TAMPA — In a case that has raised concern about the University of South Florida's hiring practices, the school has fired a high-profile director who managed to sail through the vetting process in 2013 despite serious marks on his job record.
The university announced Thursday it has removed Samuel Bradley as director of its Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications for trying to conceal an investigation into his inappropriate relations with students while in his previous job at Texas Tech University.
In addition, an independent report on the matter commissioned by USF found that university employees made a number of missteps in hiring Bradley, and that some of the school's hiring processes need to be tightened.
Bradley, 42, was notified Wednesday he has been removed from his position of tenured associate professor, and stripped of all other administrative and courtesy appointments at the university. He has been on paid administrative leave from the university since the first week of April, after the Tampa Tribune revealed his affairs with students at Texas Tech.
Associate professor Art Ramirez will continue to serve as acting director during a national search for a permanent leader.
"I'm very sorry," said Eric Eisenberg, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at USF. "This is an unfortunate distraction and I really want to reassure everybody who cares about this school — students, current faculty, the community — that we're completely committed to providing the best education in a major media market to make this school great. I'm committed to bringing in a great new director who will continue to move us in the right direction."
Tampa attorney Thomas Gonzalez conducted the independent review into Bradley's hiring and found USF officials did not verify his employment status, never asked for his personnel records or conducted a background check, and failed to advertise for the position as they conducted a hasty search to fill the director's position in 2013.
Also, Gonzalez said Bradley provided "false and misleading" information to USF during the course of the review, and was "deceptive" when he applied and interviewed for a job at the school. In addition, according to Gonzalez, Bradley falsified some pieces of information and failed to disclose others before he started work in August 2013 and was promoted to interim director that December.
A string of promotions in the 2½ years since then increased his annual salary from $74,900 to $145,385.
At the time he was hired by USF, and given tenure as a condition of employment, Bradley was scheduled to have his tenure revoked at Texas Tech as a result of an investigation into his dealings with students. He resigned before the process could be completed.
That investigation, conducted nine months before he moved to USF, found Bradley violated three operating policies and a conflict of interest provision in the faculty handbook by having affairs with three students and an inappropriate friendship with another.
Effective later this month, USF has adopted a new system-wide policy requiring that additional steps be followed for all new hires. Satisfactory reference checks are now a condition of employment, and documented reference checks will be necessary for current employees applying for a transfer or promotion.
The reference checks are in addition to checks of employment status, criminal background, sanction lists, certifications and licenses.
The university had not been aware of Bradley's background at Texas Tech until it was reported in the Tribune, which has since been taken over by the Tampa Bay Times.
USF encouraged employees and students to share any concerns about Bradley through an anonymous online reporting system, and has not received any complaints, Eisenberg said. The reporting system, called Ethicspoint, will never be taken offline, and anyone wanting to contribute to the Bradley investigation should still do so, he said.
USF's mandatory hiring processes were not followed with Bradley, the Gonzalez report said, and his position as interim director of the Zimmerman Advertising Program, or ZAP, was not advertised. Bradley was hired based on his application for a position as an assistant/associate professor of advertising, a job for which a proper search was performed but Bradley wasn't hired.
"When Dr. Bradley applied in the 2012 search he was the only applicant who seems to have had knowledge that USF was seeking a director for ZAP, writing extensively in his application of his plans for the program," Gonzalez said in the report.
The search for that job spilled into 2013.
Bradley had terminated his employment at Texas Tech on Feb. 15, 2013 and interviewed with the USF search committee Feb. 18.
He told USF he served as departmental chair at Texas Tech for a year and a half before "deciding to step down during my recent divorce." Actually, he was asked to step down from that position August 12, 2012. And, at the time of his USF application, he was on administrative leave pending a formal investigation into his behavior.
Though Bradley was turned down for that job, his name came up after the interim director of the ZAP, Harold "Hal" Vincent, resigned unexpectedly in the summer of 2013. School officials felt the need to fill the position "rather quickly," the report said, and did so within weeks.
In a June 23, 2013 memo, search committee member Jim Andrews, director of the USF School of Information and former interim director of the school of mass communications, explained that Bradley was seen as a good fit by school faculty. He "saw no red flags," he said.
Three months after Bradley's appointment as a visiting associate professor and interim director of the ZAP, he was recommended for tenure. Two months after that, he was appointed to the director's position and an associate professor with tenure as "the strong suggestion" and only recommendation of the search committee. No one at USF contacted Bradley's five references.
None of those positions were advertised, and Bradley was not considered by a search team in any of them, Gonzalez said in the report.
Eisenberg said no disciplinary action or review of the search committee is scheduled.
Bradley responded to his firing notice on Tuesday, saying Gonzalez's report contained "many key factual errors and omissions." He intends to contest the issue with representation from the faculty union, he said
Bradley said he was invited to an April 8 interview with Gonzalez by email, but was given no information regarding how he should prepare or any documentation he should bring.
"Further, I was not notified that this was an interview with potential disciplinary consequences," Bradley said. "Had I known this, I would have tried to obtain (United Faculty of Florida) representation at the interview despite the very tight timeline of scheduling the interview."
During the two-hour interview, Bradley said he was treated like a hostile witness and asked to recall "whether I used very precise language at several points during early 2013 — more than three years ago."
Bradley said he did disclose all relevant information during the hiring process to associate professor Kelly Werder, former interim director of the school Gil Thelen and Jim Andrews. He also said he was unaware that an investigation report from Texas Tech existed before he was told by Dean Eisenberg in March. (Thelen disputes this, saying that Bradley told him only he was leaving Texas Tech because of his divorce.)
"I have done nothing to harm the university," Bradley said. "I have remained silent in the press while my character was assassinated because I felt it was in the best interest of the university."
"I have always been a loyal and dedicated servant to USF — and I remain so, and I believe that I deserve to remain a tenured professor," Bradley said. "I look forward to the opportunity to provide full evidence of such."