NORFOLK, Va. — The governing board of Norfolk State University has fired President Tony Atwater.
The Board of Visitors’ 7-4 vote Friday stunned Atwater, who called the decision “unexpected and disappointing.” He had 10 months left on his contract.
While board members declined to explain their decision, the vote came months after the state and the university’s accrediting agency had signaled trouble at the historically Black university, according to media reports.
Atwater’s contract allowed the board to fire him without cause for the “convenience of the university.” His contract calls for him to receive his base salary of $295,000 through next June.
Sandra DeLoatch, provost and vice president for academic affairs, was named acting president.
Rector Thomas Chewning, who voted for the firing, said the board soon would discuss a search for a replacement and other details, including how long Atwater will remain in the president’s residence. He was appointed professor of communications with tenure when he was hired as president.
Atwater said he was fired for issues he inherited when he was hired two years ago. The university, he said, was in a state of upheaval when he succeeded Carolyn Meyers, who was pushed out as president in 2010.
Before coming to Norfolk State, Atwater was a senior fellow of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in Washington. He had been president of Indiana University of Pennsylvania but left the school after receiving a vote of no confidence from the faculty.
In May, state lawmakers expressed concern about NSU’s financial accountability after receiving a report from the legislature’s watchdog agency detailing the university’s inability to complete an audit for the past two fiscal years. A state auditor said that the 2011 audit likely would be completed by the September board meeting.
Last month, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges told Atwater it had found “significant accreditation-related issues” at the school and would conduct a review to determine if sanctions are warranted.
The Virginia Board of Nursing also barred NSU from accepting new students into its associate degree nursing program because of low pass rates on the national licensing exam for the past three years.