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USF settles with former communications school director, rescinds his firing

Samuel Bradley also will receive $70,000 in payments.
Samuel Bradley also will receive $70,000 in payments.
Published Jan. 5, 2018

TAMPA — The former director of the communications school at the University of South Florida has landed a settlement that, along with payments totaling $70,000, turns his firing into a voluntary resignation.

Samuel Bradley lost his high-profile job in 2016 after USF officials deemed that he had withheld information during his hiring process, including key details about his employment status at Texas Tech University. That school was scheduled to revoke Bradley's tenure after finding that he had inappropriate relations with students.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: USF fires top administrator who was hired despite serious lapses at previous job

Bradley, 44, filed two internal grievances with USF to contest the firing. He also began disputing USF's actions on a blog called Now the Facts.

The new settlement, signed in December, puts his grievances to rest.

Now, neither Bradley nor USF allege any wrongdoing. Both agree not to disparage the other. USF will keep the termination paperwork on file only as long as the law requires, and those documents "will have no administrative significance."

"I am no longer officially called a liar on paper," Bradley said Thursday from New Mexico. "That was important to me because I didn't lie."

The settlement sum of $70,000 includes $15,689 in severance pay and $54,311 to fulfill a semester's worth of back pay.

Bradley's Tallahassee-based attorney, Stephen Marc Slepin, hashed out the settlement with USF's general counsel. Bradley said he chose not to pursue formal arbitration.

"It was time for this to be over," he said. "I didn't see any good that would come to anyone over another year of drawn-out battle for a Pyrrhic victory."

Bradley said he doesn't fault the USF administrators who fired him, though he said he remains concerned about due process in tenure cases.

The Texas Tech issue surfaced in early 2016, a few years after Bradley had left that university to join USF's beleaguered communications school, now named the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications.

In March 2016, The Tampa Tribune, since taken over by the Tampa Bay Times, asked USF about an investigation into Bradley's relationships at his prior employer. What emerged was an exhaustive report from the Lubbock university that concluded that Bradley had had affairs with three students and an inappropriately close friendship with another. USF placed Bradley on administrative leave.

The Texas Tech report called Bradley's behavior "generally unprofessional" and "embarrassing" and said he violated policies related to student relationships and conflicts of interest. Through interviews and intimate messages, the report chronicled a dramatic fallout, describing, for example, a graduate student hospitalized for emotional distress. At one point, it says, Bradley's wife smashed the windshield of a student's car after finding him in bed with an undergraduate.

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Over the years, Bradley denied acting inappropriately, but ultimately was demoted and resigned from Texas Tech. He contends that he never knew a formal report was completed. He first saw a copy, he said, days after USF suspended him.

"It was a collection of every rumor everybody had ever heard, with no backup, with no oath, no due process," Bradley said. He said he did have a long-term relationship with one Texas Tech student that was not against school rules.

At USF, Bradley was granted tenure as a condition of his employment, a common practice for tenured faculty members transitioning universities — only Texas Tech had been planning on revoking Bradley's tenure before he resigned.

These revelations sparked concern about USF's hiring practices, so university leaders commissioned their own report. Written by Tampa attorney Thomas Gonzalez, it revealed holes in USF's vetting process — such as a failure to ask for personnel records — and led to tighter protocols, including mandatory reference checks. Gonzalez also said Bradley had been "deceptive" in the hasty application process.

During Bradley's few years at USF, his salary nearly doubled. He began as a nontenured visiting professor and director of an advertising program making $74,900, then became the communication school's director, making $145,385.

The Zimmerman school has churned through directors and fill-ins in recent years as enrollment has plummeted and the mass communications program's accreditation lapsed. The drama surrounding Bradley's firing added another headache.

"It was certainly a very difficult chapter in the mass comm school's history and one that is good to have closure on," director Wayne Garcia said. "I think that the challenges that remain are less about the (school's) history and more about the industry that everyone faces."

Information from Times files was used in this report. Contact Claire McNeill at cmcneill@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8321.

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