A recent news article and ongoing internet and social media postings have called attention to allegations of personal misconduct by Phi Theta Kappa Executive Director Dr. Rod Risley, made by two former international officers, Toni Marek and Rachel Reeck. Out of respect for the privacy of all concerned, the Phi Theta Kappa Board Chair has engaged legal counsel to conduct a thorough and complete review before commenting on the substance of any of the allegations. Despite enormous temptation to respond to every tweet in the blogosphere, the Phi Theta Kappa Board believes that a thorough, deliberate, and unbiased review is the responsible course.
However, wholly apart from the substance of the allegations, there is incorrect and misleading information concerning the history of Ms. Marek’s and Ms. Reeck’s complaints and how the Board has handled them, the independence of the investigation, and Dr. Risley’s compensation. Since these subjects are not related to the substance of the allegations, the Board believes it is best to set the record straight.
The History of Ms. Marek’s and Ms. Reeck’s Allegations;
Ms. Marek resigned as a Phi Theta Kappa International Officer on January 11, 2014. Prior to that time, she made no allegations of which the Board is aware about personal misconduct of Dr. Risley. The Board was informed of her resignation, but no action was required.
On April 2, 2014, a communication was sent by Ms. Marek to a member of the Board concerning Ms. Marek’s allegations about personal misconduct and her belief that she was forced to resign for a retaliatory reason. On April 28th, the Phi Theta Kappa Board Chair engaged an independent law firm – The Kullman Firm – for investigation of Ms. Marek’s allegations. Despite repeated attempts by the Kullman Firm to contact Ms. Marek, she never returned the firm’s call or emails to her. The Kullman Firm’s emails to Ms. Marek can be found at the end of the statement.
Instead of responding to requests for information, Ms. Marek initiated a lawsuit in Federal Court in Texas. As a result of Ms. Marek’s decision to place the matter in litigation, the Board Chair, on the advice of the investigator, decided to discontinue the investigation by the Kullman Firm due to the lack of response by Ms. Marek, but more significantly, because the matter was before a court where litigation, investigation and discovery would reveal the facts. Ms. Marek’s lawsuit remained pending for over five (5) months, but was ultimately dismissed by the Federal Court on February 13, 2015.
During the pendency of Ms. Marek’s lawsuit, Phi Theta Kappa received a letter (dated December 11, 2014) from an attorney representing Ms. Reeck. That letter, for the first time to the Board’s knowledge, contained allegations of misconduct by Dr. Risley relating to Ms. Reeck. Ms. Reeck sought the removal of Dr. Risley and demanded a payment to Ms. Reeck of $25,000. Ms. Reeck’s attorney’s letter can be found at the end of the statement.
Again the Phi Theta Kappa Board Chair acted promptly to initiate an investigation. Since Ms. Reeck was represented by counsel and making a monetary demand, Phi Theta Kappa was compelled to retain its own counsel and engaged the Jackson, Mississippi firm of Watkins & Eager PLLC to investigate Ms. Reeck’s allegations. Watkins & Eager contacted Ms. Reeck’s attorney on December 18, 2014, and asked that she provide any and all information or evidence which Ms. Reeck contended would support or corroborate Ms. Reeck’s assertion of misconduct by Dr. Risley as asserted in her attorney’s letter.
Despite indicating that a response would be forthcoming, no information has yet been received from Ms. Reecks’s counsel.
After not responding to the Phi Theta Kappa Board Chair’s requests for information through the Kullman Firm in the case of Ms. Marek, and Watkins & Eager in the case of Ms. Reeck, Ms. Marek and Ms. Reeck together wrote a letter in late February 2015 to a Board Member of Phi Theta Kappa which included detailed allegations and what they asserted was supporting and corroborating information. That letter and information was forwarded to the Board Chair who immediately referred it to the Phi Theta Kappa Board’s counsel, Watkins & Eager, for a thorough and objective inquiry into every allegation in the Marek/Reeck February 2015 submission. The investigation is ongoing.
Independence of the Investigation;
Despite having declined prior requests for information, Ms. Marek and Ms. Reeck now suggest that Watkins & Eager cannot conduct an “independent” review because Phi Theta Kappa has previously engaged the firm. It is important to note that the Watkins & Eager law firm represents Phi Theta Kappa and reports to its Board Chair and not Dr. Risley. Furthermore, the fact that Watkins & Eager has previously been retained in this and other matters does not alter its ability to objectively investigate and give independent advice. Moreover, the timing of events and the firm’s existing familiarity with the organization provide an advantage in achieving the Board’s investigative goals in the time frame desired. Organizations frequently use outside counsel with whom they are familiar and with whom they have a relationship to conduct investigations, particularly where, as here, the organization is governed by a volunteer Board which lacks the staffing and resources necessary for a task of this magnitude.
Despite our complete confidence in the objectivity of Watkins & Eager, the Phi Theta Kappa Board has decided, in light of the concerns raised, to engage another firm to assume, verify, and conclude the investigation. The Board is in the process of identifying the new firm. The Board takes this step to ensure confidence in the integrity of its review of this matter, regardless of the inevitable delay it will cause.
In addition, Dr. Risley, to assist the investigation, and to minimize distraction to the organization, its student officers, staff, advisors and the membership as a whole, has requested a temporary leave during the pendency of the investigation. The Board has agreed to honor that request. The leave will begin April 14, 2015. The Board and Dr. Risley also agree that all allegations should be fully and promptly investigated and that Dr. Risley’s decision to voluntarily and temporarily stand aside is in the best interests of the organization.
Dr. Risley’s Compensation.
Finally, in regard to Dr. Risley’s compensation, reports erroneously implied that Dr. Risley’s annual compensation is $740,000 and that Dr. Risley has made more than 4 million dollars over the last 6 years. Both assertions are misleading. Dr. Risley’s base salary last year was $321,000.00. He is eligible for a performance bonus, he has a car allowance, and health insurance. His salary is set annually by the finance committee of the Phi Theta Kappa Board and determined in reference to the salaries of experienced leaders of comparable organizations. Consideration has been given to his tenure with our organization (38 years), his importance to our organization, the mission and financial success of our organization, the compensation of other senior staff, and Dr. Risley’s undeniable contributions to the organization over the years. We are confident that his compensation is fair and reasonable in light of all relevant factors.
The misleading picture of his compensation comes from conflating his current and deferred compensation. For 14 of Dr. Risley’s 38 years with the organization, Phi Theta Kappa had no retirement plan. A plan was put in place for Dr. Risley and others, with the goal of retaining their services until retirement. Changes in the tax law required an adjustment to that plan in recent years, which has in turn required increased funding to meet the plan’s future obligations. All decisions regarding the retirement benefits have been made with the advice of outside consultants and in careful consultation with Phi Theta Kappa’s Chief Financial Officer.
Dr. Risley’s compensation is fair in the market place, low considering his work ethic and contribution to the organization, and completely consistent with the means of the organization.
We hope that this clarifies any misinformation. Again, the Phi Theta Kappa Board takes the referenced personal conduct allegations very seriously, is conducting a thorough and serious review, and will take appropriate action based on its review.
We thank Dr. Risley for his full cooperation and hope that all involved will also cooperate with this review.