Provost Finalist’s Past Exposed by Twitter Thread

Lance Nail, one of the finalists for provost at the University of Southern Mississippi, once defended a professor accused of sexual misconduct and changed students’ grades behind their professor’s back according to media reports in 2015 and 2016 that were revealed in a Twitter thread created by a USM graduate student on the morning of April 3.  

This Twitter thread, by Emily M. Goldsmith, is accompanied by a petition to prevent Dr. Nail from being hired. Both the thread and the petition list Nail’s history of scandals before he applied to come to USM. 

This all stems from Nail’s time as dean of the Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University from August 2012 until December 2015.  

In 2016, KCBD, a local news station in Lubbock, Texas, revealed a 2014 Title IX investigation into Franco Parisi, Nail’s former colleague, and friend.  

The investigation found several instances of sexual misconduct committed by Parisi. In one incident, he made drinks for a female staff member in the academic building during work hours. When she passed out from intoxication, he abandoned her, and she was in a “life-threatening condition.”  

According to the news report, after this happened, Nail decided not to renew Parisi’s employment for the next year but still invited him on a leadership trip to Chile, Parisi’s native country. On this trip, several witnesses confirmed that he harassed a female student on the trip and subjected other students to “inappropriate behavior.” 

Even after this, Nail recommended Parisi for other jobs. Parisi found a job teaching at the University of Alabama but was let go after KCBD’s article was released. He is also banned from the Texas Tech campus according to the report. 

Nail resigned In late 2015 as Dean of Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University after a grade-changing scandal according to an article on the Inside Higher Ed website. A faculty panel found that four failing students in the school’s business graduate program got their degrees despite having poor grades in the math class, which was taught by Dr. William Jay Conover. 

According to the report, rather than following proper procedures for grade disputes, Nail got another professor to create an alternative exam for the students. Based on this exam, the failing students’ grades were raised enough to allow them to graduate. Neither the professor who made the exam nor Conover was aware of this plan.  

In both cases, Nail defended himself. During the grading scandal, Nail released a statement where he admitted that he violated procedures according to the article on the article Inside Higher Ed website. He argued that this was an extraordinary case of a professor grading students unfairly. The faculty committee over the case did not find this to be true. 

Nail also argued that there were many inaccuracies in the Title IX report according to the KCBD report. Nail argued that Parisi did not abandon the intoxicated faculty member but left to let her husband into the building. As for the trip to Chile, Nail said that another faculty member who knew of Parisi’s past still wanted him to attend. Nail planned to join the trip to make sure Parisi stayed away from students outside of class, but scheduling conflicts prevented him from going.  

However, Nail admitted that he knew of Parisi’s inappropriate behavior, just not the full extent of it.  

Nail resigned as Dean of the business school in November 2015 but stayed on as a tenured professor of finance. He left Texas Tech in 2017 to become the Dean and professor at the Fowler College of Business at San Diego State University, according to his curriculum vitae. 

His current position is as Dean and professor at the Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. He previously served as Dean and professor of USM’s own College of Business from 2008 until 2012 according to his CV.  

To get the full picture, SM2 reached out to both Goldsmith and Nail for statements via email. 

Goldsmith is an English Ph.D. candidate at USM. They first heard about Nail after a colleague expressed concern about his background. Goldsmith decided to look Nail up on Google, where several news articles popped up. 

They and other graduate students sprang into action, creating a petition to remove Nail as a provost candidate. As of this writing, 440 people have signed the petition.  

“Dr. Lance Nail has made it clear via his past conduct that he tolerates and excuses the behavior of professors who act inappropriately with their students. Why would we give this man a position of power where he can continually harm students?” they said in a written statement. 

Goldsmith and others are concerned that if Nail was hired, it would compromise student safety and the university’s reputation.  

 Hiring Dr. Lance Nail would communicate that all the university’s claims about diversity, inclusion, and equity were meaningless platitudes,” they said. “Dr. Lance Nail has USM connections, and he’s rumored to be the favorite for the position…This whole situation screams ‘Good Ole Boys’ club 

SM2 reached out to Nail for comment. In an email, he stated that he cannot discuss the incidents at Texas Tech because of a nondisclosure agreement.   

He also argued that his previous record as Dean and Professor at USM’s College of Business could attest to his reliability as a candidate.  “I would encourage you to ask the many Southern Miss colleagues I worked with when I was there about that integrity and leadership. Or those who served on the Business Advisory Council who supported my mission to graduate ethical business leaders from Southern Miss,” he wrote in the email. “And, most importantly, I hope that you will speak with the many former students who I believe will attest to my ethics-based and student-centered approach.” 

All of this brings up an important question: how did Nail’s controversies go unnoticed? The answer has to do with the provost search process. The process was conducted by the Provost Search Committee and consultants from Academic Search. The committee consisted of USM faculty, staff, and students from both Hattiesburg and the Gulf Coast. Academic Search is a national firm that helps universities find and hire executives.  

According to their website, Academic Search’s Executive Search process consists of six steps.  

The first two are working with the university and learning about its history and community to develop a profile of the ideal candidate. 

The third step is to recruit a diverse application pool via applications. 

The final steps are to evaluate, interview, and vet potential candidates. Consultants from Academic Search work with the Search Committee to narrow down the list of candidates through Neutral Site Interviews. Then the consultants run background checks on the finalists. After the background checks, the finalists are interviewed on campus.  

After the on-campus interviews, the consultants help to make the final pick and help them transition into their new job. 

James Coll, USM’s Chief Communications Officer, confirmed that the search committee was aware of Nails’ controversies and that Academic Search was still vetting the candidates. 

Nail said that “there will be background checks conducted as part of the search process. I am confident that those background checks will provide confidence in my integrity and leadership.”  

Nail will visit the Southern Miss Gulf Park campus on April 17, and the Hattiesburg campus on April 18 as part of the final stage of the provost search. Nail and the other candidates, Mohamad S. Qatu, of Eastern Michigan University; Melissa L. Gruys of Purdue University Fort Wayne; and Farshad Fotouhi of Wayne State University, are in the process of attending forums for students and faculty to learn more about them starting on the week of April 3.  

This story will be updated when SM2 receives any new information.

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