On Monday, following a special meeting of the Board of Trustees, Piedmont University President James Melichamp announced that he would retire if a successor was named. A few days later, her husband, Daniel Smith, resigned as senior project manager at the university.
This was the final outcome of a difficult semester for Piedmont. Two unexpected budget cuts, faculty cuts, a no-confidence vote, a suspension of professors’ contracts and a high-profile resignation from Provost Daniel Silver, and Professor Carson leaving a private college in Webb’s Democrat, G.A., suffering from uncertainty and defeat.
Some faculty members have gone unnoticed to avoid the possibility of quitting.
“The tremors have been very negative over the last few months,” said Dale Van Cantfort, professor of communications and chair of the Piedmont Faculty Senate. “I used to come to work every day trying to find out who the next person was going to call me to say they wouldn’t be back next year.”
Melichamp is largely responsible for the chaos. The faculty called for his resignation and even asked the board of trustees to dismiss him and Smith from campus, citing concerns about their behavior and accusing them of retaliatory and even offensive behavior. Following Monday’s announcement, the faculty issued a statement requesting the immediate retirement or removal of Melichamp and requesting an interim president to act while seeking a permanent replacement.
“Shortly after the announcement, many teachers approached me saying they feared it would lead to further retaliation. [for criticism of Mellichamp]Because there was nothing to stop him from doing it, “Cantfort said.
But Cantfort said he has had fruitful discussions with both Melichamp and the board of trustees, who have assured him that no retaliatory action will be taken and that the investigation process “will move forward expeditiously.”
That process has already begun. On Tuesday, the university began searching for its president, appointing Barbara Strain, a lifelong local resident and a relatively new member of the board of trustees, as chair of the committee.
“I am committed to a prompt, collaborative, transparent investigation,” Strain wrote in a statement. “It is vital that we appoint a president who can continue the growth and success of Piedmont.”
No representative from Melichamp’s office or the university responded to multiple requests for comment.
Cantfort said Melichamp’s departure was “the first step” in resolving Piedmont’s financial and administrative problems.
“More needs to be done,” he said. “First and foremost, we need an effective leader to help us work together to find those solutions.”
‘There is no moral way except abandonment’
The spring semester in Piedmont began on a relatively good note: President Melichamp assured faculty at an all-party meeting last November that the university’s finances were under control, and that faculty had grown by as much as 5 percent.
In February, it became clear that financial problems were behind the university’s optimistic satire. Melichamp has announced first-round budget cuts, which include layoffs of 22 staff and eight faculties. Teachers were assured that it would end.
In early June, however, a second round of budget cuts was announced, which included an additional 15 faculty cuts. The number of faculty cuts was eventually reduced to four after discussions with the Board of Trustees, but the move angered faculty and administrators alike – including provosts and Silver.
Shortly afterwards, Silver resigned in protest of “unethical” budget cuts, writing in an email to colleagues that he had “no moral alternative but to give up.”
Webb, who has been a professor of religion and philosophy at Piedmont since 2017. Batman resigned June 14. Like Silver, he outlined his argument in a faint email to colleagues, calling Melichamp and other administrators “underhand,” for “embarrassing” and “immoral” behavior, including intimidation and “bullying at work” in the wake of Silver’s resignation.
Webb writes, “Chief Harry R. The Batman Chair of Religion and Philosophy was established to honor the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Batman and his commitment to ethics, which plays an important role in the tradition of the Piedmont Church, “Webb wrote. “Unfortunately, Piedmont’s current leadership (and I loosely use that term) has so disrespected this legacy that I can no longer be a part of it with a good conscience.”
Web took a break from tidying up his house Inside higher ed Although the decision to leave Piedmont was a difficult one for him and his family, he believes it was the only moral choice considering the university move.
“I’m very sorry to have left Piedmont. I think it’s a very special institution. And I’m deeply sorry to have left this area. My family and I have really settled here,” says Webb, who has three young children. I think I made a good decision. “
The students were not fooled by the spread of tension on campus over the past few months. Jonathan Farlow, a rising senior studying theater and accounting, was delighted with his time in Piedmont. In early May, she was interviewed for a university alumni news outlet, where she praised her teaching and her professors.
“Piedmont is a place where you can make your college experience your own,” he said. “I’m getting an education that’s right for me.”
But events over the past few months have raised concerns about Piedmont’s stability, and the sudden faculty layoffs in May have led Farlow to wonder what other problems lie behind the university’s optimistic messaging.
“There was a feeling on campus, if they don’t tell us, what else are they telling us?” He said. “I look back at the school I went to and see that this is not the same place I went to three and a half years ago. It’s a whole new mess. “
Farlow said that when Silver resigned, anxiety on campus reached a fever pitch.
“That’s when many of us looked around and said, ‘OK, shall I move?'” He said.
On Sunday, the day before Melichamp announced his retirement, Farlow visited Piedmont’s internal social media app to demand the resignation of three administrators: Melichamp, Smith and Piedmont’s chief financial officer, Brent Wright.
“We deserve to know what’s going on at our school!” Farlow wrote in the post, when there were 35 likes Inside higher ed Got a screenshot of it. “If this continues, there will be more problems than just losing faculty.”
A professor and chairman of the department, speaking on condition of anonymity because of concerns about retaliation, said Pidmont’s twin financial and self-confidence crises over the past year had been troubling to him and others believing in the university’s mission.
“Piedmont is a really great institution, and a great place for students to go,” they said. “But the administration has really torn it to pieces.”
A mixed legacy of a president
Melichamp will leave Piedmont after 40 years at university and a decade as president. Under his leadership, Piedmont’s residential student population has grown by 60 percent, and he has led multiple successful capital campaigns, one of which was to build a $ 10 million music archive – a project of personal significance by Melichamp, who made his name as a concert organist.
But Melichamp’s legacy is also damaged by conflicts with faculties, including legal battles; Allegations of professional and sexual misconduct; And, more recently, as a result of the university’s sudden financial problems and subsequent budget cuts.
Melichamp was the focus of multiple court cases that drew unwarranted attention to Piedmont and raised money from the organization for legal fees.
In 2018, former Piedmont biology professor Robert Weinberg, who was on the job before the end of the university term program in 2004, filed a defamation suit against Melichamp.
In 2021, another former biology professor, Rick Austin, who was also the mayor of Democrats at the time, filed his own lawsuit against Melichamp. He filed an affidavit in support of Weinberg’s erroneous termination lawsuit and claimed that he was fired in retaliation for supporting his colleague. In his affidavit, Austin claims that, among other things, Melichamp detained him while a professor was there and that he failed to intervene when an inappropriate professor-student relationship was reported.
Piedmont, on the other hand, filed a lawsuit against the city of Democrat a year ago, alleging fraud, conspiracy and theft by targeting the college by raising the price of water and sewerage, led by Austin. Other complaints.
Austin did not respond Inside higher edAttempts are being made to reach him for comment.
Austin’s case against Melichamp was disposed of out of court for an undisclosed amount. Weinberg’s lawsuit against Melichamp is ongoing, as the university has launched against the city of Democrat. Piedmont representatives did not respond when asked if the university would continue its defense bills or withdraw the lawsuit against the city after Melichamp’s retirement.
“President Melichamp has done some good for the organization, but his biggest problem has always been his narcissism,” said the chairman of the department. “It was, I think, his downfall in the end.”
Another shoe drop?
Both Silver and Webb’s resignation draws attention to the “immoral” behavior and “heinous” financial mismanagement of Brand Wright, Piedmont’s senior vice president, for administration and money.
“No problem will be fixed at Piedmont until Brent Wright leaves,” the department chairman said.
The university posted a 2.9 million surplus in fiscal year 2019, according to Piedmont’s federally submitted 990 tax forms. But in FY 2020, the first full year at Wright’s job, Piedmont reported a 1.6 million deficit.
Melichamp pinned Piedmont’s budget deficits, which did not communicate with faculty until the last fall of the epidemic. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, however, enrollment in education-dependent institutions declined significantly from 2019 to 2020. Wright then recommended and overseen budget cuts that led to the retrenchment of 12 teachers and the resignation of Silver.
This is not the first time that Wright has presided over a budget deficit and faced a backlash for recommending cuts as a solution. In 2019, Wright recommended departmental cuts and 10 faculty cuts at Montana Tech, where he was serving his last year as vice chancellor of finance and administration before moving to Piedmont. Following public response to the proposed cuts, Wright’s financial oversight responsibilities were reassigned, according to the report. Montana Standard.
Wright did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
A new hope
Farlow said the prospect of new leadership at Piedmont makes him much more optimistic about the university’s future.
“If we can get a new president, a new provost and hopefully a new vice president, I think everything in Piedmont will be back on track,” he said.
Cantfort says the news of Melichamp’s retirement has led to a true “vibe shift” in Piedmont.
“In the last 24 hours, this summer, among faculty and staff on campus, I’ve seen smiles that I have never seen before. I see people saying hello before they walk with their heads bowed, “he said on Tuesday, a day after Melichamp’s announcement.
The faculty, who will be back in the fall, also received their contracts in the mail this week – two months later than last year, but better than ever, the department chair said.
“People are optimistic,” Cantfort said. “The impression is that this is the beginning of a new day.”