While students enjoyed their break, Ohio State released the Strauss report, implemented free laundry, partnered with Lyft, expanded Student Legal Services, was found noncompliant with public records requests and released Urban Myer’s text messages with Zach Smith.| Credit: Lantern file photo

A Lantern lawsuit, Lyft and litigation; these items are just the beginning of a laundry list of news that came out of Ohio State over the summer.

Ohio State took steps toward expanding upon the student experience through a partnership with Lyft and the extension of Student Legal Services to include immigration services. 

In addition, Ohio State continued to deal with ongoing litigation over the summer. The university was found to have known about Dr. Richard Strauss’ abuse, to have failed to return public records in a timely manner, while also releasing highly anticipated text messages regarding former wide receivers coach Zach Smith.

Report determines Ohio State knew of Dr. Richard Strauss’ abuse

At the beginning of the summer, an independent investigation determined that university employees knew of abuse by former Ohio State physician Richard Strauss that involved at least 177 student-athletes and students as early as 1979. The abuse was reported to the State Medical Board of Ohio in 1996, but Ohio State allowed Strauss to retire with emeritus status in 1998 and took no action against him, according to a report released May 17. 

The report followed a $6.2 million investigation done by Perkins Coie LLP that began in April 2018 and analyzed 34,000 documents from archives and outside sources and conducted 600 interviews, U.S. attorney Markus Funk said in November 2018. 

Strauss was an employee of the university from 1978 to 1998, during which he served as team doctor for 17 men’s varsity sports and as a physician at the Student Health Center. Strauss died by suicide in 2005. 

Complaints and reports about Strauss’ conduct were not elevated beyond the athletic department or Student Health Services until 1996.

Following the report’s release, University President Michael V. Drake offered apologies to the victims. 

“This issue was a place where the university fell short of its responsibilities to our students,” Drake said. “We will go forward as we digest the report to do all that we can to be appropriate.”

Ohio State continues to offer free counseling to anyone impacted by Strauss’ abuse. 

In response to the report’s release, another lawsuit against Ohio State was filed on behalf of 37 former athletes and victims of Strauss’ abuse. 

Ohio State launches new safe ride partnership with Lyft

Ohio State replaced the free, university-operated Safe Ride service with a discounted ride share program called Lyft Ride Smart at Ohio State. 

The university offers 10,000 discounted night rides per month with a $5 coupon per ride within the designated campus service area, with the goal of providing more rides with shorter wait times, University Spokesman Dan Hedman said. Ride costs are expected to be $2 or less per person. 

Hedman said the Lyft program can provide five times more rides than the Safe Ride program could. Enrolled students can use Lyft Ride Smart from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. within the parameters of north to Hudson Street, south to Fifth Avenue, east to Conrail railroad tracks and west to North Star Road. The northern boundary west of Olentangy River Road is Ackerman Road, Hedman said. 

Undergraduate Student Government President Kate Greer said that an improved Safe Ride program has been a USG project for several administrations and that rides should be used for their intended purpose of emergency situations. 

Lyft has previously partnered with other universities such as University of Southern California, the University of Texas at Austin and Johns Hopkins University, Kaitlyn Carl, communications manager for Lyft, said in an email.

Student Legal Services expands to include immigration services

Student Legal Services began covering immigration issues Aug. 1.

After a year of preparation and an update to its contract with Ohio State, SLS now has staff attorney Andrew Peiffer acting as the immigration attorney on staff with no increase to the $40 SLS fee included in tuition and fees. 

Peiffer said that SLS will adapt its services based on the cases that come in but anticipates certain common questions regarding immigration, such as employment rules for noncitizens, post-graduate jobs that require a change in citizenship status and marriage, which could result in citizenship.

Degree-seeking, Columbus-campus students who pay the SLS fee are able to meet with lawyers at SLS as much as needed, and the only additional charges students may incur are filing fees, Peiffer said. 

Nearly 1,500 international students will arrive on campus this fall, according to the Office of International Affairs’ website, and Peiffer said he wants them to be able to focus on the reason they came to Ohio State: education. 

Special Master made recommendations in favor of The Lantern in case for Ohio State records

Ohio State was incompliant with Ohio public records law in response to a Lantern request due to improper redaction and the length of time the university took to provide the records, according to an Aug. 9 recommendation by a special master in the Ohio Court of Claims. The special master also found that issues involving timeliness and redaction were likely to repeat. 

Former Lantern editor-in-chief Edward Sutelan submitted a public records request asking for any police reports involving Ohio State football players, and within the documents provided 18 weeks later in February 2019, he received records including a report regarding a sexual assault at a campus dorm in September 2018. 

The report redacted the name of the sexual assault suspect, and on Feb. 27 Sutelan filed a complaint stating that the university improperly denied the request for public records due to the redaction. Sutelan said he believes Ohio State’s police department should operate similarly to other law enforcement agencies.

Ohio State, in my experience, has often got into a habit of providing redacted police reports and this was a relatively important police report that redacted information that I think was worth the public knowing even if charges weren’t filed,” Sutelan said. “In my experience, that’s not a typical case with other police departments.”

The university is reviewing the special master’s decision, university spokesperson Chris Davey said in an email.

Ohio State provided an unredacted copy of the report May 14. The suspect, former Ohio State football player Brian Snead, did not face criminal charges but was dismissed from Ohio State in November 2018 after being found in violation of the student code of conduct. 

Text messages reveal Urban Meyer’s early concern regarding Zach Smith 

Ohio State released text messages from former head football coach Urban Meyer that displayed concerns he had regarding former wide receivers coach Zach Smith as part of an independent investigation.

Smith coached for Meyer at Florida and followed Meyer to Ohio State as an assistant coach in 2012. Accusations of Smith’s domestic abuse began in 2009, and he was fired by Ohio State after his ex-wife filed a civil protection order against him in July 2018.

Meyer’s concerns regarding Smith were conveyed in texts as early as December 2017 and continued into 2018.

“Keep an eye on zach,” Meyer said in a text to a redacted recipient in December 2017. “He is not here. Need to make [sure] his guys play well. I will say something as well.”

After Smith’s termination, Shelley Meyer, Urban Meyer’s wife, expressed additional concern regarding Smith’s behavior.

“I am worried about Zach’s response,” she said in a July 2018 text to a redacted recipient. “He drinks a lot and I’m just not sure how stable he will be. Afraid he will do something dangerous. It’s obvious he has anger/rage issues already.”

In the days leading up to Smith’s dismissal, Meyer was still in communication about Smith regarding recruiting initiatives. 

“(Redacted) texted me about zach and the legal issue,” Meyer said in a text. “Asked if he was ok. Says he hasn’t heard from him in awhile. We need to keep recruiting (redacted) as if he is not committed. Need to stay on this!” 

Meyer announced Smith’s firing to the staff three days later on July 23, 2018.

“Send to staff.  All – I made a decision to release Zach from staff. Core value violation and cumulative issues. ‘Win the Moment’ – most important thing is team and players at this time,” Meyer said in a text to a redacted recipient. “Zero conversation about Zach’s past issues. We need to help him as he moved frwd. Team and players!! Thx. Will discuss plan when I return Wednesday.”

Ohio State residence facilities now feature free laundry

University-managed residences, including the residence halls, the Buckeye Village community center and Ohio State-managed Greek houses will all see the elimination of the $1.50 to wash and $1.25 to dry fees this fall, according to university spokesperson Dave Isaacs. 

“Some other universities have moved toward this, and so we looked very closely at what they were doing and how they were doing it,” Isaacs said. “We decided that this was something that we could do, and certainly it would be helpful and convenient to students, so we made the decision to go forward.”