Photo by Shelby Campbell

LIVINGSTON, Ala. – The University of West Alabama President Richard Holland was placed on administrative leave after the two-hour board of trustees meeting on Monday afternoon which left a special administrator temporarily in charge. 

The board began the quarterly meeting with the decision to not renew Holland’s contract to Oct. 1 after almost a decade of service.

Despite support of the community, it was made clear that the majority of the board had already made up its mind. There was evident hostility toward Holland for his reaction to the recent evaluation of his performance as administrator of the university.

In light of the majority’s opinion, a few board members urged the board to vote for the extension of Holland’s contract.

Board member John Northcutt said within the last 40 years, this is the best financial state the university has seen because of Holland. He encouraged the board to vote in favor of Holland.

“Holland is not about feathering his own nest,” said Jean Anderson, board member. “He loves this university.”

In response to the statements in support of Holland, board member Alex Saad showed his anger with Holland over his reaction to the recent job evaluation by an independent evaluator.

“I, for one, cannot support a man who is so worried about an evaluation he would scorch and burn the university,” Saad said.

The board appeared concerned with the possible allegations made by Holland regarding the actions made by certain board members.

“There was a hand grenade thrown on the table a while back that this board needs to look at,” said Randall Hillman, board member.

After much debate, the board voted on the motion to renew Holland’s contract for two years. The motion was not passed with a board vote of 10-3.

Board member Becky Lewis, whose term ended this week, suggested that the board come to a compromise by making a motion to extend Holland’s contract one year. This motion also did not pass with a vote of 9-4.

Hillman then made the motion to hold an investigation to look into the allegations made by Holland regarding the actions of certain board members and faculty. This motion included allowing the independent investigator access to employee phone and email records. The motion easily passed with only two votes of no among the board.

Upon the motion being passed, the board also made a motion that Holland be placed on administrative leave while the investigation takes place. With the mention of this motion, there were shouts of protest and shocked expressions coming from the crowd.

This decision did not come without protest. The Bell Conference Center was packed with students and community members in support of Holland. One-by-one, members of the community approached the podium and spoke highly of Holland and everything he has done for the university and community.

“His job as president speaks for itself,” said UWA alumnus Archie Hooper. “Anyone with eyes can see the growth and beauty of this campus.”

Various testimonies from students and community members insisted that the board give Holland the opportunity to finish his ongoing projects with the extension of his contract to 2016.

“I think that there is no one on this campus that could be promoted to fill Dr. Holland’s spot,” said Patsy Chaney, member of the Livingston community.

Holland even had long-time supporters that drove hours to speak on his behalf such as Bari Watson, a former UWA employee, who drove from Nashville, Tenn.

“I can’t say enough about Dr. Holland’s vision, his ability to lead, his progressive way of thinking,” Watson said of her time at UWA. “You know, in a small university in the Black Belt of Alabama, it was so refreshing to see someone so well-educated, so articulate, with such a vision. He just provided great leadership.”

Regardless of the obvious opinions of the crowd, the board still passed the motion for Holland to be placed on administrative leave.

Holland’s administrative leave begins immediately. The board made the decision to create the position of special administrator until the investigation is complete. Board member Jerry Smith made the motion to place John Blackwell, former business manager at UWA, in this position.

Blackwell currently serves on the board of trustees for Auburn University.

Upon nominating Blackwell, Smith said he was certain Blackwell would accept the position because “he has already been contacted.”

This statement left the crowd in a state of shock and uproar as Smith began to read a biography of Blackwell pulled from a folder in front of him.

“It was obvious from the outset that the decision had already been made,” said Lucy Gallman, Livingston resident, to The Tuscaloosa News. “I have grave concerns that the opinion of the public was not taken into consideration in making this change at UWA.”

Holland’s administrative leave begins this week with Blackwell’s arrival on campus.

Northcutt showed disbelief that the board chose to place Holland on administrative leave.

“I truly believe [Holland]’s heart and soul rests with the betterment of UWA,” he said.

Holland said he is concerned for the university and how this situation was handled.

“That’s what the board’s going to have to address, the issue of stability and unity, among our alums, the community, and people who donate and support this institution, because obviously it’s fractured right now, but they’ll handle that,” Holland said.

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