COLUMBIA, S.C. ―Winthrop University fired its president after less than a year, saying she violated the Rock Hill college’s nepotism policy by hiring her husband, lied to trustees and was rude, hostile and demeaning to faculty, her own staff and school leaders.
Jamie Comstock Williamson wasn’t at the Board of Trustees meeting Thursday. But her lawyer wrote trustees a letter earlier this month denying all the allegations, saying trustees knew her husband was getting a part-time job with Winthrop and saying trustees became disillusioned with Williamson because she was direct and did not feed their egos.
The board’s vote to terminate Williamson’s five-year contract likely isn’t the end of the problems. The letter from Williamson’s lawyer threatened to sue unless a deal was reached about her firing.
Williamson was making almost $300,000 a year–$169,970 from the state and $130,000 from the Winthrop University Foundation. She had been executive director of the American Council on Education for almost a year when she was hired and spent five years before that as vice president for academic affairs at Butler University in Indiana.
A clash of personalities appeared to factor heavily into the conflict between trustees and Williamson. No trustees spoke about the decision during the vote. Board Chairwoman Kathy Bigham instead read a statement after Williamson was fired and Provost Debra Boyd was named acting president.
“Candor and trust between the president and the board are crucial for this university, and any university, to thrive. And once candor and trust are irretrievably broken, decisions must be made to chart a different course,” Bigham said.
The letter outlining reasons trustees wanted to fire Williamson included the nepotism charge and statements that she lied and provided misleading information. But it also contained a personal allegation.
“You have repeatedly engaged in explosive, berating, demeaning, hostile, condescending, rude and other unprofessional behavior, including your own executive staff, clerical staff, faculty and trustees,” Bigham wrote in the letter, which did not provide specifics.
The letter from Jamie Williamson’s lawyer denied she lied or misled anyone and said Williamson couldn’t fight the charges because the university immediately took her office keys, keeping her from her files, and locked her out of her email. The letter also suggested trustees wanted Williamson to shake things up at the school, which had the same president, Anthony DiGiorgio, for 24 years before she started on July 1, 2013, then quickly and unfairly regretted its choice.
“It seems apparent some Board members have their own agenda and are not pleased to deal with a woman who is direct in her approach and is not concerned with stroking personalities. Surely the Board cannot ignore that this is the same group that, just a year ago when it hired her, saw these qualities as a real benefit,” Williamson’s attorney, Bev Carroll, wrote.
The most explosive allegation against Williamson was her husband’s $27,000 part-time temporary job. Larry Williamson did not work under his wife in the community relations job that included representing the school to public officials and seeking out economic development partnerships, Jamie Williamson said before her firing.
Trustees knew about Larry Williamson’s job before his wife started work and one of them gave him a list of elected representatives he should meet and put him in touch with the university’s lobbyist, according to the letter from Williamson’s lawyer.
Williamson and her lawyer didn’t talk to reporters Thursday. But in a statement, Carroll said Williamson made some unspecified mistakes as president, but was given no chance to fix them.
Williamson called it a sad day and said she remains proud she was picked to be Winthrop’s 10th president.
“I will always believe in the value of the Winthrop educational experience and want only the best for Winthrop and her students,” Williamson said in her statement. “Larry and I want to thank so many people for the kindness showed to us from the day we arrived in Rock Hill.”