Transylvania faculty call for resignation of president Owen WilliamsThis from the Herald-Leader:
Faculty leaders at Transylvania University have called for the resignation of President Owen Williams in a 35-page document given to the 62 members of Transy's two governing boards.
The document, which three faculty leaders mailed earlier this week on behalf of their colleagues, says that faculty will work with Transy's board of trustees and board of regents to move the school ahead but without its current leader.
"We have a president at the helm who is a liability, enrollments and giving appear stagnant, and morale is at its lowest level in over three decades," the executive summary of the document states. "Our institution deserves better."
The document follows a 68-7 vote of no confidence in Williams taken by the faculty on May 24. The University's board of trustees then took a unanimous vote of confidence in Williams later that day.
Board of trustees chairman W.T. Young Jr. said in a statement Wednesday that board members would review the information thoroughly, but he did not address the faculty's request to seek Williams' resignation.
"For the sake of Transylvania and the educational excellence that it represents, I sincerely hope that we can resolve these concerns and continue to move the university forward," Young said.
The 35-page document contains a chronicle of conflicts that faculty have had with Williams for the past three years, information that some board members have seen already. It also provides a chronology of meetings, conversations and events in which faculty say they tried to address their concerns over Williams' leadership style.
The document accuses Williams of displaying a "dismissive and disrespectful" manner toward faculty, staff and students. In 2011, for example, faculty members held three meetings with Williams about the "chilly gender climate" toward women on campus, according to the document.
In early 2013, the tipping point was apparently reached when Williams deferred tenure for two people after they had been approved by all necessary committees.
The document says the current crisis is not just about tenure but acknowledges that those decisions did "galvanize the faculty and led us to present the evidence of Dr. Williams' failed presidency to the board of trustees on April 28."
"The tenure debacle is but one example of Dr. Williams' inability to lead through a reasoned and balanced process in which formal procedures and pertinent constituencies of the university are respected," the faculty leaders wrote.
In previous statements, Young has said the board will work with Williams to improve his leadership style. Williams also has pledged to do so in remarks he made at a meeting with some faculty and board members on May 23, a copy of which was obtained by the Herald-Leader.
"I understand that many of you are extremely frustrated with and, in some instances, offended by my style of leadership," Williams said in his remarks. "To those whom I have offended, I am sorry. It may be little consolation, but it was never my intent to either frustrate or offend. Also, in my enthusiasm for this college and all that it can become, I have never meant to insinuate that Transylvania is not already extraordinary in many ways."
Williams also said he is aware that he doesn't listen well enough, and he pledged to improve and take differing opinions into consideration.
However, the faculty document said those remarks "were clearly inadequate and did not address either the core of the matter or the extent of the damage.
"Our university is at a crossroads, a time when we must capitalize on our most valuable strengths and position ourselves to progress in better and more diverse ways," faculty said. "We cannot have at our helm a president who is learning to be a better listener in order to become a better leader."
Williams came to Transylvania in 2010 after a career as a Wall Street banker and after earning a doctorate in history at Yale, with a focus on Civil War studies. He has launched ambitious plans for the 1,070-student school, including expanding and improving its student body, curriculum and physical plant.
Transy president offers inspiring vision
but his best move is to resign
Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall and not even Rafinesque can put him back together again.
Yes, it is a sad day for Transylvania University, my alma mater. There is little value now in questioning the faculty's decision to address Transylvania's clear and dangerous problems with a no-confidence vote.
It does not help now to say that the select group of trustees and faculty, who were committed to working with the president toward reconciliation and a new collegial form of shared leadership, needed more time to work their magic.
Now, what might have been done, cannot be done.
I am sad and sorry. I have been with President Owen Williams on three occasions, all in gatherings where he shared his plans for Transylvania. I was pleased and impressed with his vision.
The change and direction he articulated were forward-thinking and needed. However, in these events I was not able to get a reading on his management style or his capacity for face to face interaction. Inadequacies in these areas have been his downfall.
I know Williams, with his most impressive education and experience, did not expect to fail at Transy. A man of his stature and temperament has to have his complete ego involved at this stage of the saga.
But in the solitude of quiet moments of reflection, he must be searching for the exit back to the northeast. It is very hard for any of us to admit that you can only fold a hand so poorly played.
Therefore, the only solution, the only way forward is for Williams to resign, for the trustees to swallow hard and accept his resignation, and for the faculty and students not to celebrate, because theirs is not a victory.
John Thelin, a University of Kentucky higher education historian, quoted in the Herald-Leader, shared his insight on the general decline of shared governance — the concept of faculty, staff and the administration governing universities together.
He says that most university governing boards, including Transylvania's, are mostly filed with people from the corporate world, where shared governance is "very alien."
When I was trying to be a student leader at Transy, it was a constant battle to get our voices heard. College should not be only seen as preparation for life, but seen as life itself.
Our nation proves day after day that we, as citizens, are ill prepared for governance. Participating in governance is the best way to learn citizenship, and learning, through both study and experience, should be the mission of higher education.
In my experience at Transylvania and at New York University where I taught, individual faculty members were brilliant at researching a subject, analyzing and understanding the subject and leading wonderful give-and-take discussions of the subject. But, when acting as a group, the faculty sought the status quo.
It is the job of a new president to have a vision for the future that keeps the best of the past, but also breaks the new ground required to be ready for the new world.
The very word "university" should mean we do the job before us collegially, transparently and with the deliberate participation of the whole university community. The trustees have failed. The president has failed. The faculty has failed. The students have failed.
All failed in different ways and in different degrees. The alums have watched in horror; we are laughed at enough over the ignorance surrounding our name.
If we do not want to go the way of the Antiochs before us, we now have to pick up the scattered pieces and start over.
Can we make Thomas Jefferson proud again?
David Lollis of Lexington, a 1959 Transylvania graduate, has worked with housing and economic development groups.
KSN&C is attempting to secure a copy of the faculty letter for publication.