A committee of Ohio State University trustees took the first steps on Thursday to revoke the emeritus title bestowed years ago upon Dr. Richard Strauss, now accused of sexually abusing at least 177 former students.

The move, which will go before the full board of trustees for approval on Friday, would be mostly symbolic, stripping the honorific from the doctor who killed himself in California in 2005.

It would also be a historic one. If the resolution is approved on Friday, Strauss would be the first individual at Ohio State to be stripped of emeritus status, Provost Bruce McPheron told the trustees' Academic Affairs and Student Life committee on Thursday.

“What Strauss did was awful, and I’m outraged that people at the university did not take action to stop the abuse at the time,” McPheron said. “ … While we cannot erase what Strauss did, today we’re asking this committee to correct the record in terms of his faculty status.”

The committee unanimously approved the resolution to revoke Strauss' emeritus status. No trustees on the committee spoke about the resolution.

An investigation conducted for Ohio State by Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie found Strauss sexually abused at least 177 former students during his time at Ohio State. Investigators also found that university employees knew about the doctor’s misconduct but failed to act.

Ohio State has made counseling available to Strauss' victims and their families at no cost through a third-party. President Michael V. Drake said university officials continue to review the Perkins Coie report and "will take action as appropriate."

"Revoking Strauss' faculty emeritus status is one immediate and necessary step," Drake said on Thursday. "This university will continue to work vigilantly to prevent sexual abuse, and we stand together in support of survivors."

Complaints about Strauss began almost as soon as he arrived at Ohio State in 1978, but none were elevated beyond the student health or athletics departments for years. The university eventually started a limited investigation into Strauss in 1996, when administrators told him his services in student health and athletics would no longer be needed.

Yet Strauss maintained his status as a tenured professor within the School of Public Health. After unsuccessfully campaigning to retain his positions in student health and athletics, Strauss voluntarily retired in March 1998.

Upon his retirement, faculty in the School of Public Health recommended Strauss receive an emeritus appointment, which the board of trustees approved.

An emeritus appointment typically includes benefits such as use of university recreational facilities, athletics tickets and even use of departmental facilities. Perkins Coie investigators never found evidence that Strauss returned to Ohio State after his retirement.

 

jsmola@dispatch.com @jennsmola