CVM leadership conducting retaliation campaign, causing chilling effect on progress, sources say

More than half of alumni respondents reported feeling disrespected by the leadership of the College of Veterinary medicine, according to an anonymous, opt-in survey conducted online from April to August of 2023 . Additional reports are now emerging of retaliation from College leadership directed at individuals who the Dean perceives to be his opponents. These efforts appear to be growing more brazen since the University President declined to address staff reports of workplace toxicity and hostility at the CVM which has caused more than 50 faculty and staff to depart and nine medical departments to fully or partially close as the College received bottom rankings from Deans and faculty across America’s vet colleges in the years since Dean Risco was hired and the College was relegated to probationary accreditation.

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“Why the Dean chooses to escalate things constantly, I don’t know,” said one person. “Strong leaders find ways to mitigate, communicate, be smart about things. Fix relationships. He just reloads and shoots.”

A person with knowledge of the survey's methodology told CVM Independent, "Given the nature of the survey, the sub-sample of respondents that self-identified as alumni are likely to be your most active and engaged alumni."

One alumn told CVM Independent, "The more active you are, the more helpful you try to be, the more this Dean pushes you away. It's the opposite of what every other University does with its most involved alumni."  These issues have escalated with the Dean in recent years, according to nearly 50 alumni members who have expressed concern to University leaders.

“He feels emboldened,” said one person with knowledge of his behavior toward employees, alumni and others. “He’s walking on water because he knows no one will hold him accountable. The University President would lose her job if she did what he is doing, I would lose mine, you would lose yours."  This person expressed concern that, ultimately, the University itself will be held accountable for the Dean's alleged behavior. "The Board and President Shrum protect him at all costs and the longer they do this, the more the institution owns his behavior. They let him wage his personal little wars and at some point that damage will be their responsibility.”

Most recently, Dean Risco appears to have caused University publications to kill references to prominent alumni he does not like in articles that were set to publish.

One such article was a feature on the 2022 Oklahoma Veterinarian of the Year, Dr. John Otto, who is a prominent alumn, former member of the faculty, and member of the Search Committee that ultimately hired Dr. Risco 6 years ago. Dr. Otto has attempted to use his stature in recent years to draw increasing attention to the declining state of affairs at the College of Veterinary Medicine and has been actively engaged in attempting to work with University leadership to address challenges.  Rather than embrace these efforts, Dean Risco has “declared all out war” on Dr. Otto “which is what he always does to people he thinks are enemies,” said a person who says they are also “on Risco’s enemies list.”

“It makes you wonder if Carlos’ vindictive nature is rubbing off on Kayce,” one person surmised, who has worked with both Dean Risco and University President Kayce Shrum. “Because she never had this kind of reputation before.  She’s down in the mud with him now and can’t seem to see it.”

In the most recent publication of State Magazine highlighting 75 years of the College of Veterinary Medicine, another prominent alumnus and former faculty member was removed from the article at the last minute and replaced with an ally of Dean Risco’s in a section outlining the future of One Health, a conception of medicine that encourages the view of animal and human health holistically. This alumn had served as the representative from Oklahoma to the American Veterinary Medical Association and was a contributor to the AVMA committee that first defined opportunities to explore One Health within veterinary medicine.  The Dean’s ally who was ultimately quoted in that section had no substantive background in One Health.

While these appear to be escalations of the Dean’s retaliatory behaviors, these behaviors are not new.

"Sort of charming when he needs to be but deeply suspicious of people and absolutely a ladder climber,” described a veterinary industry leader who has dealt with Dean Risco. “It's unfortunate. A lot of us have a real interest in helping that program but the risk of getting involved is kind of high while he's there."

Multiple people expressed fear that the Dean’s behavior will cause increasing damage to the College of Veterinary Medicine at exactly the moment in time when it needs maximum internal and external support. “We need relationships and we need resources, and you can’t get those things if you’re seen as a bully,” said one person who claims to have experienced Dean Risco’s retaliatory behavior.

Another industry leader who has interacted with the Dean within the past two years stated their experience this way: "Really image-conscious, really sensitive guy.  Seems real nice, slow talking, kind of a mild guy when he's in front of you but he will take a flame thrower to your reputation behind your back if it helps him get where he wants to go."

CVM Independent has received reports that suggest that retaliation and targeting are not new behaviors for Dean Risco.  “He one time fired the lady we all wanted to represent us on his Staff Council, to tell him about how toxic things are,” said one member of the team who asked to remain anonymous due to fears of retaliation from the Dean. “He fired her so quick, and then he personally emailed the whole College to tell us he fired her.  Know how many other times he sent an all-users email saying he fired someone? Never.  He was trying to scare us all to shut up - you thought you could tell me it’s bad here? See what I can do to you? Trust me we all got the message.”

CVM Independent is investigating additional alleged retaliatory behavior by the Dean toward staff, alumni and faculty.  In one instance, it is alleged that the Dean attempted to get an alumni relations employee fired because he believed they had good relations with a growing block of alumni who he perceived as his enemies.  After he was unsuccessful, it appears he effectively eliminated this person's job responsibilities by appointing or hiring others and then redesigning the chain of command so that only his preferred person could function in the role.

Reports that veterinarians on staff who questioned him directly about his treatment of people and his retaliatory behavior were told to “stay in your lane” which they interpreted as a warning not to speak up about their concerns.

One person described Dean Risco has having a “blame list” which is "a mile long" which this person believes includes them, "I know I’m on that list and I don’t even know why. I’m supportive of the plans there, but he got it in his head somehow that I’m an enemy somehow. Never met a Dean who sees enemies in every corner, every bush, all around him, all the time.”

This person lamented the series of “false choices” he believes that University leadership is forcing upon the College. “They seem to think you can’t have good strategic outcomes and have peace and collaboration and have a good, happy workplace.  So you have a bunch of people out there and all they are saying is they think we should have all those things, and Risco makes them all into enemies. Crazy.”

”The Board of Regents and the University President are only hurting the University by allowing Carlos to behave this way. Who will ever tell them uncomfortable information if this is what they allow to happen? They’re creating a bubble where only one view is welcomed, and that is a dangerous place to be. That’s how every major University scandal in the world always starts. Every report after the fact says ‘oh they didn’t listen to so and so’ and we’re probably on that path.”