GWU president tries to survive grade controversy
October 4 2002 by Tony W. Cartledge and Steve DeVane , BR Staff

GWU president tries to survive grade controversy | Friday, Oct. 4, 2002

Friday, Oct. 4, 2002

GWU president tries to survive grade controversy

By Tony W. Cartledge and Steve DeVane BR Staff

Gardner-Webb University (GWU) President Chris White "did not get off scot-free" for his role in helping a star basketball player remain eligible to play in 2000, the head of the school's trustees said.

White is trying to weather a growing controversy that has some faculty members, alumni and students calling for his resignation.

He is facing criticism for telling the school's registrar to calculate Carlos Webb's grade point average in a way that allowed him to play basketball in October 2000.

The change, White has said, was needed because Webb received bad advice that led him to believe an F he received for cheating in a religion class would be dropped if he retook the class. Webb retook the class but when the F wasn't dropped his grades weren't high enough to let him play.

After White directed the registrar to refigure the grades without the F, Webb's grades were just high enough to make him eligible.

The NCAA is investigating the issue.

Faculty at the school gave White a 63-39 no-confidence vote after news of his actions became public last month.

The trustees hired an Atlanta law firm to investigate the matter. They used the firm's 140-page report as a basis to affirm White and demote Gil Blackburn, GWU's vice president and academic dean, and his assistant, Phil Williams. Blackburn and Williams, two of White's biggest critics, were reassigned to teaching positions.

Tommy Hardin, chairman of the GWU trustees, said the trustees did not publicize their actions against White because they considered it a personnel matter.

"The president did not get off scot-free even though it appears that way," he said. "Trustees placed stipulations on him as to things he would and would not do."

A trustee who did not wish to be identified described the action as a vote to reprimand White.

Hardin said Blackburn and Williams were demoted for their role in displaying Webb's transcript at a faculty meeting Sept. 10. That action violated federal law and placed GWU "at risk," he said.

Trustees did not announce details, but trustee Doris Walters told the Recorder that the votes to demote Blackburn and Williams were "far from unanimous."

Hardin said GWU had "self-reported" the action to the U.S. Department of Education as a potential violation of the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Williams responded to the trustees' report in a lengthy statement published by The Star, a newspaper in Shelby.

Williams takes issue with the report's findings regarding the display of the transcript. He said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that private parties - including students and parents - have no private right of action against universities under FERPA.

Williams said White had already revealed the most confidential information about Webb's transcript in a newspaper interview and in his remarks at the faculty meeting. Furthermore, the transcript displayed at the meeting was illegible except for the grade point average, he said.

Dr. Gene Washburn, a retired physician who rotated off the board of trustees last year, said he has gotten numerous phone calls and letters about the controversy. He said that 98 percent of them are opposed to the trustees' action to affirm White and demote Blackburn and Williams. A "large majority" thinks White should resign, he said.

Washburn, who served as the trustees chairman for about six of the last 10 years, said he has strongly supported White in the past, but thinks White will have a tough time leading the school after all the controversy.

"I think for the good of the school and his own good to preserve a legacy built up over 16 years, he could do it better by resigning," Washburn said. "But I think it should be his decision and I hate to think anyone would pressure him."

Baptist State Convention (BSC) leaders issued a statement calling for reconciliation.

BSC Executive Director-treasurer Jim Royston, BSC President Jerry Pereira, BSC General Board President Dixon Free and Wayne Wike, executive director of the BSC's Council on Christian Higher Education, offered to assist in the reconciliation process.

"We must always seek the mind of God rather than be content with the mind of the majority," they said. "Too often, pride clouds the vision of even the best of Christian leaders."

They called on all Baptists and other friends and supporters of GWU to pray and be patient.

"For with God's help, Gardner-Webb University will emerge a stronger and more united institution of Christian higher education," they said.

White, who cancelled an interview with the Recorder because of family illness, has reportedly said that he considers the controversy "an attempted coup."

The Star, which first publicly revealed White's action to have Webb's grades recalculated, reported that White told trustees on Sept. 13 that "in short, he was the victim of an attempted coup, ouster, 'assassination.'"

The comments were included in a copy of the minutes of the meeting obtained by The Star.

White said that a "small group of highly motivated and organized individuals are led by 'religious zeal,'" the paper said.

Faculty members who oppose White have said that he should resign because he violated the honor and integrity of the school.

Three professors have resigned including John Gardner, a professor of law and grandson of the university's namesake, former Gov. O. Max Gardner. The professor, a former superior court judge, was expected to be instrumental in GWU's efforts to establish a law school.

Stephen Perry, interim dean of GWU's school of business and holder of the Dover Foundation Chair of Business Administration, stepped down.

In his resignation letter, Perry said the trustees who supported White "have committed a serious mistake which is likely to have far-reaching consequences.

"As the NCAA investigation unfolds, I believe that you will come to regret your decision," he said. "The heart of Gardner-Webb University was character, integrity, honesty and fairness ... people who care. You have pierced that heart with the dagger of an obsessive quest for athletic prowess."

Chris Parsons, instructor of communication studies in theatre and technical director of theatre, resigned Oct. 2, saying he could no longer work for White after four years at GWU.

"Yes, he's a visionary and has helped the university, but he also has a sense of self that places him above everyone else," Parsons told The Star. "What he did isn't ethical."

Students protested outside the school's administration building on Oct. 2-3.

The Star reported that White had to pass the student protesters on his drive into the parking lot at GWU. Like other people driving by, White blew his car horn.

"I think it is important for the students to express their feelings," White told The Star before going to his office.

White said the students would not interrupt his workday - no matter how loud the car horns get.

"I remember my college days, too," he said. "I will not ask them to move. I wish them well."

The protest started around 7:30 a.m. Oct. 2 with about 50 students walking from the Gardner music building to the Webb building.

GWU student government president Patrick Woody led students in a prayer and then led the walk to the Webb building. Woody told The Star that he joined the protest because he personally "disagreed with the demotions" of Blackburn and Williams.

Woody said he was not representing the opinion of other members of the student government. They have not voted on the issue, he said.

"I've known Dr. Blackburn and Dr. Williams since I was a freshman," Woody said. "They have integrity that is matchless. I disagree that Dr. White was not punished."

GWU senior Cliff Reavis criticized White for not getting involved with students.

"I would like to see an apology from White to the students or a resignation," said Reavis, holding a copy of the school's honor code that had been crossed out with an X.

Copyright (c) Biblical Recorder Inc.
10/4/2002 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge and Steve DeVane , BR Staff | with 0 comments
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