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Petition seeks transparency at Westminster

Petition seeks transparency at Westminster

August 23rd, 2017 by Jenny Gray in Local News

In this September 2016 photo, students leave a Hancock Symposium lecture in Champ Auditorium on the Westminster College campus in Fulton, Mo. (Submitted photo)

FULTON, Mo. -- A petition asking the Westminster College Board of Trustees for transparency was created Monday at ipetitions.com.

Seven of Westminster's 31 trustees resigned from the college's board last week after college president Benjamin Ola. Akande announced his resignation Friday. Akande became president in July 2015.

Trustees resigning included Byron Bagby, Greg Richard, Kathy Mazarella, Peter Childs, John Elrod, J. David Veitch and H. Phillips Kliewer.

"This was not a small group, nor was it a group of individuals who (didn't have) substantial relationships with the college," Richard said Tuesday.

The group of resigning trustees include Westminster graduates who received Lifetime Alumni Achievement Awards, a major general and business industry leaders.

"Many of us received highest honors, and some of us founded scholarships (at Westminster)," said Richard, who endowed the Dick Ault Scholar Athlete Scholarship at Westminster. "Most of us have substantial jobs in the private sector. We are a group of people who were substantially connected with Westminster and have nearly 100 years of board service."

A big reason Richard quit was the lack of support for Akande, whom he felt was doing the job for which he had been hired, including increasing donations.

"Alumni giving increased substantially," Richard said, adding the number of alumni donors had increased from 8 to 18 percent.

He said Akande also had created a master's degree in accounting program in conjunction with Washington University in St. Louis, a goal set for him when hired.

"The fact that his resignation was not met with more effort to get him to reconsider was disappointing to me," Richard said. "There was a lack of concerted effort to try to keep him from taking that action."

In an emailed statement Tuesday, Bagby said: "When seven trustees resign from a 31-trustee board, it is not simply a case of a group of 'disgruntled' trustees who no longer have a passion to help Westminster. We still care about the college and its future, but most of us intend to continue to contribute in various ways outside the board room."

The details about Akande's resignation are sealed, former trustee Childs said Tuesday. Because Westminster is a private institution — not taxpayer-funded — details cannot be requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

"Our group did not necessarily agree with what went on," Childs added. "We were pretty much kept in the dark about a lot of this until the last month or so."

He did say enrollment of new students fell from an expected 350 students to about 215 students.

"There are too many schools and not enough students," he said.

Bagby and Richard said they will not sever their connections to Westminster.

"I still will support the college in other ways; I still love my alma mater," Richard said. "I've given a lot to the college in a lot of different ways. That part doesn't change."

Petition details

The petition was posted anonymously. It said the supporters of the petition "are greatly concerned that the actions of the board, especially the chairman, have negatively impacted not only the image of the college but also the recovery and stability at a critical juncture in Westminster's history."

The petition also stated "the optics of this situation have alienated alumni and friends of Westminster."

The full petition can be viewed at ipetitions.com/petition/westminster-college-board-of-trustees-transparency.

The current chairman of the board of trustees at Westminster College is John Panettiere, who said in a statement last week he's received "significant interest from individuals in joining the board."

The petition gave a list of expectations, including:

"We want the issue raised regarding the personal conflict between the chairman and President Akande, as well as the glaringly questionable request of the chairman to use his position to give personal favors to his associates instead of an alumni or representative of Westminster at the Cardinals game this previous season."

"Also, we request full clarity regarding the differences if any between the contract of prior Presidents and President Akande."

"We demand a full and explicit explanation of the outlined procedures that are involved in due process of removing a Westminster president under the Board's governance."

"What were the reasons stated for the call to remove President Akande? What metrics were used to examine his performance? What other factors impacted those metrics?"

The petition ends with: "We expect full transparency in this event and demand the resignation of the chairman if he is not willing to be transparent and address our concerns."

As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition had 55 signatures.