Addressing Faculty, Cleveland State University Leadership Admits It Ignored Process in Hiring Douglas Dykes, Defends Decision

Harlan Sands, CSU
Addressing faculty senate members in a virtual meeting this week, Cleveland State University leadership admitted its hiring of Douglas Dykes to a senior VP HR position fell outside of its normal process but defended the decision, saying Dykes was the ideal candidate.

The remarks came after a series of stories by which revealed that CSU hired Dykes, who at the time was still on probation after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge related to the ongoing public corruption investigation into Cuyahoga County, despite other candidates being rated as most-qualified and despite the fact he applied just about a year after the university's application window had closed. CSU's former chief of HR had taken Dykes' former job at the county, adding to the speculation of something untoward at work.

In this week's meeting, Jeanell Hughes, the university's Vice President of Administration and Chief of Staff, laid out the timeline of the hire.

It started in Oct. 2018, she said, and the search set out because "there was an opportunity to add some additional skill-sets, to transition HR from a reactive and transactional department to a more strategic and consultative organization."

Candidates were slow to apply, and so Hughes sought out opinions from colleagues, seeking candidates both in and out of state. She built her own shortlist, which included Dykes and two others, none of whom had applied. The position closed in Feb. of last year and Hughes was dissatisfied with the pool.

CSU needed "someone who had worked at a senior level and had experience with higher education, or the public sector," someone who had experience with the Ohio Retirement Plan and telemanagement.

Dykes had those, she said. She reached out to him and the two others, but again none of them applied.

Then Covid hit and the decision was made not to hire for the position in the midst of the early pandemic. Once, in later summer, CSU decided to go forward, Dykes was again encouraged to submit his application.

"I should have taken the time to repost it and reopen it," Hughes told the faculty senate. "Instead, I sought to get my shortlist interested, and that's how it happened. There was no conversation with anyone at the county. I don't know anyone at the county. But what I do know is that I am pained by the damage of my decision, in my haste to get the right person, into helping HR get to the right place. I made a decision that's had detrimental effects on the reputation of what you all do. That said, Douglas is the right person, the right partner to achieve our HR vision."

Cleveland State University president Harlan Sands, who previously addressed the news coverage in a university-wide email and blamed hard application deadlines for the school's inability to attract talent, again defended the decision, though with less regret than Hughes expressed.

"We believe we hired the person with the right skills," Sands said. "We never said he was the only qualified candidate, just the right one. There was no quid pro quo with the county. That kind of conjecture is very troubling to us at Cleveland State."

Attentive readers will remember this isn't the first time CSU has dealt with irregular processes for hiring top-level positions. As Scene reported in 2018, the search firm employed by CSU to find a replacement for then-president Ronald Berkman likely violated its contract terms. The person hired at the end of that process? Harlan Sands.
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