Transylvania University president to resign at end of next academic year

Transylvania University President Owen Williams will leave at the end of the 2013-14 academic year after four years at the helm.
Transylvania University President Owen Williams will leave at the end of the 2013-14 academic year after four years at the helm. Herald-Leader

Embattled Transylvania University President R. Owen Williams will step down at the end of the 2013-14 academic year, the university announced Monday.

The decision comes less than a month after the school's faculty took a 68-7 vote of no confidence in Williams and less than two weeks after faculty leaders called for his resignation in a 35-page document given to Transylvania's two governing boards.

William T. Young Jr., chairman of Transy's Board of Trustees, announced the decision during a meeting with faculty and staff Monday afternoon, the Lexington-based liberal arts school said in a news release.

"The Board of Trustees fully supports Dr. Williams' decision to continue to lead Transylvania University through the upcoming school year," Young said in the news release. "It is with regret that we accept his resignation."

Young said a national search for Williams' successor would begin later this year.

A spokeswoman for Transy said Williams was traveling Monday and was unavailable for comment.

In an email to alumni on Monday, Young urged the Transy community to work together in coming months.

"The differences that have divided us over the last few months are being addressed in good faith, and now it is time to put them behind us and move forward together," Young wrote. "Transylvania will require all of our support even more in the competitive environment which we are facing today and will certainly face in the future."

Several faculty members who had pushed for Williams to resign did not return phone messages seeking comment.

Political science professor Don Dugi, who was among the seven faculty members who voted to support Williams, said he was disappointed by the news and called Williams' decision to resign a mistake.

"He has done a good job, and I wish he could continue," Dugi said.

In their 35-page document to Transy board members, faculty leaders detailed their conflicts with Williams during the past three years and provided a chronology of meetings, conversations and events in which faculty said 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 apparently was reached when Williams deferred tenure for two people after it had been approved by all necessary committees.

"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," faculty leaders stated in the executive summary of the document. "Our institution deserves better."

The university's board of trustees had remained ardent supporters of Williams, taking a unanimous vote of confidence in him on the same day faculty took their vote of no confidence.

In previous statements, Young had said the board would work with Williams to improve his leadership style. Williams also had pledged to do so during a meeting with some faculty and board members on May 23. A copy of his comments which was obtained by the Herald-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 launched an ambitious plan for the 1,070-student school to increase enrollment and make it one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation by 2020.

Gary Cox, president of the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities, said he thought Transy would recover quickly from the controversy.

"Transy is a strong institution, and they will make the transition in great shape," Cox said. "I expect this year to be a positive year with President Williams."

Young also announced Monday that Transy would hire an interim dean for the school to serve during the next two academic years. Once a new president is selected, the search for a permanent dean will begin, he said.

Transy has conducted one search for a new dean but did not hire anyone. The current interim dean is stepping down.

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