Dean’s controversial ‘behavioral assessment’ of candidate called “sham” and legal liability

Questions have emerged about the legality, appropriateness, and fairness of a controversial "behavioral assessment" that the Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine directed to be conducted on at least one qualified candidate for the position of Director of the Teaching Hospital. Allegations have emerged that this “assessment” was not real, and served as pretext for the Dean to force his preferred outcome while giving the appearance of a legitimate process.

In a meeting last summer with dozens of concerned alumni, the Dean confirmed that he had required the so-called "behavioral assessment" to be conducted on at least one qualified candidate by an equine surgeon, a small animal internal medicine specialist and a hospital administrator - none of whom had training in human psychology - during which they read questions to the candidate which had been dictated by the Dean.

The Dean then used this as the sole determining factor for refusing to allow the Search Committee to interview the candidate, who previously led one of North America's most prominent veterinary hospitals for over a decade. The end result was that the Dean used the so-called "behavioral assessment" to ensure that no one interviewed the candidate nor reviewed his qualifications or contacted his references.

When questioned about this process, the Dean told a room full of alumni that the candidate did not pass his "behavioral assessment," which legal experts told CVM Independent could be interpreted as legal defamation.

A lawyer familiar with Oklahoma law said, “A horse surgeon and another veterinarian do a psych evaluation on a human being because the Dean wanted an excuse not to interview the guy, and then he actually tells a bunch of people that the reason he didn’t interview the guy is because of the psych evaluation conducted by a horse surgeon?  That’s on the wrong side of arguable defamation.”

A Human Resources consultant who lectures on best practices told CVM Independent this practice is unusual and risks liability to the University. "You could make an argument that this risks opening discrimination liabilities," she said. "You generally would not want untrained people asking questions about behavior and making judgments on a person's mental state, that sort of thing. Had this candidate been a member of a protected class, such as a minority candidate or LGBTQIA+, the University would very likely be liable in court."

Alumni who attended the meeting felt the Dean's interview process was a "sham" designed to give him deniability for not interviewing a highly qualified candidate who happened to be the son of a prominent alumn. "He put that candidate through a sham interview because he was the son of an alumn, and he hates the alumni," one attendee told us. "This candidate was qualified, ran one of the top hospitals in the country for a decade, had degrees from Columbia, Georgetown Law, Harvard. Character references from the President of the American Animal Hospital Association and three or four Diplomate colleges, even from the White House I think. One of the top hospital guys in the country, and Risco wanted him gone, his Dad gone, the whole family."

"He twisted himself in a pretzel to avoid having to interview this guy because his ego gets threatened by successful people," said an alumn, referring to Dean Carlos Risco. "Obviously you learn about a person's behavior from interviewing them, talking to references, looking at their background. Not from a veterinarian asking questions from a piece of paper handed to them by the Dean."

CVM Independent confirmed that the candidate's character and professional references included the past leaders of the American Animal Hospital Association, American College of Veterinary Ophthalmology, American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation and several other prominent individuals within the veterinary industry. None of them were contacted by Dean Risco, the "behavioral assessment" panel, nor the full Search Committee.

The candidate was not told in advance that he would be subject to such a "behavioral assessment" and expressed to the interviewers that it would be inappropriate for a decision to be made about his candidacy without the full Search Committee and Dean interviewing him.  CVM Independent confirmed that neither Dean Risco nor the full Search Committee ever spoke with the candidate.

Further complicating the use of this "behavioral assessment" is the fact that the candidate had submitted a legitimately-conducted assessment - called a "Emotional and Social Competence Inventory" report - with his CV and reference packet, which CVM Independent has reviewed.  That report was conducted earlier that year by an objective third party organization, Korn Ferry, from a collection of anonymous surveys of the candidate's managers, colleagues, direct reports, peers and general staff over his years as an executive in the following categories, grading on a scale of 1 to 5.  Because these scores contradict the Dean's claim that the candidate was behaviorally deficient, and because this report became widely circulated at the time, CVM Independent determined there are no issues of confidentiality and is printing those scores here:

  • Achievement Orientation 4.7
  • Adaptability 4.4
  • Coach and Mentor 4.3
  • Conflict Management 4.5
  • Emotional Self-Control 4.3
  • Empathy 4.0
  • Influence 4.3
  • Inspirational Leadership 4.3
  • Organizational Awareness 4.6
  • Pattern Recognition 4.3
  • Positive outlook 4.7
  • Systems Thinking 4.5
  • Teamwork 4.3

CVM Independent also reviewed a letter addressed directly to Dean Risco from a Harvard Business School Executive Leadership Coach who described the candidate as one particularly suited for "influencing organizational change and performance."

"High level executives often have these assessments done," said someone involved in recruiting within the veterinary space. "The bizarre part here is that they are usually seen as very helpful in the hiring process. I've never seen whatever OSU called their 'behavior assessment' before."

Neither Dean Risco nor the equine surgeon, small animal internist or hospital administrator factored these reports and outreaches in their evaluations, all of which considerably addressed the character and "behavior" of the candidate, according to a review of those documents - many of which were addressed to Dean Risco personally.

"That's because there was no quote-unquote behavior assessment, what there was, was a bogus made-up procedural box to check that allowed the Dean to not have to interview this candidate," said a person familiar with the process. "He knew he couldn't just dismiss a candidate that strong, he needed a reason. He couldn't put his own name on it, so he got three people who didn't know any better, told them what to say and blamed them."

"You know how much he hates the alumni?" one person told us? "Risco personally fired the alumni's daughter a few weeks after the sham interview of his son."  CVM Independent has confirmed that the Dean did personally fire this alumn's daughter, a highly decorated member of the Teaching Hospital staff who had recently been nominated by the Teaching Hospital staff to inform the Dean of issues such as the toxic culture crippling the team.

"Fine, you don't want this guy for that position," one alumn said, "But we have to have this guy's relationships, and the lack of professionalism just made OSU look like fools to everyone he knows. You can say no to people without insulting them. For God's sake can't we do anything with grace here? It's not a mystery why major people avoid our program, this is how he treats people."

CVM Independent has not been able to confirm whether this so-called "behavior assessment" was conducted for other candidates for the Director position. However, the Human Resources consultant we interviewed offered a warning: "It doesn't make it less problematic if they are conducting this kind of thing for lots of people.  That would give me pause about the competence of HR and leadership for allowing this kind of thing."