Sundaram Narayanan, Wright State University Provost Fired in Wake of H-1B Probe

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Sundaram Narayanan, Provost of Wright State University, in southwest Ohio, has been fired, in addition to Phani Kidambi, head of the university’s International Gateway program, and Ryan Fendley, senior advisor to the provost. According to Wright State University, the foreign-worker visa program is under federal investigation and that it has disciplined three administrators, including its Indian American provost, in connection with the probe.

School leaders said in a statement first issued Sept. 14 that they were informed earlier this year of “credible evidence” that, sometime between two and five years ago, not every employee sponsored by the school under H-1B work visas was actually working for the school.

“That would violate federal law, and it concerns us greatly,” said the joint statement from university president David Hopkins and Michael Bridges, chairman of the board of trustees.

The H-1B visas are for foreign workers in specialty occupations such as computer science, engineering and biotechnology. The school says it usually sponsored fewer than 50 of the visas each year.

The university, near Dayton, could face suspension of its ability to sponsor H-1B visas, and also fines and legal fees. The school says it is cooperating with federal investigators who are trying to determine whether criminal statutes were violated. School officials said they have been working with the Ohio attorney general’s office to uncover the facts, coordinate with federal authorities, and make sure the school is in compliance.

“We are taking strong actions to solve these problems,” their statement said. “We expect to take more actions in the near future and will announce them as soon as conditions permit.” Wright State said that Sundaram Narayanan has been demoted from provost, while retaining his faculty status. Two university vice presidents will take over the provost’s duties. The school had placed him on paid leave in May.

The school said the fact-finding process at a university of more than 20,000 students, faculty and staff total is complex and time-consuming, but the officials pledged to “get this right” and said that those who failed to comply with the law “must be held accountable.” A school spokesman declined any further comment Sept. 15, citing the ongoing federal investigation. He declined to say which federal agencies were investigating.

“As a matter of policy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation unless or until an enforcement action is pursued,” said Khaalid Walls, an ICE spokesman. An FBI spokesman said he wasn’t aware of any bureau involvement.

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