Our view

Editorial: Trustees acted in Winthrop’s best interests

June 18, 2014 

FILE/ Winthrop President Jamie Comstock Williamson with her husband, Larry Williamson.

ANDY BURRISS — aburriss@heraldonline.com Buy Photo

  • In summary

    Williamson would have a difficult time remaining in office and fulfilling her duties as Winthrop’s president.

The language in the document written by Winthrop University Board Chairwoman Kathy Bigham, endorsed by fellow trustees and delivered to suspended Winthrop President Jamie Comstock Williamson, leaves no doubt that the board's complaints run deep. Williamson would have to make very compelling arguments to convince the board she could make required changes and effectively fulfill the duties of president after what has transpired.

In the letter, trustees accuse Williamson of lying to and misleading them, providing false and misleading information to faculty and staff, abusing her authority as president, violating the state Ethics Act and university policies, and engaging in inappropriate and unprofessional behavior. The letter cites three specific areas in which trustees say they were misled: the hiring of Williamson’s husband, Larry, by the president’s office; communication with students regarding fee increases; and a salary review process involving substantial pay raises for several university employees.

The letter also accuses Williamson of repeatedly engaging in “explosive, berating, demeaning, hostile, condescending, rude and other unprofessional behavior.”

Williamson has denied misleading the board or acting outside the authority of her office. She has hired an attorney, Bev Carroll of Rock Hill, who has threatened to sue the board for “breach of contract, slander and defamation.”

A letter from Carroll to the board dated Monday addressed the charges of unprofessional behavior: “It seems apparent that some board members have their own agenda and are not pleased to deal with a woman who is direct in her approach and is not concerned with stroking personalities.”

The letter also states that the board failed to satisfy the grounds for termination for cause and that under her contract with the university, Williamson should have been given 30 days after written notice to fix any issues.

But the time for fixing any issues clearly has passed. It seems apparent that no trust remains between the board and Williamson.

Unfortunately, this dispute now could easily escalate into a legal battle, one that could drag on for some time. That would be a burden for the university, its students and its alumni, and we hope instead that any legal issues can be resolved quickly.

But whatever the outcome of that process, we think the end result should be Williamson’s departure from Winthrop.

Legal issues aside, Williamson was guilty of bad judgment in each of the instances cited by the board. And the strong language in the letter from trustees regarding what they label as inappropriate behavior raises questions about whether she is temperamentally suited for the job of president.

Could those problems have been resolved by giving Williamson more time to “fix” them? That is doubtful; again, the level of mistrust seems too high.

Trustees undoubtedly are aware that, in suspending Williamson, they are publicly conceding that they made a mistake in hiring her in the first place. And that has to be a difficult admission to make.

After all, the university engaged in a months-long search for a new president and carefully vetted the four finalists, inviting each to visit Winthrop and meet with trustees, faculty, students and other members of the community. Despite all that, in retrospect, the wrong person was chosen.

Admitting that required some courage. The board has acted in Winthrop’s best interests in giving notice of intent to terminate her contract.

The goal now should be to move forward as quickly as possible.

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