Ransom cites ‘difference of opinion’ in firing

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Scott Ransom, former president of the University of North Texas Health Science Center, says his termination last month stemmed from a “difference of opinion” between himself and Chancellor Lee Jackson.

In a statement released last week by ML Strategies LLC, a Boston-based consulting firm representing Ransom, he said, “Being fired for a difference of opinion is simply not acceptable.”

During a special meeting on Dec. 21, the UNT Board of Regents voted 7-0 to fire Ransom. In a letter to Ransom, the regents said he was being fired for “good cause” for interfering with the discussion of a study for a possible merger between the Denton and Fort Worth campuses. They also said he disregarded and undermined the implementation of the shared services between all campuses.

Jackson declined to comment.

Under Ransom’s contract, he can be fired for “good cause” if prior to the termination the board provides “written notice of the allegations constituting ‘good cause’ and an opportunity to meet with the board to respond to the allegations.”

A letter outlining the reason for his termination was sent Dec. 18, three days before the meeting.

Regent Michael Williams stepped down the day before Ransom was fired and was subsequently named interim president.

Nancy Sterling, with ML Strategies LLC, said, “Dr. Ransom has filed an appeal with the university and that is pending. He’s evaluating all of his options.”

It is unclear what his appeal process will be.

Ransom has declined to speak with the media but he released the statement, which is from remarks he made during the closed session meeting in December, Sterling said.

In it, he counters the letter Chairman Jack Wall wrote on behalf of the regents, saying he did what Chancellor Lee Jackson asked him to do as far as putting together information about a proposed study of a merger between the Denton campus and the health science center. He said he also gathered the data the chancellor asked for concerning the business service center.

He calls the allegations in the letter from regents false.

Ransom was hired in 2006 and his contract was renewed in August until 2015. As the health science center president, he earned more than $900,000 a year, according to his contract.

Because UNT is now an at-will employer, Ransom may not request review of the termination action, according to the policy.

Ransom is a tenured professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology in the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine with a joint appointment as professor of the department of health management policy in the School of Public Health, according to his contract. He has the option to assume his faculty appointment.

Ransom said in his statement that the issues fell into three categories: “issues related to the evaluation of the merger; issues related to the concerns from the HSC [health science center] regarding the BSC [business service center]; and a personal conflict between me and the chancellor.”

He said he followed all directives from the chancellor and the regents. “Lee’s [Jackson] only directive to me and President [Lane] Rawlins was to complete an analysis and highlight the benefits and challenges.”

In the data compiled by both Ransom and Rawlins, president of the Denton campus, they were asked to look at challenges and obstacles to both the campuses and the communities involved.

The two major concerns the presidents found with the merger idea was how it would affect accreditation for the health science center and how it would affect formula funding, according to information provided to the chancellor by the presidents in November.

“The Fort Worth community did not like the merger from the beginning,” Ransom wrote in his statement. “I explained this to the chancellor several times.”

UNT regents and the chancellor said in their letter that Ransom solicited “community support from individuals in leadership positions in the Fort Worth community to openly oppose the idea of a merger.”

In his response, Ransom said he didn’t put anyone up to opposing the merger.

“Throwing me under the bus will not convince the [UNT Health Science Center] Board of Visitors or [UNT Health Science Center] Foundation Board to support the merger,” Ransom wrote.

Members from both boards were at the meeting when Ransom was fired and expressed their disappointment. They called the regents’ and Jackson’s decision “wishy-washy.”

The UNT regents and Jackson also cited Ransom’s conduct concerning the shared services initiative as another reason for his termination.

The business service center, which houses the shared services, was established in 2011 to make the services across campuses more efficient and cost effective.

Ransom wrote in his statement that that center cost the health science center double the money with lower quality. He said Jackson recently asked for data and when Ransom sent the report to the audit department to review it, Jackson became upset.

“When the chancellor heard of the report to [the] audit, he exploded,” Ransom wrote. “He was unbelievably angry and told me to pull the report or I would be fired.”

He also said payroll was not paid on time and neither were electric and water bills. The electronic medical record system also was shut down for two days, affecting patients, he said.

“In my opinion, the chancellor was really angry because he knows that the document proves that he has been misstating the facts regarding the BSC to the regents and various state agencies,” Ransom said in his statement.

Ransom and Gretchen Bataille, former UNT president, shared their concerns over the shared services plan in 2009.

In part, the shared business services initiative was the reason for Bataille’s abrupt resignation.

When Bataille resigned in 2010, she told the Denton Record-Chronicle that she was uncertain what led to her “forced” resignation and that it came as a surprise.

At the time, Jackson said in a statement that issues escalated in 2009 and that affected the operations of the university.

Like Bataille, Ransom was surprised to receive the letter.

“As far as I have been told, everything was going very well under my leadership through the middle of October,” Ransom said in the statement.

He said during merger discussions, he was approached by the chancellor and regents to see if he’d be interested in being the president of the combined campuses. “This prospect was not something that I had envisioned for my career,” he said.

Wall wrote a different version in his letter to Ransom, saying Ransom had expressed interest in being president of the combined campuses, and after he was told he would be considered at the appropriate time but not before, Ransom began to say the merger wasn’t a good idea.

A concern that wasn’t expressed in Wall’s letter but Ransom brought up in his statement was that he was being fired to create the MD granting school.

“I did everything the regents asked me to support the MD program,” he said. “I personally support the MD program, and trading my job for the MD program is not appropriate.”

In his statement, he asked regents to postpone their decision until he had more time to prepare his defense.

Ransom said Jackson has taken any disagreement personally.

He was terminated after a two-hour closed session meeting. He spent about 30 minutes in the meeting presenting his case.

Jackson said last week that he would like to comment on the statement Ransom released but after questions were e-mailed to him, he didn’t respond. Instead, Deborah Leliaert, spokeswoman for UNT, made a statement on behalf of the UNT System.

“The UNT System and its Board of Regents do not discuss the Board’s proceedings in executive sessions, nor do they discuss personnel matters,” Leliaert said. “Dr. Scott Ransom continues to assert publicly his intention to appeal the board’s unanimous decision on his termination, and it would be inappropriate to comment on or speculate about Dr. Ransom’s actions.”

RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is rmehlhaff@dentonrc.com.


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