They made me beg

Cleveland State’s graduate school denies admission to a guy who could teach the program

One of the puffs of smoke people blow up your ass when you become an ex-offender is to go back to school. Nearly 11 years after my conviction, in a fit of desperation this May, I finally decided to go that route with my 1989 political science alma mater, Cleveland State University.

What a mistake.

CSU has the perfect program for someone of my international political background — Master of Arts in Global Interaction (MAGI). I could teach nearly every single class on the syllabus, not least because of my subsequent 1994 JD from Case Western Reserve School of Law (also in Cleveland), which I represented in Eastern Europe as a student.

After spending the entire summer waiting for a decision, I went to CSU in person to ask why the hold up. Surprise — my 2002 conviction. I was told to write a letter explaining it more fully.

In other words, they told me to beg. Here’s the begging.
Thank you for taking the time to meet today, and for the opportunity to further explain my criminal record.
In November, 2001, I was arrested for soliciting an FBI agent posing as a 13 year old online. In August, 2002, I was sentenced to a year’s probation & community service (completed in 4 months), and a fine. The facts were so minor the judge determined that I am not required to register as a sex offender. I have written about my story at length online, as in the URL below.
In addition, since applying to CSU (and thus not on the application), in June, 2013, I plead guilty to misdemeanor physical control and disorderly conduct in connection with an OVI arrest in October 31, 2012. On July 17, 2013, I was sentenced to a year’s probation, have completed a 3 month suspended driver’s license sentence, and paid a fine. I need my application revised to reflect this conviction.
Due to the nature of my 2002 conviction, despite a long career in international relations, politics, and foreign policy, I have been unable to return to gainful employment in my chosen field. The last 12 years have been incredibly difficult. I take full responsibility for my actions and mistakes in dealing with this self-inflicted trauma, including my recent driving arrest.
Since the conviction, however, I’ve continued to build my skills in politics and foreign affairs, reflected in the attached CV, including political work in Ohio, Latvia, Britain, Croatia, Kosovo and the West Bank & Gaza Strip. Most recently, in 2010 I ran for Cuyahoga County Council District 7 (which includes CSU), finishing 12 votes out of 3rd place in a 9 person primary, even winning the largest turnout precincts by a landslide, despite my criminal record being used against me door to door.
For these reasons, I’ve decided to focus on restarting my career through CSU’s MAGI program, with a goal of becoming a professor, or again entering work in foreign affairs. My initial answer to the application question about criminal record reflects my position as a candidate, advocating against discrimination on the basis of criminal record unrelated to the job or service.
Over 7,000 ex-offenders return to Cleveland from prison every year, not including those who did not spend time in prison. As an urban university, CSU is often the final hope for ex-offenders seeking to begin a new life, and as a candidate who earned the votes of the public based on my advocacy to ban the box on applications asking about criminal record, I feel an obligation to live by my word, at least by stating my case.
As a 1989 alumnus, it would be an honor to begin my road back at CSU. Thank you for your consideration. If there are any further questions, please feel free to contact me anytime.

Today I learned of denial of admission, not in person, by phone, or email, but by accessing the status of my application online myself. I emailed for the reason. No response. Called this afternoon, and confirmed that the criminal conviction is the reason they denied my application.

I’d say I’m surprised. That would be a lie.

UPDATE: An appeal drive has begun. You can help.

I need your help. As I posted this week, I was denied admission to my 1989 alma mater Cleveland State University, for a Master of Arts in Global Interaction, based on my 11 year old criminal conviction outweighing my decades of credentials in politics, international affairs, and foreign policy, a JD from CWRU, and despite an unheard of endorsement from 730 City of Cleveland voters in 2010. I was deemed not a human being, but a phantom potential insurance liability.
Despite my reluctance, I’ve decided to follow the urging of the admissions office and appeal. I need your help in this appeal.
Discrimination on the basis of criminal record unrelated to the job or service is immoral and should be illegal. I campaigned against this vicious and hurtful practice when I ran for office, and now, another battle needs to be fought against it. Please help by emailing or calling in support of my appeal to the office of CSU President Ronald Berkman this weekend, at the address below. I don’t know when this appeal will be decided, but if they have a full inbox on Monday morning, it may help. Thank you all for your support over the years.
President Ronald Berkman
Michael Artbauer
Chief of Staff to President Ronald Berkman

UPDATE II 8/16/13 Without ever contacting me during the appeal, here’s CSU president Ronald Berkman’s email to my letter writers. He told them instead of me.

For graduate admissions applications of this nature, the University’s process provides for an individual review by a committee of administrators. The committee’s review is designed to ensure that each applicant receives a fair evaluation based on the discrete circumstances of his or her situation. In the case of Mr. Russo, the committee determined that he was not an acceptable candidate for the MAGI program or Cleveland State University. Based on the careful consideration of the matter provided by the committee, I do not believe the decision should be disturbed. Ronald M. Berkman, Ph.D. President

The only surprise in this is how classless a Ph.D president of a university can be. But I guess that shouldn’t be surprising either.

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