Donors, alumni report hostility, retaliation from CVM leadership.

Multiple donors to CVM, including some who have donated more than a quarter-million dollars, report being “blacklisted” by CVM leadership. Donor gifts to CVM have faded, according to these donors, as relations with the college have become increasingly strained over the prior five years.

In June of 2022, a letter representing 47 concerned alumni was sent to the Provost warning, in part, that it had become “obvious to many alumni that the Dean viewed alumni as a necessary evil to deal with” and that he refuses to “seek input from the organized group” who sought to help him. The letter further explained that their relationship with the Dean had broken down, having “expressed these concerns to the management with the result being little to no acceptance of responsibility” and “diversion of the subject” in an attempt to “paint a rosy picture” for his superiors and uninformed stakeholders.

Since that letter, key members of the alumni community report that relations between them and Dean Risco have worsened “to the point of being adversarial at this point, nothing at all good.”

Further, donors report that key personnel in the alumni relations department at the College are targeted by Dean Risco and have been explicitly threatened with termination for maintaining common outreach efforts that are customary for the position, such as formulating informative emails and speaking with alumni and donors.

“We had to donate tens of thousands of dollars for an endowment in one employee’s name just to make it harder for the Dean to fire them,” one donor explained.  “He doesn’t trust anyone, and he’s made it clear no one should talk to alumni and donors except him, so his paranoia makes him suspect anyone who has good relations with us. That person has been put on probation, marched into HR, all sorts of things, all because the alumni respect the work they do and he doesn’t respect the alumni.”

CVM Independent verified that an endowment was created in an employee’s name, but we could not verify issues of workplace matters directly with that employee because we were unable to reach them.

The Dean has largely sidelined this employee by creating a new, effectively parallel position that he filled with “someone he can control,” according to another alumnus. “He’s only interested in things that make him look good. He’s very shrewd about crafting his image so he has this paranoid fear of people being around him who can see through that. He’s nice to your face, but when he closes his office door, look out. He’ll have key people hating you by closing time. He never comes at you himself, it’s always by tearing down your reputation with other people until you get blacklisted.”

One donor to whom the college previously awarded its “Distinguished Alumni” award said the alumni network was especially upset by the Dean’s actions regarding an alumni-created fundraising dinner.  “The alumni created something called the ‘Proud and Immortal Dinner’ which we were hosting every year to encourage each graduating class to remain committed and involved with the College after their graduation. Dean Risco kicked the alumni out of our own initiative and took it over, and now he hosts it as if he created it. He didn’t like the way it looked that something was successful without his name on it.”

A separate alumn was upset that the dinner is now paid for out of College funds “so that the Dean can control it” whereas, previously, the alumni had funded it themselves through donations and supporting vendors. “There’s always a price tag for his ego, sometimes its money like this but most times its him chipping away at you, spreading rumors behind your back.”

A current employee of the CVM reported a conversation they witnessed between the Dean and visitors to campus in the hallway outside his office earlier this summer, where the visitors asked him about “some of the big problems they heard from alumni.” The Dean told them, “it’s just alumni making fools of themselves.”  This employee was visiting McElroy for administrative purposes and does not work in the Dean’s office.  “I’m sitting there like ‘everything they’re saying is true!’ in my head, but I just kept walking.  He really hates the alumni, for real.”

Multiple alumni and donors reported that when Dean Risco was first appointed, they were excited to “have a permanent Dean in place after the interims, and we wanted to help him start off on the right foot.”  To achieve that goal, they arranged a meeting between the newly-appointed Dean and alumni representing every medical discipline from each decade of CVM’s existence “to show him our support and give him access to information and ideas.”

But the Dean showed very little interest in these efforts. “He only met with us after a while, and then he had no interest in any follow ups. He never really used us as a resource after that. And as time went on, he banished most of us one by one.”

We spoke with several of CVM’s most prominent and successful alumni, including award winners, distinguished former faculty, and noted alumni who have achieved national prominence, each of whom echoed similar experiences with Dean Risco.

One alumnus, whose hospitals have achieved national acclaim including becoming the world’s only three-time finalist for North American Accredited Practice of the Year from the American Animal Hospital Association, and who has been featured on national television for advanced medical practice, shared similarly antagonistic and retaliatory experiences. He told us, “I’ve worked hard to earn a reputation in our profession that is a credit to Oklahoma State and I’m proud of that.  I sent my daughter to work at CVM when I retired, and her first few years she did well, won recognitions, things like that. But as soon as she was nominated to be the staff spokesperson to the Dean about some things going on there, he personally fired her. Personally sat in a meeting and fired her, someone five levels below him. And then he convinced the leaders of my own alma mater that I’m someone who can’t be trusted.  I just wish the leaders of our University would have some skepticism at this point.  Did a bunch of successful alumni, people who are respected outside this campus, did we all just all of a sudden all turn bad? What’s the common denominator here?”

CVM Independent was able to independently verify that this alumn’s daughter did work for CVM for several years; was chosen by the Teaching Hospital staff to serve on the Dean’s Staff Council; and did receive awards such as the staff Mentorship Award, the administration’s “Above and Beyond” Award, and Employee of the month. We also confirmed that she was personally fired by the Dean after being chosen by the staff to report their concerns to him, and that the Dean personally emailed the entire staff announcing that he had done so.

One staff member who confirmed this sequence of events told us, “He was sending a message to the whole team: ‘see what happens when you say things I don’t want you to say?’ And everybody got the message real quick. After that, nobody spoke up anymore.”

CVM has been unable to find any other examples of a staff member termination, particularly at this employee’s level, where the Dean personally emailed the staff announcing a termination.

“What happened there was atrocious,” said an alumn. “It was the last straw for a lot of us.  What the Dean did to that family is wrong and it’s because he does not like anyone around who he believes could blow up this perception he wants everyone to think that nothing is his fault. And that poor girl had no idea what he is like. She thought she was helping and she ran right into a buzz saw. All because her Dad is an alumn with a reputation that threatens Carlos’ ego. He took them both down.”