Winthrop President

Winthrop faculty leader has key role in presidential search

Winthrop University’s elected faculty leader will play a key role in helping trustees pick the school’s next president.

Board of Trustees Chairwoman Kathy Bigham said Friday that English professor John Bird will serve as her co-chair on a special committee for the upcoming presidential search. Bigham called the decision “unprecedented.”

Trustees opted to give Bird a prominent role in the search after hearing many concerns from Winthrop employees about the previous search process, Bigham said.

Winthrop officials have hired a private search firm to help them find a replacement for former President Jamie Comstock Williamson who was fired in June.

Trustees have made several allegations against Williamson, which prompted the threat of a lawsuit this past summer. Pre-lawsuit mediation and possible settlement talks between the former president and the university could begin soon.

Williamson spent less than one year in office at Winthrop. The current presidential search is the second for the school over the past two years.

School trustees say this year’s search will stretch into the spring academic semester but they hope to have Winthrop’s 11th president begin by July 2015. Representatives from the search firm of R. William Funk and Associates will be on campus Tuesday to listen to students and employees on what they want to see in Winthrop’s next leader.

Bill Funk, the search firm’s founder, will help Winthrop recruit applicants and narrow down the pool. Funk has led nearly 375 executive leadership searches for colleges and universities, according to the firm’s website.

The final decision on choosing Winthrop’s president rests with the school’s trustees.

Some Winthrop trustees have said they will place more significance on employee opinions about the next president than they did during their last search. Board members shared those comments in August after Winthrop released to The Herald records related to the board’s vetting of Williamson in 2012 and 2013.

Those records included results from an online survey that shows that some faculty members had reservations about Williamson.

After firing Williamson, some trustees acknowledged that those employees had identified issues about the future president that later became concerns for board members who unanimously terminated her employment.

On Friday, Bird said he and other campus faculty members welcome more involvement in the presidential search. He said he has fielded many questions from professors about the board’s upcoming process and the search timeline.

Search consultant fees and travel for presidential finalists could cost up to $140,000. The Winthrop Foundation, the school’s nonprofit fundraising arm, is paying for the search.

During the last presidential search, Winthrop trustees appointed a committee, which included alumni, a student, a professor, several board members and people from the Rock Hill community. It appears that the Board of Trustees may assemble a similar committee for the current search. Bigham said details about the search committee may be disclosed next week.