Winthrop trustees may hire DiGiorgio’s successor today

adouglas@heraldonline.comFebruary 14, 2013 

  • Want to speak?

    Anyone who wants to speak to the Winthrop University Board of Trustees when it meets at 11:15 a.m. today must register in person in Room 114 of Tillman Hall or by sending an email to Kimberly Faust, executive assistant to the president, at faustk@winthrop.edu.

    Registration will be accepted until 11 a.m. today. Speakers likely will be given five minutes.

— Nearly a year after Winthrop University President Anthony DiGiorgio announced his retirement, the school’s Board of Trustees is set this morning to hire his successor.

Trustees will have one less finalist to choose from, after Elizabeth Dale, senior vice president for institutional advancement at Drexel University, withdrew her name from consideration Thursday, board vice chairwoman Kathy Bigham said.

Winthrop started the search for its 10th president after DiGiorgio said in March that he would retire this June after serving 24 years as the university’s leader.

Four finalists recently visited campus for three days and met twice in Charlotte for in-person interviews with the school’s 10-member search group. Last summer, the board hired a firm that helps universities find candidates for leadership positions.

The search group sifted through at least 100 applications before choosing the finalists. The three remaining are:

•  Jeff Braden, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at North Carolina State University

•  Jayne Marie Comstock, director of the Executive Leadership Group at the American Council on Education, currently on sabbatical as a communications professor at Butler University

•  Ulysses Hammond, vice president for administration at Connecticut College

One longtime faculty member is encouraging fellow professors to attend Friday’s meeting.

Political science professor Stephen Smith, a Winthrop faculty member since 1990, said he wants as many faculty members as possible to show up, even if they don’t plan to speak.

“I’m concerned about how the outcome of the presidential search will affect Winthrop’s future, and I plan to address the board on this issue,” Smith said.

Faculty members were given 24 hours notice of the Friday meeting, which conflicts with class times for some professors, he said.

“I don’t know how many faculty will be able to attend,” he said. “But since faculty rarely speak at, or even attend, board meetings, I think even a small number of speakers and attendees will indicate our concerns to the board.”

During meetings with finalists this month, several Winthrop faculty members raised concerns about faculty governance and asked them how they would work with professors and deans.

On the second day of Comstock’s visit, faculty members asked about her views on academic freedom and faculty governance in light of publicized criticism stemming from a libel lawsuit Butler filed in 2009.

Comstock was Butler’s provost at the time of the suit and is described in the lawsuit as being the target of an anonymous blogger’s criticism.

The university, not Comstock herself, filed suit against the blogger, who later identified himself as a Butler student.

Butler dropped the suit.

Comstock said she could not discuss details about the lawsuit or specifics that led to its filing because Butler policy mandates that personnel issues and legal discussions remain confidential.

Bigham, chairwoman of the search group, has said the Butler lawsuit had nothing to do with Comstock going on sabbatical last year or stepping down as the school’s provost.

Most of what has been written about the lawsuit, Comstock told Winthrop faculty, is not the entire story.

As an academic administrator, she said she is “very sensitive” to the views of students, faculty and staff members.

Winthrop students who work for the university’s weekly student newspaper, The Johnsonian, said their recent coverage of the Butler lawsuit and Comstock’s visit have led to tension with Bigham.

This week, The Johnsonian published an article about a conversation between student reporters and Bigham in Winthrop’s cafeteria.

At one point in the conversation, according to the article, a student reporter recorded the interaction on her iPhone. The reporter did not tell Bigham she was recording the conversation.

The newspaper’s editor wrote the article, which states Bigham became angry, “accosted” two student reporters and tried to steer them away from asking Comstock questions about the lawsuit while the finalist was on campus.

“It is not my role as an alumni, as a Board of Trustees member, or even as a mother, to challenge the work of our students,” Bigham told The Herald.

She declined to comment further.

The Johnsonian, Bigham said, is a “wonderful learning experience for our students.”

The student article about the interaction between the students and Bigham is “not real significant,” trustee Chairman Dalton Floyd said.

Bigham is “not rude to anybody,” he said, adding that she and the search group have done a “tremendous job.”

The students and Bigham, Floyd said, are “trying hard to do what they need to do.”

“I hate that it happened,” he said. “I hope things have settled down.”

The student article and questions about the Butler lawsuit, Floyd said, should not “sidetrack” the trustees’ decision today.

“The most important job (the board) has is to try to select the next president,” he said.

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Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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