CARBONDALE — In 1996, Ted Grace, then the director of Student Health Services at the Ohio State University, suspended physician Richard Strauss after receiving three complaints from students of inappropriate behavior during examinations.
“I felt like I had absolutely done what was right,” he said. “Taking out a tenured faculty member, it was not easy.”
Twenty-three years later, Strauss has been exposed as a serial predator who used his position to sexually abuse at least 177 male students under the guise of treatment, with acts ranging from ogling, to making suggestive statements, to fondling patients’ genitals during examinations.
Meanwhile, scrutiny has fallen upon Grace, who is now the director of the Student Health Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
In his mind, he is one of the few administrators who disrupted a culture of silence at OSU.
That culture was well-documented in a yearlong investigation conducted on OSU’s behalf by the law firm Perkins Coie, which brought the true extent of Strauss’ abuse to light, as dozens of OSU athletic trainers, coaches and administrators were found to have heard rumors and student reports of abuse.
“It’s clear there were complaints before I got there,” Grace said. “I don't think they even bothered to put any of it in writing. I was documenting every detail, which now can be scrutinized to say I did something wrong. But I'm the only one who did anything at all.”
However, some victims of Strauss, including Stephen Snyder-Hill, who reported his abuse to Grace, claim Grace waited too long to take out Strauss, and then went only far enough to cover his own back.
Grace may also be taking scrutiny from the state of Ohio, after Gov. Mike DeWine ordered an investigation of any still-licensed Ohio physicians who knew of Strauss’ abuse and failed to report it to the Ohio State Medical Board or to the police.
He contends he did share extensive evidence against Strauss with the Medical Board, which failed to act on it, and that any criticism of his methods is purely “semantics."
Grace, who is still licensed to practice medicine in Ohio, has not been found at fault in any investigation to date for his procedure in removing Strauss.
He supervised Strauss’ part-time work treating students at OSU's Student Health Center for three and a half years, beginning in August of 1992 and ending in January of 1996, when Grace removed him after the third student complaint.
Until now, all that was known of Grace’s side of the story came from a preliminary phone conversation he had with Perkins Coie investigators, which was detailed in their report.
Grace later declined a full interview with investigators because OSU refused his request for indemnification: a commitment to pay his legal expenses, including any lawsuits against him that might arise from his testimony.
However, in an exclusive conversation with The Southern this week, Grace sought to set the record straight on his actions, and on false claims about him in the Perkins Coie report.
Twenty-three years later, Grace struggles to remember when he first heard rumors about Strauss, he told The Southern.
However, he believes Perkins Coie investigators misrepresented him in their report, claiming he told them he was aware of “rumors that Strauss engaged in ‘inappropriate sexual touching of athletes,’” even before taking the OSU job, which raised questions about why Grace ever allowed Strauss to work around students.
In fact, Grace clarified to The Southern, he had heard rumors of a “touchey-feeley” OSU doctor, but never knew who it was.
“I didn’t have a name with it. I just heard they’d had a problem,” Grace said. “When I got there Dr. Strauss was on sabbatical the first six months. He just came back one day and someone said, ‘This is the sports medicine doc.’ I had no idea that was the physician.”
Rumors did swirl around Strauss back then, Grace said. But he’s sure he never heard of anything within his department before the first student complaint, raised on Jan. 3, 1995.
It was about six months after Grace appointed Strauss to the OSU Men’s Clinic, within Student Health Services.
A student who requested a test for genital warts claimed Strauss examined him in an extensive and inappropriate manner, the Perkins Coie investigation found.
The student brought his complaint to one of Grace’s close subordinates, Assistant Director for Administration Judy Brady, but “had a difficult time discussing his examination ... and did not want to be interviewed about it,” she told investigators.
Rather than push things, Brady helped the student get an appointment with a different physician and agreed to the student’s suggestion that a consent form be created for the Men’s Clinic, to explain to patients what would happen in an exam and give them the opportunity to request that a chaperone be present.
A second student complaint was brought to Grace’s attention just a few days later.
The victim was Snyder-Hill, who has publicly identified himself as “Student B” from the OSU report.
Snyder-Hill went to see Strauss about a lump on his chest and received unneeded testicular and digital-penetration rectal exams.
Strauss also asked Snyder-Hill about his sexual orientation and desires, and had an erection during the exam that he pressed against Snyder-Hill, the then-student said.
Snyder-Hill complained to Student Health Services the next day, then met with Grace, Strauss and Louise Douce, OSU’s Director of Counseling, shortly after.
At the time, Snyder-Hill remembers, he believed he was the only student who had ever had an issue with Strauss.
With the release of the Perkins Coie investigation showing Strauss’ larger pattern of abuse, he learned he was neither the first nor the last victim within Student Health Services, Grace’s then-department.
Now, Snyder-Hill believes Grace lied to him to quietly close his complaint. And Perkins Coie investigators have questions about their interactions, too.
Snyder-Hill’s anger with Grace begins with his decision to investigate Snyder-Hill’s complaint via a mediated meeting between him and his alleged abuser, Strauss.
To Grace, the meeting was the best available way to resolve an unwitnessed incident.
“It was one person’s word against the other person’s,” Grace said. “I brought in the head of counseling to interview patient and doctor together and see if they could work out, ‘Was there any way this could’ve been within the realm of a normal exam?’”
By the end of the meeting, Douce, who Grace trusted as an expert in interpersonal issues, said that she was “90 percent sure” that Strauss was not guilty of misconduct beyond being “incredibly insensitive,” Grace later wrote.
Grace agreed the incident had been a misunderstanding.
“I used the word flirtatious in one of my reports. I think I was suggesting that Strauss as a probably-gay individual was trying to pick up this man,” he said, not prey on him.
Jointly, the group decided they didn’t have enough evidence to say there had been an assault, Grace remembered.
“It was decided, including the patient’s input, that we would do the chaperone requirement,” he said, mandating that Strauss conduct all genital exams thereafter in the presence of another Student Health Services employee.
That resolution was supported by OSU’s Human Resources Department as an application of its three-strike “verbal-written-leave” disciplinary policy, Grace said, as well as by his superiors in Student Affairs — however, Grace could not remember specifically any memos, conversations or meetings alerting either department to the two 1995 complaints.
“I don’t want to put words in peoples’ mouths, but I never get a complaint that I don’t report up,” he said. “I was talking to Student Affairs on a daily basis almost. I’m sure Student Affairs knew I brought in the head of counseling to have a conference. They were involved in all of that.”
A different perspective
Looking back, Snyder-Hill considers Strauss’ exam a sexual assault, he told The Southern.
To him, Grace’s story indicates he always intended to minimize what happened.
“He put me in front of Strauss who he let yell at me, he didn’t document anything about the meeting,” Snyder-Hill remembered. “When I said he had an erection and shoved it against me that’s when Strauss slammed his hand on the table and screamed at me that I was trying to ruin his reputation.”
Looking back, Snyder-Hill feels Grace, Brady and Douce never offered him any option other than accepting he had not been assaulted.
There was no formal grievance procedure offered, no offers to advance the complaint up the chain of command, nor any mention of reporting the incident to the police or other outside authority, he said.
“No one, Judy Brady, Ted Grace or Louise Douce ever said the word ‘police’ or ‘law enforcement’ at all,” Snyder-Hill said. “I thought my options ended there, since Grace was the boss. I thought that was it.”
In documentation, Grace would later acknowledge Strauss’ aggressiveness in the meeting, and write that Snyder-Hill was a “very mature, very believable student,” who gave a “very believable report” that Strauss had “come on to him.”
When pressed about why a convincing report did not lead to Strauss’ immediate removal, Grace reiterated that his team did not detect assault, and that the resolution included Snyder-Hill.
“My philosophy has been with all complaints … It’s never one of these things where someone just tells you something and you pooh-pooh it,” he said. “I write it down, I contact the provider and witnesses. I contact the patient and I try to come to a resolution that’s satisfactory to both sides. Sometimes it’s a gray area, but when there’s a pattern or a degree that’s breached, I have never failed to act.”
However, Grace’s own meeting notes show he knew Snyder-Hill wasn’t satisfied back in 1995.
“Mr. Hill never accepted the explanation,” that what happened was a misunderstanding, he wrote.
For Grace to change his story now, Snyder-Hill said, is “manipulative.”
Snyder-Hill demanded Strauss be chaperoned in the future because he felt “powerless” to win any other resolution from Grace, he told The Southern, telling him over and over again, "I don't want this to happen to anybody else."
In exchange for dropping his complaint, Snyder-Hill also demanded Grace’s guarantee that Strauss had never had another sexual issue.
“I told him that, since they didn’t believe me, the only way I would feel any kind of resolution was if they promised me this hadn’t happened in the past, and wouldn’t happen again,” Snyder-Hill said.
Grace said as much in a letter dated Jan. 26, 1995, about three weeks after receiving the two complaints.
“I want to assure you that we had never received a complaint about Dr. Strauss before, although we have had several positive comments,” he wrote. “Any future complaints would include consideration of all prior complaints of a similar nature.”
In conversation with The Southern, Grace said he did not intend to lie.
The first complaint came to Brady, not him, in the midst of OSU’s winter break, he said, and he hadn’t yet discussed it with her when he wrote the letter.
Grace acknowledged the date on his letter, sent after both complaints and the joint meeting with Brady, Douce and Snyder-Hill, makes that account seem improbable.
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“I have to say I don’t remember how that happened,” he said. “I really pride myself on being upfront and honest. I was not trying in any way to mislead this young man. I had no reason to lie.”
As for why he never contacted Snyder-Hill upon learning of the prior complaint or upon receiving the following complaint, for which he suspended Strauss, Grace again repeated the contradictory claim that he was sure Snyder-Hill had been satisfied by the chaperone agreement.
“Ted Grace is a liar, who throws people under the bus to protect himself,” Snyder-Hill responded. “He protected a sexual predator because he didn’t want to stick his neck out and do something. Thankfully, the victim after me forced his hand.”
Had he been informed of additional complaints in 1995 and 1996, Snyder-Hill is certain it wouldn’t have taken the world decades to learn of Strauss’ abuse.
“If he had contacted me I would’ve marched him to the president of the university and said, ‘You guys have got to do something,'” Snyder-Hill said. “I probably would’ve gone to the media. I would’ve said, ‘What are you guys going to do about this?’”
And perhaps, Snyder-Hill told The Southern, a third student wouldn't have had to get molested to get rid of Struass.
An imperfect solution
In the year after Snyder-Hill’s complaint, Grace’s chaperone requirement for Strauss proved ineffective, as Strauss disobeyed its rules with no apparent oversight.
“The chaperone requirement was mandatory but ‘self-enforcing’ in the sense that Strauss was supposed to call for a chaperone every time he was going to conduct a genital examination,” the Perkins Coie investigators found. “It is unclear why Grace believed that a ‘self-enforcing’ chaperoning requirement was an appropriate solution for Strauss, given that virtually every examination in the Men’s Clinic was likely to require a genital examination.”
Eventually, Strauss stopped calling for a chaperone before exams, investigators found. And Grace never checked in on Strauss’ compliance.
On Jan. 5, 1996, with no chaperone present, a student identified as Student C in the Perkins Coie report was molested in the Men’s Clinic.
The student’s angry and graphic complaints quickly spurred Grace to suspend Strauss from Student Health, writing to colleagues in OSU’s Office of Student Affairs that he could “never trust this physician again.”
Speaking with The Southern, Grace acknowledged there was “no way to police” his chaperone rule for Strauss, and that both Strauss and his chaperones knew as much.
But rather than a policy bound to fail, he portrayed the requirement as a tool that could be used against Strauss if another problem arose.
“That really elevated that third case, because we had put something in place we could point out as a definite rule that he broke, when he broke it,” Grace said, giving him more conclusive evidence of wrongdoing than in previous unwitnessed incidents, where it was a victim’s word against their doctor.
“In addition to having a pattern of complaints, it did make a difference in us being able to go forward with the case,” Grace said.
To Snyder-Hill, what forced Grace and other administrators to act on the third complaint was the victim’s outrage.
“I absolutely owe that student the biggest debt of gratitude because he went berserk,” inside the clinic, Snyder-Hill said. “He came in and threw shit all over the waiting room and screamed at (Strauss). At that point you couldn’t cover it up.”
The fact that Grace’s only documentation of Snyder-Hill’s complaint was made a year after the fact and was never included in Strauss’ personnel file only strengthens Snyder-Hill’s conviction that Grace never intended to act until the third victim forced his hand.
Grace, meanwhile, claims he did have written records of both the 1995 incidents and maintained them well beyond the seven-year statute of limitations on medical records. Eventually, however, he destroyed them.
The scars Strauss left have been tough to shed for Snyder-Hill, and much of his anger is trained on Grace, he said. More still, he acknowledged, because he and his fellow victims will never get to face Strauss, who died by suicide in 2005.
“I feel that Grace betrayed me,” Snyder-Hill said. “I’m hellbent on getting his name out.”
Grace said he understands the pain Strauss’ victims feel.
“Nothing that I did could be right to a victim, I understand that. Nothing I did could have been fast enough to a victim,” he told The Southern. “But now to be criticized somehow when I stepped forward and said, ‘This is a difficult situation, but I’m going to address it.’ That’s difficult.”
“I’m sorry to hear that Steve thinks I wasn’t trying to protect students,” he added. "That has been my life. I hope someday he’ll see I did the best I could.”
Snyder-Hill and Grace do agree about one thing: As the only internal whistleblower who documented Strauss’ abuse in writing, Grace will face more scrutiny than he’s due, as pending lawsuits seek to unravel the history of Strauss’ abuse.
“I feel no sympathy for him,” Snyder-Hill wrote to The Southern. “The only thing I honestly feel bad about ... is that since he is the only one that anyone made write them a letter, he is really going to take the burden of 20+ years of Strauss, even though he only had a fraction of that time being his supervisor. “
Grace recently heard a rumor he’ll be deposed to testify about Strauss.
He welcomes the possibility, he said.
“The more factual information that can be brought forward, the better.”
A year after the Perkins Coie report, Grace’s actions appeared to be questioned again last week, by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s Strauss Investigation Working Group.
Their investigation focused on the Ohio State Medical Board, which awards and revokes physician licenses, and its internal failure to investigate Strauss.
The working group hasn’t publicly named Grace, but it has announced intent to investigate why OSU doctors never reported Strauss’ complaints to the medical board or to the police.
“The working group’s review found that no one from the university, not a single physician, reported anything to the medical board or to law enforcement. No one said a word,” DeWine said at a news conference last week. “I believe these doctors should face appropriate consequences, no matter how long ago this failure occurred.”
Grace acknowledges he didn’t contact anyone outside OSU about Strauss. But that’s only because the Medical Board contacted him first, he said.
“Dr. Strauss reported me to the board before I had a chance to report him,” Grace remembered. “I told him I was putting him on administrative leave while I investigated him, so he got a lawyer and went to the medical board and claimed I’d altered his medical record, while in fact I sequestered it in a safe so it couldn’t be changed.”
Strauss’ claims brought medical board investigators to Grace at OSU in July of 1996, five months after Grace suspended Strauss from Student Health Services.
“I was pre-empted,” he told The Southern. “When they came to investigate I said, ‘this is everything that I was about to bring you.’ That all went down so quickly.”
Grace handed over his files then, he said.
As for why he never called the police, even after receiving multiple first-person accounts of inappropriate sexual touching, Grace said he didn’t see it as his role to do so.
“They were all adults, so I had no required reporting. They could’ve reported directly. That’s their decision,” he said. “In the third incident, that victim was so upset that he said, ‘I’m never coming back here, I’m never going to talk about this and I don’t want anyone to contact me.’ I was never able to follow up.”
Once the medical board became involved, Grace believed it would be their responsibility to inform the police, if they determined the law had been broken.
“If the medical board’s involved I think it would be their responsibility,” to inform police, Grace said. “Once I turned over the records, it was fully in their hands.”
With the working group's report, the medical board's failure is now known.
Its investigation advanced significantly, even leading to a recommendation to gather patient records to build a case for revoking Strauss’ license.
But that never happened.
For unknown reasons, the investigation fell into a “black hole,” the working group wrote in its report.
Strauss kept his Ohio medical license through September of 1998, when he allowed it to lapse.
In September of 1996, eight months after Grace suspended Strauss and two months after the medical board became aware, Strauss opened an off-campus “Men’s Clinic” in Columbus, from which he continued to sexually abuse male students under the guise of treatment.
Brian Garrett was molested there.
He continues to hold Grace partially responsible.
“Strauss was on campus recruiting students to his clinic,” he said. “If you’re suspended from your job why are you still on campus and still allowed to see students? If Grace had called the police ... I wouldn’t have had this happen to me.”
By law, all licensed Ohio doctors are required to report any suspected infraction by another physician to the medical board.
All Ohioans are also legally required to report any felony crime they become aware of to police, though Gov. DeWine’s working group acknowledged most people “will have difficulty discerning what sexual impropriety might rise to the level of a felony, and therefore may not perceive a duty to report.”
Grace told The Southern he believes he accomplished his reporting duty internally by turning over written accounts of all three complaints against Strauss to OSU Vice President of Student Affairs David Williams by June of 1996.
“In terms of banning someone from campus, I didn’t have any authority to do something like that,” he said.
Externally, he was forthcoming with the medical board, he said, and records show he wrote to his superiors that he welcomed “the intense scrutiny of a medical investigation.”
Now, Grace added, in light of the medical board’s failures to act on Strauss, criticizing him for not sharing information quicker seems misguided.
“We could’ve reported it 10 minutes later and the info they analyzed would be the same as what they got and the outcome would’ve been the same. Only they could’ve chosen to take Strauss’ medical license, and they didn’t,” he said. “In retrospect everyone can say, ‘The faster the better.’ What I knew was that he wasn’t going to see any patients so I didn’t feel rushed after I suspended him.”
Society and medicine have learned much about sexual abuse in the years since he suspended Strauss, Grace added.
Just a month ago, the student health center he oversees at SIU Carbondale rewrote its policies to require a chaperone for all sensitive exams, even with doctors of the same sex, Grace said.
“That was never dreamed to be done as recently as a year ago,” he said, before massive same-sex doctor abuse cases at OSU and the University of Southern California were revealed.
“The problem is still when it’s one person’s word against another with no witnesses,” Grace added. “If one person comes in and says someone didn’t wear gloves, am I gonna fire them instantly? I can tell you I’m going to report the heck out of it.”
At SIU Carbondale, Grace’s performance has been, “nothing but positive,” SIU Carbondale Interim Chancellor John Dunn said in May.
T. Markus Funk, the partner at law firm Perkins Coie who led the OSU investigation, declined to comment for this story.
Ron O'Brien, the Franklin County, Ohio, prosecutor and a member of the Strauss Investigation Working Group, also declined to be interviewed.