Five days after Winthrop University trustees fired President Jamie Comstock Williamson, the school’s acting president sought Tuesday to reassure employees, students, alumni and other supporters that “the mission-critical work of our university continues.”
The presidential “period of transition provides each of us with heightened opportunities to demonstrate our belief in Winthrop’s lasting value,” Debra Boyd wrote in a letter addressed to “Winthrop Family and Friends.” Boyd declined to speak to The Herald on Tuesday.
The Board of Trustees has not started its search for a new president. Trustees have said they likely will name an interim president within weeks.
It’s unclear when trustees will launch the search for Winthrop’s 11th president. A committee and a private executive search firm spent nearly a year looking for candidates, and vetting four finalists before Williamson was chosen in February 2013. She took office five months later. On June 13, trustees suspended Williamson and advised her they intended to fire her, claiming she abused her authority, violated state ethics laws and acted inappropriately toward her staff. They fired her on Thursday. Williamson has denied the allegations and threatened to sue for breach of contract, slander and defamation.
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Boyd, a former English professor and Winthrop’s current provost, wrote that the news of Williamson’s suspension and firing has garnered attention from national news media.
The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed have reported on the allegations against Williamson. Both serve primarily college professors and administrators.
Despite the public concerns, Boyd wrote, good work continues at Winthrop. “History tells us that the Winthrop community is resilient in the face of challenges,” she wrote. “At times in our past, difficult decisions had to be made; and our leaders have used the opportunities that came from necessary change to enhance this institution and especially the educational experience offered to students.” Boyd’s letter urged school supporters to continue to give to scholarship funds for students and to share their Winthrop experience with friends and neighbors.
Winthrop’s future, she wrote, depends on “an enthusiastic team effort, one that everyone with whom I’ve talked in recent days is poised to deliver.”
From earlier “challenges,” Boyd wrote, “Winthrop has emerged stronger... We will do so again.”