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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

MVSU president under fire for firings

Two Mississippi Valley State University professors were fired weeks after they served on a faculty committee pressing for the ouster of President Lester Newman.

Losing their jobs effective immediately were professors Vickie Curry and Orian Cathey, who were among 10 on the panel slamming Newman's "micromanagement" leadership style.

Professors said they learned of the dismissals over the weekend.

University officials insisted Monday the two nontenured professors were dismissed because they didn't complete their terminal degrees within five years. "It has nothing to do with their serving on the committee," said MVSU spokeswoman Debbie Montgomery.

While some may question the timing of the move, Montgomery said being president at Valley "is not a popularity contest."

Newman created the Valley panel in March after a Faculty Senate-led endorsement of a no-confidence resolution of his leadership in February. He allowed Valley professors from various colleges and the Faculty Senate to pick its members.

Curry initially said Monday her release was the result of "retaliation" but later said she had no comment.

The next faculty member who may be gone wasn't on the panel. Today, Valley officials are expected to confirm rumors that popular MVSU Athletic Director Lonza Hardy, who's served the school six years, has resigned. He couldn't be reached Monday.

Curry, wife of fiscal affairs administrator Andre Curry, represented the College of Education on the panel. Cathey, who taught math, represented the Faculty Senate. Cathey could not be reached.

In their report sent to Higher Education Commissioner Tom Meredith in late April, the committee recommended Newman "be restrained from hiring or firing personnel and from taking vindictive action" toward the panel.

University presidents report to Meredith.

Meredith and the state College Board had little to say about the latest upheaval at Valley. "The board continues to assess the situation at Valley, and next steps will be announced once they are determined," said board spokeswoman Annie Mitchell.

Montgomery said Newman has pushed since 2000 to upgrade academic standards among faculty.

Two years ago, less than 50 percent of Valley faculty held doctorates, and that figure is up to 69 percent, she said. Having terminal degrees is a key standard for accreditation agencies when sizing up colleges. Newman seeks to get the figure to 75 percent, Montgomery said.

She said two other Valley faculty members on one-year contracts also didn't have terminal degrees and their contracts were not renewed a few days ago. She wouldn't release their names.

Sam McNair, a member of the committee and former Faculty Senate president, said he expects Newman to fire other Valley employees perceived as critics. "I might be one to go," said McNair, on the faculty for more than 30 years.

More changes could be ahead since Newman in the fall also unveiled plans for an administrative reorganization. Many predict it will be unveiled this week.

Word of the latest shakeup at Valley didn't please Carolyn Upkins of Ridgeland, president of MVSU's National Alumni Association.

She said she's concerned the struggle between faculty leaders and Newman could hurt enrollment and alumni gifts to the historically black university.

A recent telephone poll of 32 national alumni leaders, including its executive board, showed the majority had no confidence in Newman's leadership, Upkins said. "I want and the national alumni want what's best for MVSU," she said.

Still, the four faculty members departing as a result of the president's actions are a tiny fraction of the 400 at the university, school officials note.

Newman earlier said he has no plans to resign from his $183,750-per-year leadership post.

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