VP’s contract not renewed

by Kate Paulman

Vice President of Business and Finance Ken Birkenholtz’s contract hasn’t been renewed for the next fiscal year, according to Bruce Sloan, professor of mathematics and faculty representative to the board of trustees.

According to Sloan, Birkenholtz was notified of the decision last Thursday in a meeting with President R. Kevin LaGree and Steve Weeber, chair of the board of trustees.

Sloan said there was “a great deal of concern” among the faculty about the decision. Sloan, the three other faculty representatives to the board and the five academic division heads met Tuesday to discuss the situation.

“The decision itself is difficult to accept,” Sloan said. “Knowing why it was done and the way it was done – that’s what we’re trying to find out through this meeting.”

Administrators are on yearly contracts based on the fiscal year – June 1 through May 31. If a contract is renewed, the employee is notified in a letter from LaGree on March 1. If a contract isn’t renewed, the employee is notified in a meeting with the president.

LaGree would neither confirm nor deny the state of Birkenholtz’s contract. He wouldn’t comment on the reasoning behind the decision, something that Sloan hoped to get a better understanding of at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We are concerned about the decision that was made and we wish to understand more about what the president’s views on that is,” Sloan said. “We hope to get a clear understanding of his position and to make our position clear. And then [we’ll] determine if there needs to be additional steps taken.”

For members of the faculty, the decision came out of the blue.

“It hit the faculty that knew Ken by surprise – it was a complete shock,” said Pat Singer, professor of biology and faculty representative to the board of trustees.

After the initial shock of the decision, faculty reactions varied: Sloan and Singer agreed that there were feelings of frustration, anger and disappointment among the faculty.

“I think disappointment would be OK, confusion would probably be pretty accurate,” Singer said. “I think if I were a vice president, I’d be a little worried. It’s one of these things where, ‘Gee, thank goodness I have tenure.'”

Professor of English Nancy St. Clair said she found the timing – and the decision itself – questionable.

“I’m very saddened and upset by this decision,” St. Clair said. “It’s an odd decision, an unusual decision, for an outgoing president to make … It’s not unusual when a new president comes in to do a certain amount of housecleaning. People expect that to happen. They do not expect that a president who’s going to be leaving would get rid of an administrator who almost everybody would say has done an excellent, excellent job.”

For St. Clair, the decision was confusing because of her personal impression of Birkenholtz.

“My experience with Ken has been that he’s totally honest,” St. Clair said. “He works very hard and he’s very open to meeting with people and talking about how and why decisions are made.”

Singer didn’t know why Birkenholtz’s contract was not renewed.

“There’s really a lot of unknowns right now,” Singer said. “We can all speculate, but I think that’s really unfair.”

St. Clair didn’t know either – and neither does the rest of the faculty.

“I’ve talked to lots and lots of faculty members, and unless there’s some reason that we don’t know for this non-renewal of contract that makes good sense when we learn it, I think people would like to see Ken reinstated,” St. Clair said.

St. Clair said she couldn’t think of a good reason for the non-renewal.

“I think if he were doing something wrong in his position that they would have gotten rid of him in one day,” St. Clair said. “They wouldn’t keep somebody around for another three months who has done something improper or committed some kind of misdeed.”

Sloan and Singer didn’t know what the next step after Tuesday’s meeting would be for sure.

“Depending on what [LaGree] says, we’ll meet after we get done talking to him and decide, ‘OK, what is the most logical next step?'” Singer said. “And I have no idea, right now, what that’s going to be.”

Birkenholtz could not be reached for comment.