discrimination and harassment policy prohibiting inappropriate touching and language of a sexual nature.”

In May, UK officials recommended dismissal proceedings against Ryan after an internal audit found that he had violated university policy by requiring his students to buy his textbook, “Writing Baby, Editing Dog and You: A Friendly Place to Begin Your Writing,” and keeping the royalties. A faculty senate committee later found there was not enough evidence of wrongdoing to justify firing him.

Ryan has typically taught Journalism 101, an introductory course for journalism majors. In his statement, Ryan said he acted professionally at all times.

“The student volunteered her phone number to me, she welcomed my help with her career plans, and thanked me repeatedly for everything I tried to do for her,” he said. “I received two football tickets I could not use and offered them to faculty colleagues, friends and several students, male and female, as a courtesy. To think of that gesture in a negative light shows you how warped the university’s Title IX office is.”

Ryan has in the past said UK is targeting him for supporting the Kentucky Kernel after UK sued the student newspaper over an open records dispute.

In his statement, Ryan also criticized the student for allegedly leaking her complaint to the Kernel.

“How can a student say she filed a complaint confidentially, then leak it to the student newspaper?” he asked. “That’s a violation of the student code of conduct. This reeks of a smear campaign. As someone who supports the #MeToo Movement, I’ll tell you its greatest threat is false, underhanded allegations like this.”

Although the faculty senate committee disagreed with the administration’s proposal to fire Ryan, the final decision is in the hands of President Eli Capilouto.

On Nov. 2, Capilouto sent a letter to Ryan asking him to meet with internal auditors to answer more questions about his book and its royalties. UK officials confirmed the meeting took place, but did not release any details.