Five more get axe at Auburn (82504)

By Barry Hernandez,2014-05-07 19:15
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Five more get axe at Auburn (82504)

What’s next for Auburn? (1/17/04)

    (This story ran as a sidebar in a package about the resignation of Auburn University‘s president.)

Jack Stripling and Jason Nix

    Staff Writers

    A name for Auburn University President William Walker‘s replacement was circulating hours

    before his resignation Friday. Ed Richardson, former Auburn City Schools Superintendent and

    current Alabama State Superintendent of Education could be recommended to serve as AU‘s interim president.

    Trustee Jimmy Rane said Friday night that the board would meet Tuesday at 2 p.m. and Gov.

    Bob Riley had a choice in mind that he would present to the board. That choice, according to several

    sources, is Richardson, who is currently an AU trustee by virtue of his position as state


    ―It‘s been out there and it may have been attributed to me, but that should come directly

    from the governor,‖ Rane said. ―He‘s got a man in mind and I‘m sure all that will be confirmed when

    we meet Tuesday.‖

    Richardson, who earned his bachelor‘s, master‘s and doctorate degrees from AU, isn‘t

    handling the present duties of governing the university. That job is in the hands of Donald Large,

    AU‘s executive vice president.

    ―The process of finding a replacement will begin immediately,‖ Gov. Bob Riley said in


    Former AU Trustee Charles Glover said in the last years of his tenure he saw a move by

    powerful forces on the board to push Richardson into the top spot.

    ―It‘s just what‘s happening in the background,‖ he said.

    Andy Hornsby, vice president of AU‘s alumni association, said the organization would look forward to working with Richardson. His sentiments, however, weren‘t shared by an AU senator.

    ―It‘s worrisome about what will happen next,‖ Judy Sheppard said. ―This interim president is

    very problematic. I‘m not sure what Dr. Richardson‘s qualifications are.‖

    Richardson could not be reached for comment.

    John Mouton, chairman of the AU Senate, said he hopes the faculty will be involved in the

    selection of the interim president. Walker began as an ―interim‖ president, and gave himself a term-limit of three years. The word ―interim‖ was, however, removed from his title by the board of

    trustees despite strong AU Senate opposition.

    AU Associate Professor Conner Bailey said the university now has the opportunity to hire a

    president who can better lead the school through its probationary period with its accrediting agency.

    The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed AU on probation Dec. 9.

    ―I hope the board will appoint an interim president with a strong academic background, a person beyond reproach,‖ he said. ―I believe a person like Wayne Flynt, Taylor Littleton, Steve

    McFarland or Larry Gerber would send a message to SACS that the university is serious about

    fixing its problems. A person of that stature would serve well in getting the university past the

    problems posed by this probation.‖

    Bailey questioned what he called Walker‘s ―aggressive stance‖ toward SACS as well as the

    AU faculty. ―Walker‘s approach to SACS was pugnacious in nature. We need a leader that will work with SACS to deal with the problems that led to the university‘s being placed on probation. We need someone who understands that the governing of the university is a matter of co-

    management between the administrative staff and the faculty.

    ―(Former AU President William) Muse had a kind of respect for the faculty. Not to say

    Walker did not, but I felt that Muse listened to what the faculty had to say and took it into

    consideration. He didn‘t always agree, but he listened.‖

    Bailey took particular exception to comments Walker made to an AU senator at a Dec. 11

    meeting. ―Candor in a president is a good thing, but when you have the president of the university

    comparing the faculty to a lynch mob, that shows a disrespect. It‘s an embarrassment. At this point, Walker was the wrong type of personality to help us negotiate out problem with SACS.‖

Three trustees jetted 100 miles at AU expense (1/21/04)

Jack Stripling

    Staff Writer

    Rather than make the two-hour drive, three Auburn University trustees were flown from

    Birmingham to Auburn at the university‘s expense Tuesday.

    Paul Spina, John Blackwell and Byron Franklin were flown to Auburn to ensure they could

    attend an important trustee meeting, AU Board Secretary Grant Davis said.

    ―It was critical that we have them here,‖ Davis said.

    The trustees made it to the meeting and approved Ed Richardson‘s appointment as interim

    AU president. None of the trustees expressed that they would be unable to attend the meeting

    barring air travel, Davis said. Davis could not confirm the cost of the trip, nor could the office of

    communications and marketing as of late Tuesday.

    ―I know we needed to be here in a hurry, but I do have a job and I have to get back,‖

    Franklin said.

    When asked if he thought the venture was an extravagance, Franklin said ―I don‘t know. I do have to go back to work today. It‘s something I need to do.‖

    Davis confirmed that AU Trustee Golda McDaniel was also flown in from Columbus, Miss.

    According to, the distance from Auburn to Birmingham is 109.65 miles.

Five more get axe at Auburn (8/25/04)

Jack Stripling

    Staff Writer

    A painful promise was kept at Auburn University Tuesday, when five AU employees lost

    their jobs in what‘s been billed as a cost-saving measure.

    AU Interim President Ed Richardson called upon administrators last month to recommend

    cuts in their departments, and those suggestions spelled troubling news for a handful on the Plains.

    Bob Lowry, editor in AU‘s office of Communications and Marketing, was among those told

    their positions would be eliminated. He saw the handwriting on the wall months ago. Since

    Richardson fired Betty DeMent as vice president of alumni affairs in March, Richardson has

    proclaimed his ongoing string of firings was far from over.

    ―Absolutely, (it‘s) created a culture of fear,‖ Lowry said. ―This supposedly is about

    reorganization and budgetary problems, but where‘s the hiring freezes? Raises will be given this

    year. There are no restrictions on travel ... The education budget is going to be increased.‖

    Lowry, who‘s been with AU for 14 years, charges there may be something more nefarious at

    play than an administrative shuffle. Richardson has stated the need to cut fat at AU while bringing on

    a new construction consultant, a new attorney and a new firm to conduct polling for the university.

    The mixed signals have Lowry convinced these firings are more about old scores than fiscal


    ―I think there‘s people being targeted,‖ Lowry said. ―You can start with Betty DeMent and

    go down the list.‖

    The list contains 14 people who‘ve shifted to lower-paying positions or were let go under Richardson. Among them is Janet Saunders, executive director of affirmative action. Saunders was

    notified Monday that her position would be eliminated in conjunction with large-scale changes in

    AU‘s administrative structure. Her firing was immediately met with boisterous resistance from some


    Willie Larkin, AU‘s first-ever black Senate chair, said Saunders‘ firing is part of a series of

    ―boneheaded‖ decisions made on Richardson‘s watch. In an e-mail to fellow faculty, Larkin questioned Richardson‘s sensitivity to minorities like Saunders and called on others to express their


    ―This decision outrages me because it demonstrates an unhealthy pattern of total disregard for women and ethnic minorities within the university‘s central administration,‖ Larkin wrote.

    Six female administrators have been removed from high-level positions at AU since

    Richardson took the helm in late January.

    ―I think it‘s adding up to a return to the old boys club,‖ said Mary Kuntz, director of women‘s studies at AU.

    More men than women have actually been removed from positions under Richardson, but his

    core group of six advisers as well as his two most recent hires have all been men.

    ―The effect is that the decisions are again being made almost exclusively by white males,‖

    Kuntz said.

    Frances Kochan, interim dean of the College of Education, has also been asked to step down

    from her post. She vied for the permanent dean‘s position but wasn‘t selected, and a new rule

    requires that interim deans serve no more than one year.

    ―I‘ve had a wonderful time and we‘ve done so many good things together in the college,‖

    Kochan said. ―It‘s been a great experience for me.‖

    Under a policy crafted by Provost Tom Hanley, interim deans will no longer be permitted to

    pursue permanent positions. Kochan and then-interim business dean John Jahera, however, were

    grandfathered in since they applied for permanent positions prior to the policy‘s implementation.

    Neither were given these jobs, but Hanley said there was no predisposition to reject interim deans

    out of hand.

    ―That‘s not true at all,‖ he said. ―I think we‘re looking for the best person for the job.‖

    As any organization would, AU faces the possibility of wrongful termination suits or other

    litigation in the wake of these personnel shifts. DeMent has consulted an attorney and Richardson

    recently told the Opelika-Auburn News the two parties are working to see if an agreement can be

    reached without litigation.

    Other potential legal issues appear to be surfacing as well. Lowry has consulted an attorney

    and indicated that he felt he was a victim of age discrimination. Lowry said he expressed these

    concerns to his boss, John Hachtel.

    ―I asked why my job was eliminated when we just hired a new editor half my age two months

    ago, and Mr. Hachtel would not answer my question,‖ said Lowry, 58. ―He got up and left the


    AU did hire a new associate editor recently who is some 30 years younger than Lowry and

    makes $42,000 less than he did as editor. AU officials say she was hired to assist upper-level staff

    like Lowry, not to replace him.

    As Richardson‘s focus moves from athletics and alumni to administration and faculty, he‘ll

    no doubt inherit a new chorus of critics. Thus far, faculty have generally expressed support for his

    efforts to move AU off academic probation. These latest moves, however, may have tapped a nerve

among AU academics who‘ve seldom been shrinking violets in the face of controversy.

    Larkin offered this foreboding message Tuesday evening: ―I think the honeymoon is over.‖


The Gender Question

    As more and more administrators, coaches and Auburn University employees are fired and

    positions are eliminated, some at the university are seeing what they call a troubling trend. Critics

    charge that AU Interim President Ed Richardson hasn‘t made efforts to keep women in high-profile

    positions. Here‘s a breakdown of AU staff who‘ve been removed or transferred to lower-level

    positions under Richardson:


    1. Betty DeMent, vice president of alumni affairs, fired

    2. Christine Curtis, Richardson‘s special assistant, resigns under pressure and takes 20 percent pay


    3. Rebekah Pindzola, interim dean of liberal arts, told to resign under provost‘s new interim dean policy*

    4. Frances Kochan, interim dean of College of Education, told to resign under provost‘s new interim

    dean policy*

    5. Janet Saunders, executive director of affirmative action, told her position is eliminated**

    6. Elizabeth Peel, director of alumni programs and services, told her position is eliminated. She‘s

    been offered another position which pays 23 percent or nearly $16,000 less than her $69,600



    1. David Housel, under public pressure announces he‘ll retire as athletics director

    2. Cliff Ellis fired as head basketball coach

    3. Steve Renfroe fired as head baseball coach

    4. Pete Pepinksy told his position in Communications and Marketing will be eliminated Oct. 1

    5. Buddy Mitchell, removed from position as executive director of governmental affairs and told

    he‘ll be fired at year‘s end

    6. Bob Lowry, told his position as editor in Communications and Marketing will be eliminated**

    7. Tim Meeks, told his position as manager of development programs will be eliminated**

    8. Dan Rosenthal, associate director of planning and analysis, told his position will be eliminated**

*AU Provost Tom Hanley instituted a policy that requires interim deans to step down after a year.

    **Positions eliminated this week.

SACS concerned about AU diversity (9/24/04)

Jack Stripling

    Staff Writer

    Widespread complaints of unfair and perhaps discriminatory hiring practices are mentioned

    at some length in a report issued by Auburn University‘s accrediting agency. But the university only made the charges public after six months.

    AU officials say it was their ―interpretation‖ that SACS‘ permission was required before the

    report was released. Such permission is not required in SACS‘ view, and AU only sought permission

    three days ago.

    ―It‘s their call,‖ said James Rogers, executive director of SACS. ―I didn‘t make the decision

    one way or the other (about releasing it) ... I just assumed they‘d already released it.‖

    SACS‘ report details concerns made by three ―highly credible‖ professional-level staff who

    allege managers fill positions with ―friends and fellow church members‖ to the exclusion of blacks

    and other non-white groups. The report also mentions complaints the SACS team heard

    ―constantly‖ regarding AU‘s tendency to promote interim staff into permanent posts. AU has since

    instituted a policy forbidding interim deans from seeking permanent positions, but the university

    never mentioned the SACS report when the Opelika-Auburn News first reported on the change.

    ―Allegations of favoritism or cronyism ultimately undermine the collegiality and shared

    governance that characterize successful universities in the United States,‖ the report states.

    The SACS report does not comment on the five criteria for which AU was placed on

    probation in December. A separate team will investigate this matter during a visit next week. The

    combination of the visiting team‘s findings and those of the team that issued the late March report

    will ultimately determine the fate of AU‘s accreditation. The SACS report praises AU‘s cooperation,

    but raises concern that AU‘s self-assessment was ―all but silent‖ with regard to its diversity


    AU‘s omission of diversity efforts is not a surprise to Janet Saunders, who was recently fired

    as head of the office of affirmative action.

    ―That‘s a philosophy of the administration,‖ Saunders said. ―If we don‘t write about it and

    we don‘t talk about it, we don‘t have to defend it.‖

    A number of faculty have expressed dissatisfaction with Saunders‘ ouster as well as the decision to place the office of affirmative action under the umbrella of the department of human

    resources. Senate Chairman Willie Larkin said it was tantamount to ―the fox guarding the hen


    In a letter dated July 30, Saunders informed Interim President Ed Richardson that the shift of

the office into human resources ―creates a potential conflict of interest,‖ rather than eliminating such

    conflicts. The office of affirmative action is effectively now under the control of the very department

    it should be monitoring, Saunders contends.

    SACS‘ report, while raising concern, ultimately gives the university the benefit of the doubt.

    ―Because the Interim President has been clear and unhesitating in his commitment to address these

    issues (and indeed had no role in the writing of the silent self study), we take his words of

    commitment at face value,‖ the report states. ―It is entirely conceivable that the omissions noted above are accidental ...‖

    The omissions are not accidental in Saunders‘ view. She asserts that the concerns SACS cites, such as promoting white individuals over blacks with the same qualifications, are ongoing at

    AU. ―We‘ve got some die-hard folks who are not willing to work with people of color,‖ Saunders


    To remain in good standing with SACS, the university is more or less obligated to take

    action with regard to recommendations made by the accrediting body. SACS had just two

    recommendations. It recommended a policy that would describe what constitutes a student‘s

    permanent record. SACS also recommended the university develop a process by which it can

    regularly evaluate its consortial agreement for the Marine Environment Sciences Consortium. AU

    addressed both recommendations in its July response.

SACS: Miller, Lowder ties a problem (11/13/04)

Jack Stripling

    Staff Writer

    Auburn University‘s long nightmare may be far from over.

    A multimillion dollar financial relationship between trustees Jack Miller and Robert Lowder

    was cited as a potential violation of the university‘s Code of Ethics in a report issued by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools - an agency that could pull AU‘s accreditation in


    The report marks SACS‘ first overt echoing of a commonly held belief on the Plains:

    Lowder‘s business ties are a problem. The Opelika-Auburn News reported Thursday that Miller and

    his law firm did nearly $3 million in business with Lowder in 2003 alone.

    ―The relationships between Trustees Lowder and Miller appear to violate the Board Code of

    Ethics,‖ a Special Committee from SACS stated.

    AU revised its Code of Ethics this year in an effort to show SACS it was guarding against a

    minority of board members controlling the majority of the board. The code states that trustees must

    make the betterment of AU their sole concern. Complaints have often surfaced that those dependent

    on Lowder for income have allegiance to Lowder not AU.

    AU Interim President Ed Richardson, who has publicly said the university was in good stead

    with SACS, said he was surprised and frustrated by the committee‘s findings. Richardson and AU‘s newly established auditing committee both concluded Lowder couldn‘t have control over a majority

    of board members since he reported to have ties to just six of the 14.

    ―The standard clearly says ‗does the minority influence the majority?‘ It doesn‘t say does one

    person have a relationship with somebody else,‖ Richardson said. ―So they‘ve exceeded their

    standards in that regard.‖

    Whether SACS went beyond its published standard may be a moot point. A committee will

    review the SACS report in Atlanta next month and use it to decide whether AU should be removed

    from probation, continued on probation or lose its accreditation.

    To comply with SACS‘ recommendations regarding financial ties, the board authorized

    Richardson to hire an independent firm to determine if the trustees‘ relationships meet the Code of Ethics standard. Richardson, however, said he wasn‘t optimistic a review could be completed before

    SACS makes its decision Dec. 7. He also said he was somewhat in the dark as to what more could

    be done.

    ―No current standards or guidelines exist for such a review,‖ he said. ―That puts us at a very

    distinct disadvantage in terms of a target.‖

    One option that isn‘t at Richardson‘s disposal is to kick Lowder off the board. The

    appointment of trustees is provided for within the state constitution, but there‘s no provision for removing a trustee.

    Lowder quickly fled from the trustees meeting after it concluded Friday, refusing to answer

    questions when approached by the Opelika-Auburn News.

Other trustee ties

    Miller is not the only board member with financial ties to Lowder. Trustee Jimmy Rane, like

    Miller, is a director at BancGroup where Lowder is chief executive officer. His service as a director

    entitles him to stock options and a fee of $2,500 per quarter. Rane said Friday that he had no

    intention of severing ties with Lowder.

    ―That‘s the most absurd, ridiculous thing I‘ve ever heard in my life,‖ Rane said.

    Rane said he and other trustees all relied on their own moral standards, regardless of SACS‘ findings. ―I dont think that SACS is the governing body of Auburn University as far as its day-to-

    day activities,‖ Rane said. ―They make recommendations and suggestions as far as how they should conduct themselves. But on the specific day-to-day operations that‘s left to the board of trustees, I


Is AU committed?

    AU was also cited in December for failing to show a commitment to the accreditation

    process, and SACS mentioned lingering concerns about AU‘s commitment in its recent report.

    Trustees had to re-affirm in writing this commitment, which they did Friday.

    The issue of commitment to accreditation no doubt stems from former AU President William

    Walker‘s decision to sue SACS. Though Walker was victorious in the suit, the decision to litigate

    appears to have helped land AU on probation. Richardson, when appointed in January, made

    dropping the suit one of his first orders of business. He said Friday that he‘ll stand by that decision regardless of SACS‘ findings next month.

    ―The university will not sue SACS,‖ he said. ―I think that was a problem before and we will

    not do that. I would say to you, though, that certainly I would appeal you can appeal a decision to say ‗if you‘ve done this to me, tell me why. That‘s what‘s missing here‘.‖

    Richardson isn‘t the only one scratching his head about the committee‘s report. John

    Mouton, past chairman of the AU Senate, said he felt ―angst‖ about AU‘s situation. Mouton said it

    appears impossible to prove minority control of the board does not exist, adding that AU won‘t have

    time to implement SACS‘ recommendations before the December ruling.

    ―We‘re in checkmate,‖ he said.

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