WKU community seeks answers following Snyder’s resignation

Protesters sing freedom songs and chant “we want the truth” and “stand with Snyder” in front of the Wetherby Administration Building on Thursday, March 28, 2019. Two days earlier Larry Snyder resigned from his position as dean of Potter College.

Rebekah Alvey

On a Tuesday afternoon with seven weeks left until the end of the semester, the dean of the Potter College of Arts and Letters’ resignation was announced in a two-paragraph email from the provost. By the end of the week, the person immediately named interim dean had already declined the position.

Now, as WKU continues to undergo a review of all academic programs and the future of the university, Potter College will sit without a dean — interim or permanent — for a month.

On Tuesday, March 26, Provost Terry Ballman sent an email to all faculty announcing Larry Snyder, who served as dean of Potter College of Arts and Letters for nearly four years, was resigning from his position, effective Wednesday, March 27. Snyder had worked in the Potter College Dean’s Office for 12 years prior to being named dean in August 2015.

Since the resignation, students have held protests, chalked messages across campus and most recently, held a dialogue with Ballman to ask the question no one has gotten a real answer to yet: Why did Snyder so abruptly resign?

The faculty are asking for the same answer, but in different ways. Multiple faculty members within Potter College said there will be an on-campus meeting between the college’s department heads and President Timothy Caboni today. Additionally, a special called University Senate meeting has been set for Thursday.

In the email announcing Snyder’s resignation, Ballman said Sally Ray, former chancellor for WKU’s Glasgow campus, would fill the interim position until a new dean was selected. However, on Friday, March 29, Ray declined the position, according to Media Relations Director Bob Skipper.

On Monday, Ballman announced Merrall Price, currently the special assistant to the provost, would assume the interim dean position on May 1. She said the decision was made with the recommendation of Potter College leadership.

“Until then, the Provost’s Office will continue to work directly with department chairs to ensure that processes and learning are not interrupted,” Ballman said in the email.

In an interview, Snyder attributed his resignation to changes and transitions in how WKU is structured. He said the ongoing Comprehensive Academic Program Evaluation (CAPE) is a part of that change but his resignation is not a direct result of the process.

“We always serve at the will of the provost,” Snyder said of his resignation. “As deans, at any point something like this could occur.”

He said the meeting between the provost and himself was just a normal meeting.

“I have been privileged and honored to serve this university since I started as a faculty member in 1990, and I’ve been in the dean’s office since 2003, and I can’t think of a better job in the world,” Snyder said.

Caboni showed his support of Ballman following Snyder’s resignation in an email to the Board of Regents obtained by an open records request. He said regents should expect further developments as the college “expresses its displeasure in this decision.”

“I cannot go into details around Larry’s resignation because it is a personnel matter and we don’t discuss those publicly no matter the interest,” Caboni said in the email. “However, you should know that every dean serves at the pleasure of the provost and that it is in her discretion to make a change in academic personnel, for whatever reason she deems appropriate.”

On Monday, the provost agreed to hold an open forum hosted by the Student Government Association for students to ask questions about the resignation. Many students have voiced their concerns through protests and chalking campaigns about the lack of information being shared on the details of Snyder’s resignation.

During the forum, as students asked if Snyder was forced to resign, Ballman said she could not comment because it is a personnel matter, an explanation she also provided the Herald when asked for details.

Tony Glisson, human resources director, said there is a long-standing practice at WKU that personnel matters are not discussed. However, this policy is not explicitly stated or written in university policy.

In making these decisions, Glisson said it’s important to think about every possibility when a personnel member is terminated.

According to the WKU Faculty Handbook, tenured faculty members can only be terminated under specific circumstances. These include retirement, resignation, dismissal for cause or a decision by the Board of Regents for financial reasons or changes in academic programs.

One concern frequently voiced by students during the open forum was the ongoing CAPE, which was launched on August 29, 2018.

The process was implemented in part with the strategic plan to “engage deans and department chairs in a comprehensive academic program review to ensure WKU has an appropriate mix of study options and efficiently deploys scarce resources,” according to the WKU CAPE website.

Through the process, all 350 academic programs would be evaluated and categorized as “grow/enhance,” “transform,” “maintain” or “suspend.” According to the website, if a program is suspended, no new students will be able to enroll in the program, but already enrolled students will still be able to graduate in the program.

During the process, tenured faculty positions will remain a priority. Teaching obligations may change, but WKU does not foresee a reduction in workforce, according to the website.

On Jan. 8, 2019, department-level recommendations were
due to the dean and
department faculty. From there, college-level recommendations were due to
the CAPE committee, department heads and faculty.

On March 18, university-wide CAPE Committee final recommendations were due to the provost, college deans, academic department heads and faculty. These recommendations were intended to be sent to the president’s office for the Board of Regents Academic Affairs Committee meeting April 12.

The final approval of the CAPE recommendations is set to be approved May 10 in a Board of Regents meeting.
University Senate Chair Kirk Atkinson serves on the CAPE committee along with 17 additional members. He said the committee was not involved with the timeline setting process and did its best to meet the timelines.

When the CAPE committee recommendations were passed to the provost, who in turn would send the recommendations to the president, Atkinson said the committee made the decision to not make its recommendations public. He said it made the decision because the timeline listed a quick turnaround time, and once the provost’s recommendations were sent to the president, they would also be shared with the colleges.

“Wish I knew,” Atkinson said when asked when the recommendations would become public. He added he believes the reason the deadline has not been met could be because the recommendations were more complex than anticipated and the committee needed to “dig to understand.”

Atkinson speculated a lot of faculty may not be pleased with the recommendations, especially considering the campus climate after Snyder’s resignation.
During its time making recommendations, Atkinson said it attempted to be as transparent as possible.

With the absence of a dean for Potter College, Atkinson said there may be some concern among faculty members as the CAPE process continues.

With Snyder’s resignation, Cheryl Stevens, dean of Ogden College of Science and Engineering, is the only college dean left from former President Gary Ransdell’s tenure.

On Monday, Ballman announced Christopher Shook as the new dean of Gordon Ford College of Business. Shook is a professor of management currently serving as the Sprunk & Burnham Endowed Dean for the University of Montana College of Business in Missoula. He will begin as Gordon Ford dean July 1.

In January 2018, Neale Chumbler, former dean of the College of Health and Human Services, was announced as dean of the College of Health and Public Service at the University of North Texas. He served as dean at WKU since 2015.

Sam Evans, former dean of the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, personally announced his retirement in August 2017. His retirement officially went into effect June 30, 2018. Evans first accepted the dean position in 2003.

The University College was eliminated due to budget cuts on June 30, 2018, and Dennis George, the former dean, assumed the interim dean of College of Health and Human Services. There is an ongoing search for the permanent position.

Jeff Katz, the former dean of Gordon Ford College of Business, stepped down to resume teaching on June 30, 2018. The announcement was made on March 27, 2018, by Stacey Gish, communications coordinator in the college. Katz said he wanted to return to teaching and spending time with students before his retirement.

After serving in the dean’s office for 16 years and as a faculty member before that, Snyder said he will not be completely apart from WKU. While he will be on leave during the Fall 2019 semester, he will return as a faculty member the following spring.

“I’ve been overwhelmed and honored by the support and encouragement received,” Snyder said in a message to the Herald on Monday. “The respect of one’s colleagues and students is the best measure of a successful academic career. I’ve been very blessed and have no regrets.”

News Editor Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected] Follow Rebekah Alvey on Twitter at @bekah_alvey.