UWA places President Dr. Richard Holland on administrative leave

LIVINGSTON — The University of West Alabama Board of Trustees voted 8-5 Monday to place President Dr. Richard Holland on administrative leave with pay pending the results of an independent investigation.

The action followed a vote to hire an independent investigator to look into allegations made by Holland of improprieties on the part of certain members of the board of trustees in regard to his most recent performance evaluation.

“I cannot believe that we have even thought about doing that. I would like to know who is going to run the university when we ask Dr. Holland not to,” Trustee Jean Anderson said.

“I think that is an affront to Dr. Holland. I know there is a due process, but he is a man of integrity. I don’t think this step is anywhere required. I sincerely ask the board to vote against this motion,” Trustee John Northcutt said. “We need Dr. Holland on the job. I don’t know what may be conceived that he is going to do during this investigation that would interfere with it.”

Trustee Alex Saad took exception to Northcutt’s statement, speaking in favor of placing Holland on administrative leave.

“The two people that he is accusing in here are men of integrity also, so I would say I’m in favor of this motion 100 percent,” Saad said.

The board went on to appoint John G. Blackwell, a former Auburn University Trustee, as the special administrator of the university while Holland is on administrative leave. That vote saw Terry Bunn, Sheila Cloud, Hillman, Saad, Jerry Smith, Vernon and Thed Spree all vote in favor of the Blackwell appointment. Jerry Groce, Ballow, Northcutt, Lewis, O’Neal and Anderson abstained from the vote.

When asked, Smith indicated he had spoken with Blackwell before the meeting and could confirm that he would accept the position.

That vote followed two votes against extending Holland’s contract at the conclusion of its current term Sept. 30 of this year.

Barring unforeseen changes, Holland will conclude his tenure as the president of the University of West Alabama at the end of September.

The board first heard input from a number of the more than 100 people in attendance at the regularly-scheduled meeting before entertaining the motion for an extension.

“This man has meant the world to me,” Dr. Archie Dean Hooper, a UWA alum, said in opening the open forum session. “I wanted to know what y’all were doing June 5, 2000. I was actually giving a speech in the student union building similar to this in support of (former UWA president) Dr. Ed Roach. It’s déjà vu all over again. Why does history repeat itself? Once again we have a wonderful president.”

Hooper went on to voice his support of Holland before making mention of allegations from the embattled president regarding improper action on the part of certain board members as it pertains to his most recent evaluation process.

“You can read of a report of a corrupt process involving certain trustees and administrators,” Hooper said.

Dr. Ed Williamson, a Sumter County resident, stepped forward to voice his opinion.

“I don’t have any emotional attachment to this university. I have an emotional attachment to Sumter County. I’m not for or against Dr. Holland. I’m for Sumter County,” Williams said. “I would ask the board to consider the impact the University of West Alabama has had on Sumter County. I encourage the board, which ever way they go, not to change the progress that has been made since Richard Holland has been president of the University of West Alabama.”

“I just want to applaud Dr. Holland on the job that he is doing, not only for Sumter County, but as it has been stated, all over this state. He is all about doing what is best, not only for this university, but for this state as a whole,” Sumter County Commissioner Marcus Campbell said.

One attendee, who did not identify herself, urged the board to extend Holland’s contract for the proposed two-year period and utilize that time to conduct a thorough search for the school’s next president.

“His retirement is going to come up in 2016. It is going to take from now until then for you to find a president that can fill his shoes,” she said. “I am sure that there is nobody on campus that could be promoted to this spot.”

“I came here as a young professional looking for an opportunity to grow and develop in my career and the person who first gave me to do that was Dr. Richard Holland,” Berry Watson, who helped launch the school’s marketing department, said. “One of the best experiences I ever had in my whole life was working for him and you have a real winner in Richard Holland.”

The open comment session followed a resolution from the University of West Alabama National Alumni Association in which its representative spoke up in favor of extending Holland’s contract to Sept. 30, 2016, allowing Holland to retire at his target date.

“I’ve prayed about this for several weeks now. I’ve been trying to reach my conclusion about President Holland’s contract renewal. I’ve based that not only on his prior evaluations, but I’ve looked at his current evaluation. In Dr. Jones’ report, he states the record clearly shows that Dr. Holland has had a productive and distinguished career at UWA,” Northcutt said when the board first spoke on the matter. “We’ve been told the university is in the best financial shape it has been in our comptroller’s 44 years of working here. We just received a SACS examination and received an exemplary review from that agency. Our athletic program, I think, is one of the most competitive and well representative of this university in its rich history. Dr. Jones goes on to say that the record clearly shows that Dr. Holland is well liked and respected by a vast majority of the stakeholders. Richard is not perfect, but I truly believe his heart and soul rests with the betterment of UWA and I strongly urge my fellow trustees to vote for the extension of his contract.”

Saad quickly pointed to Holland’s two posted responses to his most recent evaluation in which he made allegations of improprieties against specific trustees during his evaluative process.

“Dr. Holland went out to come up with a report of a corrupt process that has scorched and purged this university. I heard on the radio today that we want to fire him because he won’t turn his back on our corrupt ways. It’s obvious to me that Richard doesn’t think he had a fair evaluation or he wouldn’t have gone out to do that,” Saad said. “I think that Dr. Holland orchestrated that. He was the only one that knows that Terry and Jerry went to him and talked to him about retiring and he leaked that. I think our investigation is going to prove that there are other things too that may have happened. I for one cannot support a man that scorched and burned this university in this way.”

“I just want to speak in support of Dr. Holland as well. I have seen the university grow and develop under Dr. Holland’s leadership. I think he is trustworthy and that is one of the most important things we can ask for in the president of this university. Dr. Holland is not about feathering his own nest,” Anderson said. “I think he deserves that. I think he has done a fabulous job for this university.”

Willie B. O’Neal, who made the initial motion to extend Holland’s contract for two years, spoke in favor of a smooth transition.

“I think if we vote not to extend his contract, it would destabilize this school, it would destabilize its growth and it would divide the board,” O’Neal said.

“After listening to these comments, I have become real concerned about what we’re going to do in October of 2016,” Trustee Thomas Ballow said. “Dr. Holland is a fine man and it has been a privilege to know him. But Dr. Holland is not the future of this university. Whether we change in 14 or 16, we will change and I hope every one here will support the next president.”

Holland’s fate began to become apparent as other trustees spoke before the vote.

“My vote will be predicated on the future of this university. It is not about personalities,” Victor Vernon said.

“I wondered for the longest time why every president ever at this university got fired, except for Hines – he left on his own – and that’s because that’s the only way it can be done,” Saad said.

“A successful transition from one president to another requires the cooperation of that administration and the board of trustees. There was a hand grenade thrown on this table a little while back and I think we need to review that before making any decision,” Trustee Randy Hillman said, making reference to the call for an independent investigation.

The motion to extend Holland’s contract by two years failed 10-3 with Anderson, Northcutt and O’Neal as the only voters in support of the motion. A second motion to extend the contract by just one year failed 9-4 with Anderson, O’Neal, Northcutt and Rebecca Lewis voting in favor.

The trustees voting in favor of placing Holland on leave were Ballow, Bunn, Cloud, Hillman, Saad, Smith, Spree and Vernon.