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Duffett Resigns, Board of Trustees Elects Matthews as New President

Eastern University President Bob Duffett submitted his resignation letter to the Board of Trustees on Jan. 25, effective Feb. 28. This news was shared with the Eastern University community on Feb. 6, via an email from Chairman of the Board, Steven Clemens; he simultaneously announced the new president-elect, music department chair, Dr. Ron Matthews. Matthews was voted in as the new university president at the board meeting on Feb. 2, and according to Clemens, the Board had been discussing what steps would be taken in the case of the president’s resignation.

The Board of Trustees has been examining Eastern’s management since last fall, as well as creating contingency plans to prepare for a potential presidential resignation. Matthews was approached over the last two months, according to Clemens, and then upon Duffett’s resignation the discussion of “what could happen” transitioned into “what is happening.”

On March 1, Matthews will officially be president of Eastern University, after the Board voted on Feb. 2. The hiring of a president depends on a ⅔ vote from the board, but the vote was unanimous, according to Clemens. The Board did not conduct the search for a new president in the traditional way, i.e., the process that resulted in the hiring of Duffett. Clemens described this process as more internal. “The view of the board was that at this point in time, the best person for Eastern was someone who knows Eastern,” Clemens said.

There was not a presidential search committee; instead, Clemens stated that the portion of the Board of Trustees that was conducting the examination of the Eastern management team functioned as a “quasi-search committee.” The members considered many candidates from within the university, as well as those who, according to Clemens, had “connections to the university.” However, the “quasi-search committee” quickly “coalesced around Ron,” Clemens said.

Clemens described Matthews as “a known consensus builder. He is able to bring together people with very disparate views, and get them all moving in a common direction. His organizational skills and his administration skills are beyond reproach. He’s a great cheerleader for Eastern and we are very optimistic that that trait will allow him to make connections which will benefit Eastern,” Clemens said.

Dr. Matthews’ qualifications aside, many members of the Eastern University community were surprised by the sudden presidential transition, as well as the apparent lack of faculty and student involvement in the hiring process.

Dr. Van Weigel, professor of Ethics and Economic Development made the statement that, “it was clear that the faculty – and perhaps even senior administrators- were more-or-less left in the dark through this important institutional process of selecting a new president. There are good reasons to believe that engaging the faculty would have been logistically quite difficult, but all parties have agreed that at least the Faculty Senate Moderator should have been consulted throughout this process.”

Not only are faculty members concerned with the way the board conducted this process, but they are urging future processes to be conducted with greater faculty involvement. “We need a change in university policy on this score, regardless of the good will of those who are in positions of leadership on the board. We need to secure permanent board representation from each of Eastern’s colleges,” Weigel said.

The official hiring of the university president is a responsibility of the board of trustees, however Eastern does operate in a system of shared governance. This system of shared governance means that “faculty, administration, staff, students, trustees, and alumni bring unique and valuable perspectives to the deliberative decision process. Shared governance signals our institutional commitment to create and follow policies and procedures that facilitate inclusive decision-making,” according to Protocol 1.1 in the Faculty Handbook.

Shared governance was not a factor in this recent decision. “This was not a typical process because of the short trigger between Duffett’s decision to resign and the need to get someone in place…The board is committed to shared governance, we’re very respectful of the role of the faculty in the university, but this was a situation where the board felt that it was critical to act and act decisively” Clemson said.

There is also concern surrounding the fact that Clemson was unable to disclose if any women or persons of color were considered for the presidential role. Dr. Drick Boyd, professor of Urban Studies, commented that “I am particularly concerned that our senior leadership of the university is almost totally white and that there was no opportunity to seek a candidate committed to racial diversity at the highest levels of the institution.”

In the future, the Board of Trustees hopes to prioritize a “unique, cohesive vision of what Eastern is, where we are today, [and] what it means to be Eastern University.” There is a belief among the board members that the university’s issues with fundraising and enrollment are symptoms of a greater issue; that issue being a lack of cohesion and direction among the university. “If you can get a clear, crisp vision of what the product is, then people will buy it,” Clemens said.

While the Eastern University community seems eager to embrace its identity and advertise its unique traits, one of those traits is a championing of diversity, and the process of selecting and hiring the new president did not include any diverse voices. Boyd is concerned that the university may be moving in a direction that will isolate it culturally. “Essentially four white males of the Board of Trustees decided to present another white male, Dr. Matthews, to the whole board as the next president, with no consideration of his commitments to racial and gender diversity in leadership, or his commitment to justice within the university or beyond it,” Boyd said.

The Board of Trustees is grateful to Dr. Duffett for his years of service, and is very excited to work with Ron as they take Eastern into “whatever exciting thing lies ahead of us. I won’t even pretend to predict what it is,” Clemens said.

Weigel agrees that the university is facing an exciting future. “We have a great opportunity at our doorstep. None of us should settle for business as usual. We need to birth a new era of institutional transparency, respect our diversity, and celebrate courage– beginning now,” Weigel said.

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