(Rock Hill, S.C.) – The Winthrop University board of trustees appointed Dr. George W. Hynd as interim president on Friday, Jan. 31, despite opposition from one trustee and concerns from faculty and students.
“I am looking very forward to being here, working with the board, working with the faculty, the staff and the students in a transparent mode and really continuing the enthusiasm and the good things and the very good initiatives that are underway as we move forward,” Hynd said.
The meeting was held in the Gold Room of DiGiorgio Campus Center, where the board immediately went into executive session to discuss Hynd’s appointment.
The meeting drew members of Winthrop’s administration, faculty, students and media outlets who wanted to witness the vote.
After returning from executive session, board of trustees chair Glenn McCall called a motion to vote on Hynd’s appointment. Before voting, trustee Dr. Jane LaRoche stood before the board to express her concerns on the matter.
“This is the third time I’ve said this. This is a huge mistake,” LaRoche said.
LaRoche said the decision to replace current president Dan Mahony with Hynd was a process that did not have input from students and faculty. She also said the contract lacked “fairness” and “transparency.”
“Our faculty rep was not allowed in the meeting between the two graduations. He asked to be there. He said he would be very supportive to us and promised to let us know how the faculty felt. Imani (Belton, student body president) has a right to be here. They don’t have a vote but they sure deserve to be represented by our students and our faculty,” LaRoche said.
Dr. Michael Lipscomb, professor of political science and former faculty representative to the board of trustees, was the person the board “cut off,” as LaRoche put it.
“I was the person that Jane LaRoche talked about being excluded from the meeting. You know, I offered the board the kind of input that I might be able to give and they chose to not embrace that input,” Lipscomb said.
Belton said she reached out to McCall and Kathy Bigham, vice-chair of the board, but was told that student input in the search for an interim president was not needed.
“They gave me an answer that said ‘nope, when we do the permanent president search, that is when we’ll ask for students, but as for right now, we will not.’ So, I didn’t have any say in any of this. Let alone any other student,” Belton said.
“I did find that kind of frustrating, because my job in that role, elected by the faculty, was to provide…to be a liaison between the faculty and the board and to the degree that I felt like I was excluded from some of those conversations, I feel I was not able to fully exercise that responsibility,” Lipscomb said.
In a press release from the university sent out on Jan. 29, Hynd was said to have met “criteria identified by current trustees, senior leadership, faculty, staff and students as important for a new leader to possess.”
However, Belton, a senior integrated marketing communications major, said that statement was not accurate.
“From what I hear the students talk about with pertaining to the board of trustees and how 100 percent confident that they’re going to pick the right person and how I had faith — had faith — in this process and knowing that this is a student-centered school and we talk about it being a student-centered school,” she said.
“This was the most non-centered, non-integrity filled, non-ethical filled process that I’ve experienced and I’m disappointed. I knew of some things. They wouldn’t allow me or any other student to be a part of the search and that all came to light at that meeting,” Belton said.
“(Mahony) loves Winthrop. He loves the people in the Rock Hill community. He loves the faculty, staff and adores the students,” LaRoche said.
“Dan (Mahony) was not treated fairly, causing him to have to look elsewhere for a job, and you all know what I’m talking about. He didn’t want to leave. I think the students need to know. He did not want to leave Winthrop,” LaRoche said.
LaRoche’s speech was followed by applause from the faculty and students in the room.
The board’s vote to make Hynd Winthrop’s interim president, came with one opposing vote from LaRoche. He will serve from March 1, 2020 until June 30, 2022 with all the rights, responsibilities and privileges of the office of the president.
“We feel, the board of trustees, feel that he will do us a great job here. In the feedback that we received from campus constituents, we wanted someone, hopefully, that had experience in South Carolina and understands how we operate at the state, as it relates to public institutions being engaged with the legislature,” McCall said.
After the vote, a press conference was held in Dina’s Place, where Hynd formally introduced himself and took audience questions.
Hynd complimented the Winthrop Plan, created by Mahony in 2016, and stressed that he intends to see it through.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to continue the great things that I think President Mahony has accomplished. The Winthrop Plan has all of the right elements that I can see, looking at the university,” Hynd said.
“It’s a wonderful plan that engaged the community, it engaged the students, it engaged the faculty, it engaged basically everybody on campus and off campus. It really has all the right elements of a strategic plan. I’m looking forward to continuing the conversations of about how that can evolve forward.”
Hynd revealed he interviewed for the president’s position in 2012, but had to remove himself from consideration because his wife’s father was terminally ill. The board later hired Jamie Comstock-Williamson in 2013, who was fired 11 months later in 2014.
Hynd said he plans on welcoming faculty, staff and students in his home in the president’s house, explaining the house is a “nexus for connecting to the history of the university.”
“It’s a great opportunity for students to get a little bit of an intimate feel for the history of the university and the best way to do that, I think, in many cases is to be invited to the president’s house for various social events where they can have an opportunity to connect with benefactors, connect to alumni, connect to other people who might be interested in what they have to share,” Hynd said.
After the university announced Hynd was the “preferred candidate,” some students were left wondering about the future of Winthrop’s leadership.
“My first thought when I got the email was that it was a bit strange he hadn’t been voted on by the board yet nnd then I did a Google search and found out he had been president at Oakland University,” said Philip Nelson, a junior computer science major.
An article by the Detroit Free Press was circulating between students on Twitter, that detailed an expensive trip that Oakland University administrators and then-president Hynd took in 2016. The trip reportedly cost the university $155,000 and followed an 8.4 percent tuition increase seven months prior.
Hynd said that raising tuition is not on his “front burner” and “probably not on Winthrop’s horizon.”
Regardless, a number of students expressed concerned abut the process of how Hynd came to be Winthrop’s interim president.
“We didn’t even know who the candidates were,” Nelson said. “I think he is definitely qualified, but I question the rush to vote on his appointment and the fact that we all got an email beforehand.
“They really should have let Imani Belton interview candidates at least, the best thing would have been a town hall style forum for the students to get to know the candidates. Just giving us some indication of what was happening would have been better than nothing at all,” Nelson said.
Lipscomb said he will work with the faculty to make Hynd’s run as interim president successful, but he would have liked to have seen the board be more transparent.
“I do want to stress that I will join with the rest of the faculty to make Dr. Hynd’s interim appointment a success,” Lipscomb said. “I do wish that the board would work to find ways to bring faculty and student representation into their decisions about personnel.
“I understand that they have the legal discretion to make these choices without that kind of input, but I think that the university functions best and that we make the best kinds of decisions when we have the input of all the different stakeholders, particularly those, I’m thinking now of our faculty, staff and students, who run this university on a day-to-day basis,” he said.