Transylvania faculty call for resignation of president Owen Williams

Transylvania University President R. Owen Williams presented degrees to graduates during the Transylvania University graduation on May 25.
Transylvania University President R. Owen Williams presented degrees to graduates during the Transylvania University graduation on May 25. Herald-Leader

Faculty leaders at Transylvania University have called for the resignation of President Owen Williams in a 35-page document given to the 62 members of Transy's two governing boards.

The document, which three faculty leaders mailed earlier this week on behalf of their colleagues, says that faculty will work with Transy's board of trustees and board of regents to move the school ahead but without its current leader.

"We have a president at the helm who is a liability, enrollments and giving appear stagnant, and morale is at its lowest level in over three decades," the executive summary of the document states. "Our institution deserves better."

The document follows a 68-7 vote of no confidence in Williams taken by the faculty on May 24. The University's board of trustees then took a unanimous vote of confidence in Williams later that day.

Board of trustees chairman W.T. Young Jr. said in a statement Wednesday that board members would review the information thoroughly, but he did not address the faculty's request to seek Williams' resignation.

"For the sake of Transylvania and the educational excellence that it represents, I sincerely hope that we can resolve these concerns and continue to move the university forward," Young said.

The 35-page document contains a chronicle of conflicts that faculty have had with Williams for the past three years, information that some board members have seen already. It also provides a chronology of meetings, conversations and events in which faculty say they tried to address their concerns over Williams' leadership style.

The document accuses Williams of displaying a "dismissive and disrespectful" manner toward faculty, staff and students. In 2011, for example, faculty members held three meetings with Williams about the "chilly gender climate" toward women on campus, according to the document.

In early 2013, the tipping point was apparently reached when Williams deferred tenure for two people after they had been approved by all necessary committees.

The document says the current crisis is not just about tenure but acknowledges that those decisions did "galvanize the faculty and led us to present the evidence of Dr. Williams' failed presidency to the board of trustees on April 28."

"The tenure debacle is but one example of Dr. Williams' inability to lead through a reasoned and balanced process in which formal procedures and pertinent constituencies of the university are respected," the faculty leaders wrote.

In previous statements, Young has said the board will work with Williams to improve his leadership style. Williams also has pledged to do so in remarks he made at a meeting with some faculty and board members on May 23, a copy of which was obtained by the Herald-Leader.

"I understand that many of you are extremely frustrated with and, in some instances, offended by my style of leadership," Williams said in his remarks. "To those whom I have offended, I am sorry. It may be little consolation, but it was never my intent to either frustrate or offend. Also, in my enthusiasm for this college and all that it can become, I have never meant to insinuate that Transylvania is not already extraordinary in many ways."

Williams also said he is aware that he doesn't listen well enough, and he pledged to improve and take differing opinions into consideration.

However, the faculty document said those remarks "were clearly inadequate and did not address either the core of the matter or the extent of the damage.

"Our university is at a crossroads, a time when we must capitalize on our most valuable strengths and position ourselves to progress in better and more diverse ways," faculty said. "We cannot have at our helm a president who is learning to be a better listener in order to become a better leader."

Williams came to Transylvania in 2010 after a career as a Wall Street banker and after earning a doctorate in history at Yale, with a focus on Civil War studies. He has launched ambitious plans for the 1,070-student school, including expanding and improving its student body, curriculum and physical plant.

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