Four Black Men Earn Doctoral Degrees From One Department at Ohio State
Filed in Degree Attainments, Graduate Schools, Milestones on June 10, 2015
Each year, only about 1,000 African Americans men earn doctoral degrees in the United States. Last month, JBHE posted an article on four Black men who were awarded doctoral degrees from one academic department a Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
Now this accomplishment has been repeated at Ohio State University. Four Black men earned doctorates this spring in the College of Education and Human Ecology under the mentorship of Dr. Terrell Strayhorn, the youngest full professor in Ohio State’s history (See JBHE post). This is the first time that four Black men have earned doctorates in the same department in the university’s history.
Drs. Johnson, Long, Strayhorn, Tillman-Kelly and Suddeth.
Here are brief biographies of the four new doctorate degree holders in educational studies from Ohio State.
Royel Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in education policy from the University of Illinois. His doctoral dissertation examined the influence that early arrest plays on Black males’ odds for college enrollment. He works as policy analyst in the Center for Higher Education Enterprise at Ohio State.
Leroy Long earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from The Ohio State University. His dissertation explored the influence of technology adoption and use on first-year engineering students’ academic success. This fall, Dr. Long will be a tenure-track assistant professor of engineering education at Embry-Riddle University in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Todd Suddeth earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Akron and master’s degree in public policy from The Ohio State University. His doctoral dissertation examined the career decision-making processes of Black male college students. His research won the 2015 Loadman Dissertation of the Year Award. He works as a program director in the Todd Bell National Resource Center at Ohio State.
Derrick Tillman-Kelly earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington and a master’s in degree higher education from Indiana University. His dissertation focused on identity label adoption and usage among gay college students of color. He works as special assistant to the director in the Center for Higher Education Enterprise at Ohio State.
Related: Ohio State University
An Open Letter to Create Closure: Why I Left Ohio State
Over the past eight months, I have received many calls, emails, and questions regarding my departure from The Ohio State University (OSU). During this time, I have been deeply humbled by the many words of encouragement, love, and support that I have received from friends, colleagues, students, alumni, and acquaintances all across the country. I have been affirmed in my calling and commitment to be an engaged scholar, one who uses his duties of teaching, research, and service to make change in the world, especially for those who can’t speak for themselves or voices rarely heard in the academy. I have also been energized by the work that my team and I are immersed in through my latest venture, Do Good Work Educational Consulting LLC, a firm committed to conducting and using translational research to ensure success of all students; “by redefining student success; we’re changing lives.” And while I am determined to focus on the future at the start of a brand new year, I think it is important to take a moment to reflect on the past and clear up any outstanding questions about my personal decision to leave OSU.
Let me begin by saying how truly fortunate I was to be part of The Ohio State University community. Donning the “scarlet and grey” was a point of immense pride for me and even when I wasn’t wearing the colors per se, they were ever-shining in my words and heart. OSU was always more than my employer — it became my home, a place where I felt like I mattered, my work and students mattered, and I belonged. Because of my great love for the institution and the work going on there, I was successful in recruiting hundreds of students to join “Buckeye Nation” — undergraduates and graduates, both within my field and outside — and the continued love and support from them (and their families) over the past 8 months has been nothing short of amazing. I will cherish forever the relationships that I formed with so many students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Ohio State is a powerhouse research institution, and one that I strongly believe will continue to drive national conversations about student access and success. I know that I did #goodwork there, and it will forever be a part of who I am as a scholar, teacher, and academic leader.
While my resignation from OSU was voluntary, the decision did not come easily. I spent seven wonderful years at OSU working with students and peers on issues about which I am deeply passionate. But, I spent my last three months in an incredibly difficult, and psychologically exhausting, position. I worked extremely hard — and successfully — to balance my responsibilities as a university professor and center director with a growing national speaking portfolio. This is supported by both a university audit that found “no willful violations of policy,” and fairly consistent written documentation of communications between me, my staff, and university personnel about my professional activities, as reported by the media. I cooperated with all aspects of the internal review and saw all my speaking as proper and appropriate, even though I was willing to do less of it. My belief that faculty members’ engagement in external professional activities, including public speaking, generally serves the academic interests of the University is shared by The Ohio State University and reflected in the Patterns of Administration documents that govern departmental life. Further, Ohio State acknowledges that it is both allowable and fairly common for University faculty to receive nominal honoraria for such activities. Indeed, I contributed significantly to the University’s mission as a faculty member by engaging in public outreach activities of this kind since 2010, earned honoraria, and even received OSU and national awards for my work.
Further evidence of my success in balancing these roles is that I strove to #dogoodwork while consistently earning high marks on University merit and performance evaluations, securing external grants and contracts, and, as reported by a news source, my only evaluation as director of the previous center was positive and included a “handwritten note from [my supervisor] thanking me for my leadership.” Importantly, I have also held onto the approvals I received from OSU prior to every speaking engagement — approvals that included records of the honoraria and travel expenses paid by the organizations and institutions where I spoke.
The facts have always been on my side. But I recognize that a good controversy doesn’t always concern itself with facts. And no matter how much you wish to be treated fairly, and equitably, judged on the basis of your own merits and contributions, some of us are positioned in the world such that we will always be presumed guilty before proven innocent and, despite reams of evidence to the contrary, few will ever accept that “people like you” can learn from innocent mistakes like allowing your “center assistant” to Xerox copies for your “faculty meeting” or class — sometimes in the haste to find help, one honestly misses the invisible lines that divide our labor. While personally frustrating, it was professionally meaningful for me to learn from this experience first-hand, as it has only worked to recharge my commitments to quality checks, unapologetic advocacy for the misrepresented, and transformative social justice for all.
Though I left The Ohio State University in relative silence, the unsupported allegations published in new stories by those who likely sought “clicks” over facts made too much noise to remain unaddressed. They raised too many questions and too much ambiguity about my motives and intentions; so, now let me be clear. I chose to leave OSU on my own volition. I could have stayed and fought the false allegations through a very long, drawn out public episode that would have taken enormous time, energy, and resources, leaving me with little dignity, tons of debts, and an avalanche of headlines continuing to subliminally suggest that I “got money” or “took cash” for speaking versus earned a respectable honorarium like so many others were “free” to do. But, with so many leadership transitions, I felt like I should resign and use those energies elsewhere to recharge and find a new academic home to do the #goodwork that people seemed to enjoy me doing — speaking, teaching, publishing, and training students as a professor. In reflection, I regret not being more clear and up-front about my decision and rationale for leaving a tenured position before alternative facts were circulated without my input.
I will forever be proud of my work at The Ohio State University. It helped many. It helped the single mom who left my NAACP keynote determined to go back to school to earn her associate’s degree; it was an honor to attend her graduation just a few years later. It helped the first-year student in Cincinnati who collapsed in my arms after a keynote, pleading for me to seize the drugs from his bookbag that he intended to use that night to “take his life;” somehow my research-based keynote on belonging convinced him that his life mattered after weeks of intense personal struggle. It helped the 4 black men who earned PhDs under my tutelage in 2015, all of whom remain my students, mentees, collaborators, and friends. It also helped me — to fulfill my passion and purpose, which gave meaning to life in ways I couldn’t imagine. The circumstances of my departure will not diminish my belief in the #goodwork that me, my students, and team did at OSU — or the foundation that was laid for what’s still to come.
Many will be familiar with stories about my maternal grandmother who helped to raise me. She was a school teacher and choir director. She once taught me the words of an old gospel hymn that went: “There’s a bright side somewhere, there’s a bright side somewhere; don’t you give up until you find it, there’s a bright side somewhere.” Since May 3, 2017, there have been times when I wanted to give up but the constant love and support of my students, colleagues, family, and friends sustained me. I do believe “there’s a bright side somewhere” and it’s time to find it and do more good work. On May 3rd, I resigned my position but not my passion or my profession. I am and always will be a professor, one committed to conducting and using rigorous research for the advancement of communities, individuals, and the greater society. With this open letter, I create closure on the manufactured chaos of 2017 and turn to the “bright side” of 2018 and beyond. I don’t know yet what that “bright side” will be, but it probably begins with submitting more job applications. Professor, anyone?! (lol) 💫
 Patterns of administration documents are in keeping with Ohio State policy regarding Faculty Paid Consulting which states, in pertinent part: “faculty members, including administrators with faculty appointments, are encouraged to engage in paid external consulting to the extent that these activities are clearly related to the mission of the University and the expertise of the faculty member, provide direct or indirect benefit to the university, and do not entail a conflict of interest.”