Walker resigns from presidency amid Chronicle controversy, calls from faculty

Category:  News
Wednesday, March 28th, 2018 at 6:19 PM
Walker resigns from presidency amid Chronicle controversy, calls from faculty by Dakota Palmer
Photo: Dakota Palmer

Edinboro President Dr. H. Fred Walker announced his resignation Tuesday night, departing amid a controversial Chronicle of Higher Education article and faculty calling for change in leadership. 

Dr. Michael Hannan, university provost and vice president for academic and student affairs, will serve as acting president until the PASSHE Board of Governors takes further action.

The announcement came via an email sent out by Kenn Marshall, media relations manager for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), along with the resignation date of March 30. Marshall noted in another Chronicle article published late Tuesday evening that Walker will not a receive a severance or a payout, and he “had not been hired into a new position in the system.”

“We thank Dr. Walker for his service to Edinboro University over the past two years,” said PASSHE Interim Chancellor Dr. Karen Whitney. “I respect his decision and wish him well.” 

“We are pleased that Dr. Hannan is both willing and well prepared to lead Edinboro,” Whitney continued. “It is my intention to recommend that he be named interim president to ensure stable, consistent leadership for the university.”

Dennis Frampton, chairperson of the Edinboro Council of Trustees, said in a separate email: “A highly respected member of the campus community, Dr. Hannan is known for his leadership, integrity, fairness and steadfast commitment to the University and its students. We are confident that he will guide Edinboro through this transition with wisdom, unwavering purpose and goodwill.”

Additionally, a press release from Edinboro APSCUF President Marc Sylvester, said the faculty looks forward to working with Hannan.

“Edinboro APSCUF members are enthusiastic about moving the focus back to our students and working together to ensure their future success,” the press release reads.

The Chronicle of Higher Education article, written by Jack Stripling, included sources claiming Walker’s university strategy to be similar to the one demonstrated in the 1997 film, “Wag The Dog,” a movie dealing with spin doctors, a fabricated war and the manipulation of the media. In regard to faculty, the article claimed Walker saw them “both as necessary allies and as obstacles to be navigated around,” while he talked of a faculty retrenchment letter in April 2017: “Now we’ve got this retrenchment letter on the table. So either we need to fundamentally cut the shit and get moving forward, or I’m going to start laying people off. How would you like to proceed? I said ‘Look, I will not blink.’”

Quite possibly the most controversial aspect dealt with a student, Dylan Hollingsworth, who previously had launched a petition to save the university’s music program. Walker was quoted as saying the student “did not really care about the music program all that much” and was “grieving a death in his family and needed a way to distract himself.”

Walker would apologize soon after for “my tone and my words in some parts of the story,” while apologizing specifically to Hollingsworth. 

On Saturday, Edinboro University’s faculty union called for Walker’s removal, with Sylvester quoted as saying: “The faculty are sending a strong message to the Council of Trustees. We are calling for a new leader who will work with us to put Edinboro in the best position possible to fulfill its important mission of educating students, engaging in scholarship, and serving the needs of the Commonwealth.”

Additionally, a letter originally marked “confidential” from APSCUF on March 23 leaked following an Edinboro union meeting, reading that Walker had “irreversibly lost the trust of students, their families, and the faculty and staff.” 

It continued: “Clearly, Dr. Walker does not recognize as unethical his deceptive, manipulative, and bullying style of management; he has not articulated a plan to change it or addressed the damage caused by it. His behavior and public statements indicate he will not and cannot change his approach to leadership.” 

Walker held open office hours on March 22 to speak with students. During the 4:30 to 6 p.m. session, a large group of students requested Walker come out to the lobby of Reeder Hall to speak with everyone at once, rather than take students back in large groups.

Walker agreed and provided students with two articles from November, one from The Erie Times-News and one from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that mentioned Hollingsworth’s attempt to save the music program. Walker claimed that he never gave Stripling Hollingsworth’s name, and instead mentioned there was a student who was grieving his brother’s death and grieving the cutting of the music program. 

One student, Jillian Melchitzky, who created an online petition calling for Walker’s resignation on March 19, was in attendance at the office hours and led most of the student discussion.

At one point, Melchitzky said, “You’re just negative publicity, and I feel — we feel you are singlehandedly giving this university a bad light.”

Walker would say to the group: “I’m here, I’m visible. I go to events, I go to athletic events, I eat meals in the chow hall — I love that word — in the dining facility. This thing (the Chronicle article) so mischaracterized me that it’s just not fair. My wife and I love this university. We’ve poured everything we had into this university, seven days a week since we’ve been here, and we haven’t done anything different than that, and we don’t want to do anything different than that.”

In a section of the petition page where people are allowed to leave comments, Alicia Vavala said: “This is disgraceful. Edinboro has provided me an excellent educational opportunity that has challenged me in many ways. I would not be the best version of myself without this university. We are family. I will stand up against any form of delegitimization directed not only at my school, but my professors, my peers, our staff and every single individual who has modeled Edinboro into what it is. It is clear from his secrecy and ignorance that he is unfit for this position.”

Lindsay Wrobel also signed the petition, commenting, “Keep fighting the good fight against corruption in higher education!”

The petition, as of Tuesday evening, had gathered more than 1,000 signatures. 

Walker would speak once again to The Chronicle on March 21 about how he planned to rebuild trust with the university community, stating: “There was a significant lack of balance and accuracy in the initial story. In particular, there was no information provided about the progress that has been made in ensuring a vibrant future for Edinboro University. We have made strides to stabilize the university and ensure future growth. The primary focus must be on doing what is best for the university and our students, which means continuing our forward momentum.” 

Stripling would ask Angela Burrows, assistant vice president for marketing and communications, to clarify any inaccuracies in the original article. She claimed the assertion that Edinboro “raided” reserves was false, and the truth is that the university had instead “dipped into reserves, but not significantly.” Additionally, she took issue with Stripling noting that programs were being cut, but failing to mention that some programs were transitioning into new variations.

The Edinboro Council of Trustees held a meeting Friday evening to discuss the article and how the university should move forward, but no member would comment on what they discussed at that time.

New university leader Hannan released a statement upon the announcement of his new position.  

“I am thankful for the support and trust of the Chancellor and Edinboro University Council of Trustees, and am honored to have been selected to serve as acting president of Edinboro University, an institution I have called home for the last 30 years,” he said. “As we move forward through the remainder of this semester, our central focus will be on what we do best: ensuring a high quality educational experience for our students as we prepare them for their future success. I look forward to working with all members of our university community to build on our progress in making Edinboro a leader for higher education in our region and beyond.”

Hannan has worked at Edinboro since 1988, where he began as a professor in the business and economics department. He then served as chairperson of the department of business and economics for eight years before holding positions such as founding dean of the school of business, and associate dean for the college of arts and sciences and the school of science, management and technology. In 2012, he became interim provost and vice president for academic affairs and in 2014, the interim tag was taken off of that title.

Dakota Palmer is the executive editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com. 

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