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History of complaints trailed former CIO before being hired by University of Minnesota

Scott Studham
Scott Studham

Complaints of nepotism and creating a hostile work environment dogged former University of Minnesota Chief Information Officer Scott Studham long before he came to the Twin Cities, according to documents from Studham’s former employer, the University of Tennessee.

Studham resigned as CIO of the U of M on Sept. 4, originally saying he wanted to focus on his family home-school business and train for a triathlon. University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler later acknowledged that he asked Studham to resign based on “the culture in his unit and his relationship with his peers."

Kaler’s request came after several staff members filed complaints against Studham during his more than three-year tenure, allegations that range from excessive equipment purchases and manipulating contracts to hiring his friends and taking unscheduled vacation days. Studham, who held the title of vice president at the university, was paid $265,000 a year. 

The documents from Tennessee, obtained through a public-records request, detail human resources complaints and internal investigations into Studham’s behavior both as CIO at the University of Tennessee’s flagship campus, in Knoxville, as well as similar complaints during his tenure at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), in nearby Oak Ridge, Tennessee. 

The documents also raise additional questions about the vetting process employed by the University of Minnesota for high-profile positions. Studham’s departure came just weeks after the school’s athletics director, Norwood Teague, resigned amid allegations that he sexually harassed two university employees. It was later revealed that Teague was facing a gender discrimination complaint at his previous job at Virginia Commonwealth University while being recruited to join the U of M. VCU later settled the complaint for $125,000. 

In Studham’s case, the University of Minnesota established a “system wide search committee” to find the CIO, according to a January 2012 news release announcing his hire. Despite multiple inquiries, officials from the school wouldn’t say whether the committee turned up any complaints against Studham, many of which would have been available through a records request at the time of Studham’s hiring.

“The hiring process that brought Mr. Studham to the University of Minnesota was consistent with other searches for senior executives,” spokesman Evan Lapiska said in a statement. “While we can't speak to internal matters related to Mr. Studham's time at the University of Tennessee, it is important to note that complaints filed with the University of Minnesota about Mr. Studham were not the reason for his resignation. President Kaler felt it was time for a change, and Mr. Studham agreed to step aside.”

Familiar complaints 

Some of the complaints from staff at the University of Minnesota echoed allegations from his previous jobs. In Tennessee, where Studham worked before moving to Minnesota, he was cited in internal documents for trying to hire friends for university contracting jobs, as well as posting comments on social media that made staff feel uncomfortable. Employees at both former jobs said staff in Studham’s department were afraid of him.

Studham, in an emailed response to MinnPost, said he was seeing some of the documents for the first time, and was unaware of an internal investigation surrounding his conduct at the University of Tennessee, which was completed after he moved to Minnesota.

“I think it’s worth remembering what I was hired to do at Tennessee and Minnesota (and at ORNL): to be a change agent in an area of vital importance and where there was — and is — a clear need for change. I’m very pleased with what each organization I have led accomplished to cut costs and transform itself for what comes next,” he wrote. 

“It’s not a surprise to me some people are unhappy or uncomfortable with change on this scale,” he continued. “I suspect some of the allegations — both from Minnesota and Tennessee — are a reflection of that response.”

‘Not a top leader’  

Studham moved into his first CIO job in August of 2004 at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. During the nearly five years he served in that role, Studham was the subject of several personnel complaints, according to ORNL Human Resources Director Debbie Stairs, who was later interviewed by University of Tennessee officials. Her comments were included in the internal documents from the university. 

In the interview, Stairs said the lab investigated three incidents involving Studham, including “sexually suggestive” comments made to staff. In one instance, Studham held up a flash drive to employees and said, “Don’t stick it in if you don’t know where it’s been,” according to documents.

Stairs said Studham also took a picture of a colleague who had been drinking at a party, called him a “cross dresser” and included the picture in a powerpoint to staff. Stairs said Studham was “very smart” but “not a top leader” and had “no filter.” There were several other complaints that Stairs said she could not discuss.

Another employee replaced Studham as CIO on January 26, 2009, according to the documents. Officials suspected a security breach at ORNL within IT and Studham was escorted off site in a “shoot first” response to the issue. ORNL officials later said there was no breach and Studham was allowed to return to work, but in a new position as a senior researcher.

In the documents, Stairs first said Studham was not eligible for rehire at ORNL, but later said there was a disagreement between officials as to whether the laboratory should allow him to resign or to terminate him. The final decision was to let him resign, she said, and code him eligible for rehire.

When asked if any of the complaints against Studham resulted in discipline, David Keim, director of communications at ORNL, said he could not comment on personnel issues.

‘Out of the ordinary’ hiring process 

In 2007, while still at ORNL, Studham headed up a consulting project for the University of Tennessee. Studham and an associate reported that the university lacked stable and long-term strategies to guide budget-setting and other priorities, recommending the university create a temporary CIO position to provide “strategic leadership,” according to the documents.

Jesse Poore, the former director of the Science Alliance and a friend of Studham’s, was appointed to the University of Tennessee CIO position in 2008. He planned to serve in that role for a year.

As Poore was preparing to depart the university, he recommended Studham to succeed him. The two were close, and Studham knew Poore intended to resign from the CIO job after a year. Poore also knew Studham was unhappy at his current job at ORNL and was no longer serving as CIO, according to the documents.

The university interviewed Studham and offered him the job, which Studham accepted. That’s when Linda Hendricks Harig, director of human resources at the University of Tennessee, received a memo that the college would be hiring Studham at $190,000 a year starting on March 16, 2009.

Hendricks said the “actions taken to appoint Mr. Studham were out of the ordinary” because the job was never posted, but she processed the appointment and did not post the position.

Behavior becomes an issue at UT  

It didn’t take long for complaints to surface in at Studham’s new job at UT.

By summer of 2010, human resources was already fielding several allegations about Studham’s behavior in the office. One employee was upset about a public tweet Studham posted about a male staffer who wore a kilt to work: “just threw up in my mouth. One of the guys at work is wearing a dress, again. Sometimes working in IT is better than The Office,” he tweeted.

Hendricks Harig, the human resources director, was worried. “At a minimum it’s poor judgement to post remarks like that on an open, public site (especially when his title and UT are listed). It doesn’t reflect well on University or Scott as a senior leader,” she wrote in an email. “Worst case, employee he made fun of or other UT employees could bring complaint of prejudice or bias.”

Studham took down the post at Harig's urging, but there was no discipline in the case. Responding to an email from a concerned employee, the university said the tweet was not a violation of university policy, as he posted it on a personal account.

The university called in human resources again around the same time to deal with a strange situation regarding one of Studham’s temp workers. She was let go suddenly over an issue with Studham’s calendar, but she continued to send emails to Studham afterward. One email asked him to talk. Another included a cartoon of Studham she made in photoshop.

Studham expressed concerns for his family’s safety, but after interviews with Studham, human resources learned the situation was more complicated. Studham made the temp have dinner with his wife alone before he hired her because his wife “had to approve everyone who worked for him.” He also asked the temp to call his wife after a doctor’s appointment and provide an “update,” saying that “she would not believe him that ‘he should not mow the grass.’ ” The two also regularly exchanged non-work-related emails.

On Aug. 31, 2010, an anonymous letter was sent to the Tennessee Division of State Audit laying out a handful of allegations against Studham, including misuse of student technology fees and using university resources to benefit his wife’s personal business, Windrock IT. The complaint also alleged that Studham was using his position at the university to pass major consulting contracts to his friends.

With questions coming in from the state auditor, the university launched its own internal investigation. In a Feb. 13, 2013, report, a year after Studham had started working at the University of Minnesota, the audit dismissed most claims, but did find that he attempted to hire two friends as consultants without going through a competitive contracting process. The university’s office of the treasurer flagged and stopped both contracts. 

“I have on occasion recommended or looked to hire vendors or former employees who have done quality work in the past and whose skills are well-suited to a specific need,” Studham told MinnPost. “My basis for these recommendations is always my professional judgment — based on experience — that the person or vendor is well-suited for the task at hand, has the necessary skills and abilities to be successful and has the work ethic needed to complete the project on time and budget.”  

During the investigation, the university posted an internal ad for a new CIO. In emails, Hendricks Harig questioned whether the school should hire someone new or continue on with Studham. That would require “several interventions,” including “frank discussion about concerns” and sending him to the Center for Creative Leadership for a weeklong program “that deals with these issues,” Harig wrote. 

Studham did ultimately attend the program, which cost $7,200, and on Sept. 30, the school closed the CIO application process, with plans to reopen it at a later time, according to documents. Studham stayed at the university until February 2012, when officials found a permanent replacement. 

A spokeswoman for the University of Tennessee said the school would not comment on human resources or personnel matters. 

Allegations of nepotism, strange purchases at Minnesota  

Before he was hired at the University of Minnesota, Studham said he was contacted by a search firm and traveled to Minnesota three times in the winter of 2011 to meet with various members of the search committee and give a presentation at a public forum on campus. The co-chairs of the search committee were University of Minnesota Rochester Chancellor Stephen Lehmkuhle and Kathy Brown, the university’s vice president for human resources. Both officials were called for comment on Monday but could not be reached. 

Studham started at the university in February 2012, the same month he left Tennessee. Under his tenure, the school became one of the first to invest in an ultra-fast 100-Gbps wide-area network. He also reorganized and centralized the 1,200-person IT department. In 2013, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal named him CIO of the year.   

But behind the scenes, staff were starting to complain about Studham. Three complaints were officially filed against Studham in 2013 and 2014. In June 2013, Studham sent out an invitation for a pig roast, which the complainant said did not allow people of Jewish and Muslim faiths to participate in equally. Two other complaints were unsubstantiated.  

Between May and August of 2015 alone, four more complaints about Studham reached university officials, according to documents from the university’s Office of Internal Audit, released to news media as part of a data request. 

Many of the complaints mirrored allegations at Studham’s two previous jobs. Several complaints lodged against Studham accused him of trying to hire friends for jobs with the university by manipulating contracts to avoid a competitive bidding process. The audit also found that Studham moved six employees to “lesser” jobs in the department, sometimes reducing their salaries, if he was unhappy with their performance. 

Studham also made 21 equipment purchases during his time at the university, including a 3D gaming headset, a tablet computer, a body camera, a Bose Bluetooth speaker and 10 Apple computers, including laptops, desktops and Apple Mac minis. Studham said he didn’t know the location of six of the items but he planned to reimburse the university. 

The original complaint suggested he was buying computers for his family, which Studham denied in a statement to the university. “Some purchases were to evaluate new technologies, their potential benefits to the university, and develop the ability to speak intelligibly about them when asked,” Studham wrote in response the complaints.  

Studham also bought $48,000 of video equipment, which included a $16,000 camera and $3,000 for a video aerial-drone. “The use for these products is not clear,” reads the university investigation. “Reporters suggest it is for movie projects to enhance his and other IT senior leaders’ brands.” 

Among the other allegations: Studham registered for conferences and booked hotels and airfare, but would not attend; he would not show up for work for personal reasons without taking vacation time; he would keep staff on and pay them for almost no work to avoid negative feedback. 

Even without launching a formal investigation into these complaints, Kaler had decided the “culture” in Studham’s department was evidence enough to ask him to step down.  

Two more complaints were filed on Sept. 9 and 10, after Studham resigned, but the university didn’t release the details of the complaints, citing privacy laws. As part of his departure, Studham received a severance package that included three months' salary and agreed not to sue the University of Minnesota.  

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Comments (20)

An excellent article

which calls into question, one again, the hiring practices of the University of Minnesota.

William B. Gleason
retired U of M faculty and alum

Where's HR?

According to the U of MN HR website (yes they have their very own) there are 17 staff (assuredly making more than $50K per person) dedicated solely to "leadership and talent development." Anytime they hire someone for a meaningful position the University uses an outside search firm, don't you know, and bring in higher-ups from the Dept(s) under the aegis of the new hire to contribute to the process. After the Teague and Studham resignations does any citizen of Minnesota feel that this is a sensible use of taxpayer largesse? Are we getting anything for our money? Oh, I forgot to add tens of thousands in severance pay and buyouts!

What are we becoming the dumping ground

for people who the rest of the world finds offensive. Okay true the U has a lot of employees but really they need to learn smart and arrogant are not a good mix.

Perhaps promotion from within might be good.

Branding Irony

“Reporters suggest it is for movie projects to enhance his and other IT senior leaders’ brands.”

I guess outfits like U of M should read the package ingredients when they go out to buy "off the shelf" brands. Pretty pathetic, isn't this?

Maybe it is past time to find a competent executive to fire some of those who do the hiring over there, or forever be known as the University of Mediocrity. Too harsh? Perhaps. Whatever the Gopher Brand may be, it certainly needs serious attention. Call P&G.

This is one of the best researched and written articles ever to appear in MinnPost...true journalism at its best.

Culture

“I think it’s worth remembering what I was hired to do at Tennessee and Minnesota (and at ORNL): to be a change agent in an area of vital importance and where there was — and is — a clear need for change. I’m very pleased with what each organization I have led accomplished to cut costs and transform itself for what comes next.”

This is such an absurd response. It reflects the worst of the stereotypes about the type of "head in the clouds," buzzword-littered tech culture that is so hilariously lampooned by Mike Judge in "Silicon Valley". This guy is clearly full of himself and has been reading too many industry "think pieces".

At a time when university administrators are under scrutiny nationwide for malpractice and bloated budgets, this is yet another stain on the U's reputation (won't even mention the embarrassment that was Norwood Teague).

Brian Krause
U of M Alum

U of MN Hiring Process

Another excellent piece exposing the dysfunctional (to put it mildly) hiring process at the University. Something"else" is clearly at work in this process; the process as represented on paper is NOT what is occurring involving high level hires. A complete housecleaning of HR is necessary and the University, which has thousands of dedicated alums who would love to help it, needs to look very carefully at search firms and their track record. Based on the U's recent hiring record, I would say that its reputation among search firms is that it is a dumping ground for marginal or incompetent candidates.

Leadership

This is all so interesting given Kaler started with major big talk about changing the culture at the U and distancing himself from the Bruininks tenture. Amazing how quickly things are falling apart. Also, who is advising Kaler on these issues? Who are his policy and PR advisers? This is all handled so sloppily.

No wonder the cost of a

No wonder the cost of a college education is so high! Paying folks like him $265,000 is ridiculous. Another case of a run away budget with little over site.

Check out

How much the profit education jokes get paid

Watch out for Windrock IT

Thank you for a fascinating article. This topic had only been touched on by the Strib and the MN Daily and the Wall Street Journal, typically reciting press releases. This article did some real research and uncovered new material. As to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, they should retract that CIO of the Year award. At least make it public that they disavow Studham's actions that they should clearly now understand were misguided and abusive.

What is interesting is how many times HR and university officials at ORNL, UT, and UM, said there were more complaints and details that they couldn't reveal. It's likely that there's a lot more on Scott Studham here but that because the evidence is in a personnel file, it can't easily be released without exposing the institutions to legal action. Note that Studham agreed to step down and received a severance package "because he refused to sue." He has held these institutions hostage and still says that the negative things people say about him, including all of these very personal attacks that he publicly made, were because he was a "change agent." Publicly shaming someone because they wore a kilt is the work of a change agent? Taking university property and not keeping track of it is being a change agent? These are public and documented events.

And now this man wants to work with children and children's education. For anyone who purchases services from Windrock, IT, would you want this man or his family trying to educate your children?

Not incompetent, just a cad

To be fair, there's nothing to indicate that Studham was incompetent in his performance of his job here, nor at his previous jobs. Apparently, he was quite competent. People don't typically get hired for big jobs without being able to demonstrate competence. The problem with him it seems was his difficulty in filtering his thoughts for public consumption. Making posts on Twitter about a colleague's attire and calling him a crossdresser? Seriously? In a public forum??? The pattern of immature behavior of this sort and of his seeming inability to draw appropriate lines between his business life and private life.... Those are big problems, but those are also the sort of problems that it's difficult to uncover during the process that leads to hiring someone.

The pattern of circumnavigating contracting policies in order to hire friends and the like... That's another big problem, but in all honesty, people who have contracting authority play fast and loose with the rules in that way in pretty much every organization. I'm not excusing that problematic behavior. I'm just pointing out that it's far from a scandalous violation of the spirit and letter of contracting practices. It's common. It needs to be the subject of discipline whenever it can be rooted out, but Studham is far from exceptional for making those particular transgressions. I repeat: that particular behavior is common in most organizations of any significant size.

Maybe there's something that needs to change about the hiring process, but I'm not certain that's clear. Just because two relatively high-profile employees didn't pan out doesn't mean there's something rotten in Denmark (or, in this case, Dinkytown). What more are people suggesting that the U should have done in order to uncover information that might have led leaders at the U to have avoided hiring Studham or Teague? Issues of privacy keeping complaints at UT under wraps, and pending investigations that the U didn't even know were underway at Virginia Commonwealth -- how is the U at fault exactly?

Perhaps it would be prudent to include something in employment contracts that require executives to unequivocally confirm that no such issues exist at their previous place of employment, and that if any such issues turn out to have existed in spite of the exec's assurance to the contrary, the contract can be voided by the U without paying buyouts, severance, etc.

Beyond that, I'm not sure I see any rational basis for the U bashing. They hired a couple of duds. There are nearly what... 10,000 staff at the U, and how many hundreds of execs? A couple of duds here and there is to be expected.

Not Incompetent?

That the couple of "duds" who went off both were the products of a high level examination process should disturb the citizens of Minnesota to no end. As for the problems with hiring at the University being isolated, I personally know of a case where a formal job offer was made by a committee and, after internal bickering, given to another candidate. There was another case like this that made headlines; the offer was made, the candidate sold his house and moved and then had the rug pulled out from under him.

Competent Leader?

Don't think so.

Oak Ridge: "People are scared of him."

UT: "Staff are afraid of him."

Possibly, HR was out of the loop.

Studham probably mimicked the experience that led to his hiring when he tailored job positions for favored individuals.

When it comes to high profile hires, an HR office is rarely involved except to process the paper work. Instead, the top administrators have an inflated view of their judgments (why else would they have the jobs they do) and circumvent the normal policies and procedures and hand down their hiring decisions.

My thanks to two fine reporters indeed!

Thanks for two powerful reporters who did their homework and so much more...

Mannix and Bierschbach don't stop there.

When we have a committee that hires a committee to avoid responsibility for hiring whomever is hired for what enormous salary,,,the buck and the hiring process surely has much more yet to be exposed?

The committee in all probability leaves a trail of such 'unfortunate' choices dangling like entrails of other; past questionable decisions?

The damage done here has essentially downsized this university's standing...keep on investigating. It's a rare quality in main stream journalism these days as words are but a commodity on the page when 'corporation' has sucked the heart out the profession; news that is considered "fit to print"??

My respect for these two is hard to contain in words...keep it up yes sir!

A Research University

What I find ironic is that the U of M is presenting itself as a great research University. It seems that a bit more research needs to happen in their hiring practices. Even if a hiring firm is conducting the hiring process both formal and informal references should be checked when you are hiring high profile university administrators. These mistakes are adding up.

CIO Recruiting

There are external groups that can do a pretty extensive assessment of executive candidates (PDI Ninth Group (part of Korn Ferry) potential prior to hiring. As a retired executive my company used them to assess all candidates for high level positions. I went through the process myself and it's pretty hard fool them. Maybe the U of Mn HR "committee" should look into that, it does cost money...but so does a severence package.

U of M Alum

Who's in charge?

Kaler must go.

Who IS in charge, indeed?

Since sports is key to UofM culture and is at the root of many of its problems which persist, the Regents need to wake up to the analogy and fire the head coach. Kahler is getting a perpetual pass on these debacles. His expertise has become telling the flops they must forego the outrageous compensation and leave. Time for the Regents to suck it up and make the decision that is glaringly obvious: the coach takes the hit. Jerry Kill seems to feel by saying that he is immune; indeed, he should go with Kahler if he cannot perform. A new president perhaps will figure out how straight things are with the highest paid UofM employee. Priorities are amok.

Bullying in the Workplace

This is not the first time bullying in the workplace has been an issue within the OIT department (Office of Information Technology) at the University of Minnesota. The previous CIO, Steve Cawley, tolerated the same type of behavior from his staff.

As a former long-time employee and also an alumni of the Carlson School of Mgmt, I have been following this story closely. Scott Studham's bullying behavior in the workplace with formally filed complaints of how he treated people in a critical and condescending manner was an example of a few of the previous OIT upper management staff, too.

It's about time the employees within the University had a voice to report this type of bullying behavior for those few who get into positions through unethical means. I was 'laid off' for reporting outlandish spending habits and bullying behavior to the previous CIO, Steve Cawley. At that time, there was no recourse. Now apparently, there is. Hats off to those employees brave enough to say something even though they were scared of Scott.

- Cheryl Vollhaber (former OIT manager)