UWA board hears final report on Holland accusations, approves retirement

Published 7:37 pm Thursday, May 15, 2014

The University of West Alabama Board of Trustees heard and accepted a final report Thursday concerning allegations made by former president Richard Holland before accepting his retirement.

The report found no evidence to support Holland’s accusations that board members conspired with UWA administrators to taint an evaluation of his work as president.

The board hired attorneys Drayton Pruitt and Tommy Smith in March to conduct the investigation. Pruitt is a former UWA board attorney and trustee himself.

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The final report reads in part: “We found no evidence to support the accusation by Richard Holland that there was a conspiracy or collusion between administrators or Board of Trustees members to taint or skew the evaluation against Dr. Holland or to undermine his administration.”

Instead, the report alleges Holland and others conspired to “intimidate and force” the board to give the president a contract extension and influence public support in favor of Holland and against the board.

“However, we did find overwhelming evidence of a conspiracy that included Richard Holland, David Taylor, Gary Stone, Mike Holliman, Paul Hamrick, John Key and Bill McFarland,” the report reads.

The report also alleges Holland and the others worked together to prepare Holland’s blistering responses to his evaluation, a flyer that opposed Hal Bloom’s appointment to the board and a SACS complaint that was ultimately filed by Holliman.

The report also accuses Holland’s supporters of trying to cover up the fact that administrators and trustees’ email accounts had been “spied upon” even though the board directed all records be preserved for the investigation and working to protect themselves after the president’s contract was not renewed.

In responding to his evaluation, Holland wrote earlier this year: “I have also become aware of actions by certain parties that clearly appear to have been designed to skew parts of the evaluation toward the negative by hand-selecting a small group of faculty and staff who are disgruntled for a variety of reasons, including those who have been demoted or reassigned, who have had issues with promotion and tenure, or who work for or have close ties to the parties mentioned above.”

Terry Bunn, Jerry Smith, Clemit Spruiell and Ken Tucker, among others, were those Holland accused of conspiring to skew his evaluation, according to his response.

Following Thursday’s four-hour report, which was followed by a two-hour and 25-minute executive session, Holland’s attorney George McMillan read a letter from Holland to the board.

“I want to offer a sincere apology to the entire UWA family and others,” Holland said in the letter. “I’ve been here more than 45 years, and I was named president in 2002. I served at the pleasure of the Board of Trustees since I was named president. I’m proud of the growth and accomplishments of UWA during my tenure.”

In the letter, Holland went on to say that he sought to extend his tenure for two more years, and that his actions were wrong and unprofessional.

“I caused division within the UWA family, and I sincerely apologize for creating that division,” he wrote to the board. “Dr. Thomas Z. Jones was qualified to conduct my evaluation, and he did so professionally. I felt it was tainted; I overreacted. I’m deeply sorry for all that has happened.”

Following the reading of the letter, McMillan expressed Holland’s wishes to retire, effective Thursday.

The board accepted Holland’s request, although all board members weren’t in agreement.

“I’m not in favor of this,” board member Alex Saad said. “I don’t want to give a free pass just because he worked here for almost 50 years.”

Saad was the only board member to vote no for Holland’s retirement as president of the university.

Board member Thed Spree said he wasn’t happy about the decision but it was time to move forward.

“For the best of the university, let’s move on,” Spree said. “I’m unhappy, but I’ll get over it. We need to move forward.”

Following Holland’s retirement, the board named John Blackwell interim president of UWA for up to 12 months, or until the presidential search committee returns to the board with a recommendation.

“I am humbled and honored, and I will work to make you proud,” Blackwell said. “This gives us an opportunity to move ahead. Help me help you make UWA what she needs to be.”

The board authorized Blackwell to make any decisions he deemed necessary in light of the report.

Bunn, the president of the Board of Trustees, thanked Smith and Pruitt for their work over the last two months and gave words of encouragement for the UWA supporters in the room.

“This storm will pass,” he said. “Our future is as bright as our heritage is strong. The documents presented today speak for themselves. This is the first day in the next chapter of this great institution.”