This story was last updated on May 5, 2023.
Content warning: This story contains mentions of suicide and death.
On April 6, Adriene Knight, widow of William “Bill” Knight, the former assistant provost for Institutional Research and Effectiveness at Miami University, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university, Miami’s Board of Trustees and former provost Jason Osborne.
Also named in the lawsuit are Ruth Groom, associate vice president for Academic Personnel, and Lindsay Carpenter, associate vice president for Budget and Analytics.
The Miami Student has compiled a timeline of events using the lawsuit filings and emails obtained in a previous investigation by The Student. This story will be updated periodically as new information and records become available.
According to the filing, Miami Provost Jason Osborne assigned a data project to Knight involving “an antiquated statistical method used by Provost Osborne at his previous institution” that Knight was expected to use as well.
The lawsuit states that Knight and his staff “worked diligently to compile the statistical data” and “repeatedly checked” every record.
On Feb. 21, Knight wrote to Osborne in an email obtained by The Student about his unsustainable workload.
“I have reached the point where I am working 60-70 hour weeks with no end in sight,” Knight wrote. “I am working all weekend, usually every day to 8:00 or 9:00 at night, and the only thing that seems to result is that I am making more and more mistakes that I need to go back and fix and therefore get even more behind.”
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Knight added that the workload and pandemic had negatively affected his health.
“I haven't been feeling well, and I know I am getting increasingly difficult for Adriene to live with,” Knight wrote. “I am realizing that the combination of the workload and nearly a year of working at home have had an effect on me that I have to acknowledge.”
Knight proposed that Mollie Miller, associate director for institutional research and effectiveness, be promoted to director and an additional staff member be hired.
“This is absolutely the worst time to even bring up the idea of adding a staff member, but I know that you have raised it a couple of times,” Knight wrote. “I really think this would put the office and the University in the place they need to be, which is the most important thing, but it would also allow me to end up with a workload that is just heavy instead of crushing.”
At some point in February, the lawsuit alleges that Knight sent a draft of the report to Osborne, warning him that it was not complete and should not be shared. Osborne, the filing states, circulated the draft against Knight’s wishes and received “a multitude of negative comments from the recipients of the report about the accuracy of the data and the accuracy of the methods.”
“Mortified by this turn of events,” the filing states, “Osborne set out to destroy [Knight].”
The lawsuit states that on Feb. 28, Osborne placed Knight’s entire department under review and put Carpenter in charge of it. According to the filing, “this was not [Carpenter’s] field, and she had no experience with the subject data,” but implemented a “six-point system to validate every piece of data that flowed through [Knight’s] department.”
March 2021: Emails with Osborne
On March 14, Osborne wrote to Knight criticizing his data integrity and cooperation with Carpenter on the review process in an email obtained by The Student.
“I find it confusing and concerning that there seems to have been a relatively cavalier attitude toward providing the provost and other leaders validated and accurate data,” Osborne wrote. “I, as Chief Academic Officer, am your primary customer. The university requires absolutely reliable/validated data for essential functions.”
Knight replied to Osborne’s email later that day, saying he “respectfully disagreed” with some of Osborne’s points.
“[Carpenter] and I have been in email and/or remote meeting communication almost daily since your email of two weeks ago and the OIRE staff and I have discussed our priorities,
which are completely in line with what you have outlined,” Knight wrote. “Nothing is more important to me than the accuracy and integrity of our work.”
According to the lawsuit, Knight applied for medical leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in early March to help with his health issues. Knight had “submitted the necessary medical records” and Osborne, Carpenter and Groom were aware of his application. The lawsuit alleges that the application’s processing was “intentionally delayed by Groom.”
However, emails obtained by The Student show that Groom provided FMLA information to Knight, and he stated in emails that his physician was causing delays.
On March 19, Knight wrote to Osborne in an email obtained by The Student outlining several steps his department was taking to address Osborne’s concerns. He again brought up his health issues, which had intensified since his Feb. 21 email.
“This was the issue I discussed in my February 21 email to you, but it has now become apparent that it is much more serious,” Knight wrote. “I have been diagnosed and have been treated for severe depression for the past 15 years. It has become clear to me that this medical issue has been substantially affecting my work.”
Knight shared that his physician recommended he request a leave or work reduction through the FMLA.
“She really wanted me to do a full leave for a month, but I know this is not feasible given my responsibilities, so we have compromised on a six-week intermittent FMLA and I am working with Academic Personnel Services on the details,” Knight wrote. “I am certain that given some time and the proper treatment this issue can be brought under control and its effect upon my job performance will dissipate.”
Knight concluded his email by outlining his plans to seek employment at a different institution.
“Despite our strong commitment to effectively addressing your concerns about data integrity and recognition of the effects of my health issue upon my performance, I am aware that my work over the past few weeks has not been acceptable to you and has caused you to lose trust in me as a senior leader in Academic Affairs,” Knight wrote. “With this in mind I am thinking it is in the best interests of all of us if I seek new employment at another university.”
Osborne replied to Knight’s email later that day.
“You have mentioned health concerns a few times in recent months,” Osborne wrote. “I strongly encourage you to follow your doctor's advice or directives, and work with HR/Academic Personnel to implement whatever you feel is appropriate. We can and will accommodate whatever is needed to support your long-term wellness.”
Groom was the human resources representative tasked with addressing complaints from Knight and his staff. According to the filing, Knight and others in his department “had previously taken complaints regarding Osborne and/or Carpenter to Groom.” The lawsuit alleges Groom “immediately shared their concerns with Osborne'' rather than investigating their complaints, leading to “reprisals to [Knight] and his department.”
March 2021: Emails regarding medical leave
On March 15, Groom emailed Knight and Miller about inconsistencies in data on the number of professors in various departments.
The next day, Knight responded that he was “profoundly sorry” and added, “I am very sorry that the health challenge I have been experiencing has affected my performance and consequently caused problems for several people including you.”
On March 18, Groom responded to Knight individually.
“Let me begin by first stating that I am sorry to hear that you have been having some health challenges,” Groom wrote. “I wanted to share with you the link to apply for FMLA, in case the challenges you are facing result in the need for you to apply for FMLA leave.”
Groom then linked the application form, as well as the university policy on FMLA. Knight revealed in another email that day that he applied for FMLA on March 17.
In a March 18 email, a staff member in HR responsible for coordinating medical leave confirmed that she had received his application and said Knight’s physician would need to provide medical certification. Once HR received his certification, it would take up to five business days for the HR department to approve the leave.
That day, Knight sent his medical certification form to his physician. However, he didn’t hear back from her until March 23, when she informed him that it could take up to 10 business days to get the form back to HR. The HR department informed Knight on March 23 that his physician had 15 days to return the form, but if he took time off for his FMLA-related condition before being approved, it could retroactively apply.
On March 30, Groom followed up with HR to ask whether Knight’s leave had been approved yet and was told the university hadn’t received the paperwork yet.
The following day, Knight updated HR that his physician had filled out the forms but failed to sign them and wouldn’t be back in the office until the following Monday, April 5. This put him past the 15-day window, but a staff member in HR responded the next day and wrote, “I’ll continue to keep an eye out for the paperwork. That should not be a problem.” The staff member added that he could submit his leave report or take time off as sick without FMLA notation.
On April 5, Groom again emailed HR to check the status of Knight’s FMLA.
“The physician was out of the office last week,” HR responded, “so we are giving a little more time past the 15 days.”
Also on April 5, the filing claims that Knight received word that he would be required to meet with Osborne, Carpenter and other senior administrators on April 7 regarding “personnel issues.” The filing alleges “Knight was confident that he would be terminated at that meeting.”
In emails obtained by The Student, Osborne asked Knight on April 5 if he could prepare a list of bullet points on steps being taken to improve Miami’s rankings for the following year. Knight’s initial response appeared to be an automated message stating that he was out of the office attending the Higher Learning Commission Conference April 5-9. Knight himself responded briefly five minutes later saying, “Happy to do that. Back to you soon.”
The Student did not receive any emails regarding a meeting to discuss personnel issues as part of its previous investigation and is working to obtain more records now.
In the early morning hours of April 7, Knight died by suicide, leaving a final letter to Adriene.
“I am so sorry,” Knight wrote. “I am sorry that I just wasn’t strong enough this time. My greatest hope was to make it to retirement with you and just live our life free from worry and fear, but when I was told yesterday that I have to attend a meeting about ‘personnel issues,’ presumably about firing [Miller] and/or me, they finally broke me. I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough this time.”
In the weeks following Knight’s death, the filing alleges that Osborne, Groom and Carpenter “engaged in a course of conduct to oust every staff member that was working under [Knight] at the time of his death.”
After Knight’s passing, the lawsuit alleges that Miami’s Office of Equal Employment and Opportunity (OEEO) started to investigate the circumstances surrounding his death. According to the filing, the investigation “was dropped by the University and never completed.” However, a records request filed by The Student showed there was no formal investigation or complaint filed with OEEO in the immediate aftermath of Knight’s death.