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
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)
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,‖
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 Mapquest.com, the distance from Auburn to Birmingham is 109.65 miles.
Five more get axe at Auburn (8/25/04)
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,‖
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 BOX BELOW RAN WITH THIS STORY:
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
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)
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)
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
―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 don‘t 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.