Story and Photos by Caleb Walters and Shelby Campbell
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -— New members to the University of West Alabama board of trustees were appointed Wednesday morning at the Alabama State House in Montgomery, just days before the board’s first quarterly meeting of the year on Monday.
Three positions on the board became vacant after previous members’ terms expired, and one of the current member’s position was up for reinstatement. Jerry Groce, Hal Bloom and Shelia Cloud were all newly appointed to the board in Wednesday’s meeting, and Jean Anderson was reinstated to her standing position for another term.
The nominees for the vacant board positions were first recommended by Gov. Robert Bentley, who heads the board of trustees for each public university in Alabama. These recommendations were then voted on by the Alabama Senate Confirmation Committee to finalize their appointment.
The initial agenda for the meeting called for the nominees to be voted on as a collective slate, which met stern opposition from at least one committee member, who called for the nominees to be voted on individually. Through this procedure, three of the appointments were passed unanimously. Only Bloom’s appointment faced opposition, but was ultimately passed in an 8-2 vote.
This particular board appointment hearing has become a high profile issue due to its potential effect on Monday’s quarterly board meeting. One of the major items on the meeting’s agenda is a discussion of whether or not the board should extend the contract of UWA president, Dr. Richard Holland, for two more years. As it currently stands, Holland’s contract is scheduled to end in September of this year. If his contract were to be renewed, Holland would serve two more years as university president before retiring from that position. Holland would still teach at UWA, but he would surrender all administrative authority.
However, the board of trustees seems to be at odds with Holland and his regime. The board has the full authority to hire or fire university presidents, and some of the board members seem anxious to exercise that authority in both respects. Victor Vernon, a UWA board of trustees member whose term will not expire until 2017, falls into this category.
“I am very much in favor of Dr. Holland completing his existing contract,” Vernon said. “I am very much leaning towards new blood as a replacement for him when his contract expires.”
Though some current board members share the same ideology as Vernon, others who have had positive experiences with Holland are in direct opposition to any idea of ousting the president, including former board member Margaret Lovett.
“The board’s actions are shameless,” Lovett said. “Dr. Holland should be, out of courtesy and respect, allowed two more years to complete unfinished projects. Not to offer him two more years is disgraceful.”
Lovett, who was relieved of her position on the board in 2012 during the middle of her term due to district zoning changes, claims she has still not received a formal statement from the board regarding the reasoning behind her dismissal.
The rationale behind the rumored dismissal of Holland is also shrouded in numerous allegations from both his supporters and those against him. Many of those who fully support an extension of Holland’s contract, like Lovett, have nothing but positive things to say about his impact during his time as president.
“Dr. Holland has impacted not only the university, but the entire area,” Lovett said. “He has devoted his life to serving people. When you talk to people that matter, you can see that.”
Newly reinstated board member Jean Anderson is also supportive of Holland, and said that he has done an excellent job as UWA’s president.
Administrators are not the only ones who seem to think highly of Holland. Kirstan Cunningham, a mathematics graduate student at UWA, said, “Dr. Holland is the type of president that is extremely personable and approachable. I see him at numerous campus programs, activities and athletic events, and he always takes the time to talk with his students.”
It comes as no surprise that UWA has had a large impact on Holland’s life, and that he, in turn, has had a substantial impact on the institution. He began as an undergraduate at UWA in 1962, and he received both his baccalaureate and master’s degree from here. After a short stint of teaching, he left and earned his doctorate degree from Tennessee. He has been employed by the university ever since and has been president since 2002.
Under Holland, the university has grown in several aspects. Physically, UWA has acquired and renovated numerous academic, administrative and recreational facilities including the addition of Gilbert Hall. Athletics have improved in terms of student retention and motivation, as well as the academic records of our athletes. UWA online programs have received national recognition from many organizations because of their commitment to academic integrity and accessibility. Holland said that long-term student involvement, not just with academics, has increased dramatically as well. He also referred to UWA as an agent of change for the entire region.
Still, the board has raised concerns and has accused Holland of not respecting their authority, while Holland seems to think he has given them more than a fair chance to express their opinions.
“They want to move the institution in a different direction and do something different,” Holland said. “I asked them what it is about this institution that needs to go in another direction. I’m still not sure what.”
Lovett seems to agree with Holland’s discontent about the board’s vague critique.
“Micromanaging is not a role for any board member to take on,” Lovett said. “Things would be different if the university had been going downhill.”
The board is tentatively scheduled to announce their decision about Holland’s contract at its 2 p.m. meeting on Monday. Students, faculty, staff and community members are invited and encouraged to attend each of Monday’s meetings, with the first beginning at 8 a.m.
Regardless of the outcome, Holland is satisfied with what the university has accomplished thus far with him as president.