Two other provost candidates face scrutiny, USM pays consultants almost $87K


Special to SM2

Mohamad S. Qatu from Eastern Michigan, left, and Farshad Fotouhi from Wayne State University are both finalists for the provost position at USM.

Two of the other four provost finalist candidates at the University of Southern Mississippi have controversies in their past, and the university paid the consulting firm almost $87K according to information obtained by Southern Miss Student Media. 

The two provost candidates are Farshad Fotouhi and Mohamad Qatu.  

Fotouhi is the Dean Emeritus and Professor within the College of Engineering at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Qatu is a Professor and Dean of the GameAbove College of Engineering and Technology at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan.  

The former director of EMU’s College of Engineering and Technology, Mohamed El-Sayed, filed a lawsuit in 2018 against Qatu and other administrators. According to an article by, the suit alleged discrimination, favoritism and “concerning financial transactions” involving Qatu.  

 An EMU spokesman stated that the lawsuit’s claims had “no merit.”  

According to an Article by Inside Higher Ed, multiple faculty at WSU stated that Dr. Farshad Fotouhi “lacked integrity.” The article noted that the university investigated and absolved Fotouhi of claims of dishonesty about personnel and budgeting decisions.  

SM2 contacted USM about both provost candidates’ legal and departmental hurdles.  

“The search committee’s work is ongoing as well, as they carefully consider collective feedback from the University community following finalist visits,” said James Coll, USM’s Chief Communication Officer, in an email to SM2.  

Feedback surveys for the provost candidates are currently closed.  

“The next step is for the search committee to provide President Paul with their assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate,” Coll said.  

SM2 also contacted Heather Annulis and Derek Patton, co-chairs of the Provost Search Committee, with this information and requested a comment. As of now, SM2 still awaits their response.  

The 13-member search committee -comprised of two students, two staff members, one administrator and eight faculty- is less than half the size of the previous search committee for USM’s last provost, Steven Moser.  

According to public record documents obtained by SM2, USM paid $86,700 to  Academic Search, an academic hiring and search agency, to find the candidates, which include the four USM provost candidates mentioned in this article.

USM’s interim provost, Gordon Cannon, currently makes $231,750, excluding his $77,250 salary as a tenured professor, according to the 2022-2023 university budget.   

Southern Miss Student Media could not find current, past, or pending controversies or scandals about USM provost candidate Melissa Gruys. She is a Professor and Dean of the Richard T. Doermer School of Business at Purdue University Fort Wayne, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. 

Over the last few weeks, opposition almost solely encircled finalist candidate Lance Nail—a petition advocating for him not to be hired acquired over 1,000 signatures.

A Southern Miss Student Media poll found that 86% of respondents believe Nail should not be USM’s next provost. 

The disposition against Nail stems from him turning a blind eye to sexual misconduct and violating grading procedures while Dean of Rawls College of Business at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. Nail resigned following the latter scandal in 2015.

Nail currently serves as dean of the business school at the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, Texas. 

A USM Ph.D. candidate, Emily Goldsmith, was the person who started the Twitter thread which exposed Lance Nail’s past. Their efforts garnered the attention and response of a prominent USM donor: Chuck Scianna.

I know that I am a grad student, and that is unfortunately not a position of a lot of power, but I am really dedicated to student-centered learning and pedagogy and to equitable campuses and classroom spaces,” said Goldsmith to SM2 media.

For Goldsmith, these additional developments only add to the growing criticism of USM’s provost search process. They have concerns about Nail and the two other candidates who have faced issues. 

“I think, unfortunately, the truth about higher administration in higher education is that a lot of times, the folks in these upper positions operate like politicians,” said Goldsmith. “So, there is a certain amount of questionable ethics that we are forced to tolerate.”

Despite whom USM President Joseph Paul chooses as the next provost, their expected start date is July 1, 2023