Debra Hoskins resigns as director of EKU Center for the Arts; school first tried to fire her

Debra Hoskins, photographed at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond in September 2011.
Debra Hoskins, photographed at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond in September 2011.

Eastern Kentucky University officials tried to fire EKU Center for the Arts director Debra Hoskins last week before she resigned from the post. Her resignation was announced Tuesday.

According to minutes from a special meeting of the center's board on June 14, Hoskins was given a letter June 12 terminating her employment and ordering her to vacate her office at the center. The minutes did not offer any reason for the termination. Hayward M. Daugherty, executive assistant to EKU president Doug Whitlock, said the university does not discuss personnel matters.

A letter from Whitlock to then-board president Robert Rogow simply stated, "Debra Hoskins is no longer executive director of the EKU Center for the Arts, effective June 12, 2012."

But a majority of the center board disagreed with the university's action, saying the board had authority over personnel decisions at the center. Board member Harry Moberly cited state law regarding the center which states the board "shall make all decisions regarding personnel."

At the June 14 meeting, the board voted 8-3 for a resolution to retain Hoskins. The resolution said the university did not have "authority to take unilateral personnel action" against employees at the center.

The vote was along university and community lines, with the EKU representatives on the board voting against the resolution. Rogow, dean of the business and technology school at EKU, resigned from the board, saying he did not think the board had the authority to go into executive session to discuss personnel matters, as it did at the June 14 meeting.

At the meeting, according to the minutes, EKU music professor Richard Crosby said he thought the law was out of date and referenced a time when the center was a concept, not an actual entity.

At the regularly scheduled meeting of the center's board on Tuesday afternoon, Moberly said the university had liability concerns with having employees on its payroll over whom the university did not have authority.

Moberly was elected board chairman by an 11-1 vote at Tuesday's meeting. He said the board would plan to meet with Whitlock after he returns from vacation July 3.

The university announced Hoskins' resignation Tuesday morning.

"I resigned so that I could ...," Hoskins said, pausing. "I have some endeavors that I want to proceed with. There are some new challenges on the horizon."

She said her resignation was effective June 12. Reached again Tuesday afternoon and asked about the report that she initially was fired, Hos kins declined to comment.

She said she was proud of getting the $30 million-plus arts center at her alma mater up and running with a successful first season after it opened in September.

In an announcement touted as a coup for EKU, Hoskins, 58, was hired as executive director in February 2011, two months after the resignation of the first leader, Katherine Eckstrand.

Hoskins' annual salary was about $108,000 as of September, according to data supplied by EKU.

The inaugural season featured appearances by Wynonna Judd, Jerry Seinfeld, Aretha Franklin and Willie Nelson. But there were some missteps: Ticketing problems marred an opening-night gala, and the center lost a public campaign to host a vice presidential debate in October. Most recently, a scheduling mix-up forced a concert by Bruce Hornsby to find a new venue.

Hoskins came to the EKU Center after nearly two decades in various posts, including assistant director at Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts in Danville.

At Tuesday's meeting, a committee was appointed to search for an interim director for the center and a permanent executive director. Board member Jan Tunnell, a retired arts educator, will lead the search committee.

Daugherty, the executive assistant to EKU's president, is temporarily overseeing the center. He said it has about 10 contracts pending with artists for the 2012-13 season and hopes to announce the season lineup within weeks.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader