Days after Ken Birkenholtz, vice president of business and finance, was notified that his one-year contract wasn’t being renewed, president R. Kevin LaGree changed his mind.
After what he described as a “helpful conversation” with the four faculty representatives to the board of trustees and the chairs of the five academic departments on Tuesday, March 8, LaGree decided to offer Birkenholtz a contract for the next fiscal year.
“It led me to reconsider what I had done,” LaGree said.
The voting members of the faculty met with the group of nine on Friday, March 11. Bruce Sloan, professor of mathematics and a faculty representative to the board, headed up the meeting.
“It was primarily to just bring the faculty up to date on what had been taking place, to give them the announcement that we were very pleased that Ken had been given a contract for the next year and that he had signed it and would be back with us,” Sloan said. “What the faculty did at that meeting was they empowered the group of nine to continue looking at the issues surrounding the situation. And that’s all that it is – continuing some discussion about items that are of interest to us.”
Sloan would not say what those items are.
“We’re just in a discussion phase and we have not determined any additional steps at this time,” Sloan said.
Academic Dean Bruce Haddox declined to comment extensively on the situation, but did say LaGree would speak on behalf of the administration.
“It makes real sense for us to speak with one voice on this issue and he’s the person to do it since he’s the person that made the decisions,” Haddox said.
However, LaGree wouldn’t comment on the reasons behind the non-renewal or the issuing of Birkenhotlz’s contract.
“I would never talk about any personnel issue,” LaGree said. “It’s a private matter and it’s an issue that should not be in the press.”
That explanation, however, was not enough for some members of the faculty.
“The explanation was, is and will probably continue to be, ‘It’s a personnel issue,'” said Nick Proctor, associate professor of history. “Arguably, that’s all that the president needs to say. But, when you look at Birkenholtz’s contribution to the college, you’re left wanting a little more than that. You’re left wanting a lot more than that.”
But it doesn’t seem like LaGree is going to offer any more illumination on the subject.
“I wouldn’t comment on any kind of personnel issue,” LaGree said. “I reconsidered my position … I’ve tried to be as clear as I can.”
While the president doesn’t have to offer any explanation, Proctor said some faculty members see it as secretive.
“I guess it’s a spirit of the law, letter of the law kind of thing where the president is behaving within the letter of the law,” Proctor said. “But the faculty took it as a violation of the spirit of the law. One of the phrases that people used a lot was, ‘This just doesn’t seem like the way things are done at Simpson.'”
Unless an explanation is given, Proctor said, confusion – and rumors – will remain.
“And most of the rumors are probably not going to be resolved,” Proctor said. “It would be nice if they were. Having a rumor mill is not healthy for the institution.”
For now, Sloan said, no confirmable information is available.
“Anything that is definite we’re not trying to keep from being public,” Sloan said. “It’s just that, this current moment, we don’t know what that definite might be or even if it will exist. So, it’s hard to say what response might be given since we don’t know what we’d be responding to yet.”
Though the ends may not have justified the means for Proctor, Sloan said many members of the faculty were pleased with Birkenholtz being offered a new contract.
“They’re pleased – they are delighted,” Sloan said. “They’re very happy about it.”