The 10 Most Embarrassing College President Scandals
Richard Nixon basically said once that when a president does something, it can’t be illegal. Though their power doesn’t approach that of the leader of the free world, college presidents seem to be susceptible to this same feeling of being untouchable. Many of them seem to forget that they are the poster boys and girls for their respective universities, the people parents look at as representatives of the school in general. Because of this, even a hint of scandal can be enough for a school board to bring down the axe. These 10 college heads were red-faced when their improprieties were brought to light.
A terrible family tragedy propelled this scandal onto front pages across the country in 1999. The daughter-in-law of Hillsdale College President George Roche III committed suicide after confessing to her husband, George Roche IV, that she had had a 19-year affair with his father. The scandal was especially embarrassing because of Hillsdale’s well-known image as a bedrock of conservatism and family values. Although he denied the accusations of a sexual affair, Roche III agreed to retire, leaving the community to pick up the pieces and hope the donations the school relied on did not dry up as a result.
In a case of life imitating art, Iowa community college president David England turned his family into a dope-running gang, Weeds-style. After months of searching, DMACC had hired England as its president in 2001. Fifteen months later, England, along with his wife, son, and daughter, was arrested for growing marijuana in his basement to sell. England resigned, giving up his nearly $200k a year salary. Aggravated students asked why he’d been hired in the first place, given his 1971 weed possession conviction. One student said it best: “It’s embarrassed the school.”
Houstonians remember well the saga of disgraced president Priscilla Slade of TSU. In 2006, regents investigated Slade’s billing the university for $260,000, much of which she had spent on furniture, stays at the Four Seasons, and a $100,000 bar tab. Slade had virtually blown the whistle on herself by telling a visiting regent the cash-strapped school had paid for the nice stuff at her house. Slade was fired and later charged with misapplication of fiduciary property, which carried a maximum sentence of 99 years in prison. But in 2008, she pled no contest and agreed to pay back $127,000.
WVU President Michael Garrison discovered when you hand out degrees to people that didn’t earn them, it lowers the value of the degrees of those who did, and those people get a little upset. In 2008, Garrison had an MBA given to Gov. Joe Manchin’s daughter, who was found to not have completed the degree requirements. The dean of the business school resigned, but Garrisondug in his heels, buoyed by the governor’s support (no surprise there). But in the end, the mounting pressure from incensed students, alumni, and faculty forced Garrison to give up the fight and resign.
The Jerry Sandusky case was more than an embarrassment for Penn State; it was an unbridled PR nightmare. And it was curtains for President Graham Spanier when it was revealed that, like coach Joe Paterno, he knew as early as 2002 of Sandusky’s devious behavior but did not do enough to expose him. Trustees unanimously voted to fire Paterno and Spanier on Nov. 9, 2011, in a dismal end to Spanier’s 16-year career in State College. With Paterno’s passing, Spanier has one less scapegoat with which he can share blame.
When a photo surfaced of ICCC President Robert Paxton helping a bikini-clad young lady chug from a mini-keg, the internet dubbed him the coolest college president ever. His board of trustees, on the other hand, was not so enthused. They felt it “reflected poorly on the college,” despite the fact Paxton was off-duty, as it were, celebrating July 4 on a boat with some young ladies who just happened to be half naked and enjoying some vodka. Paxton at first claimed the keg was broken and he was helping her put it down, but a week before fall 2008 classes began, he resigned.
Plagiarism is a crummy thing to do, but for God’s sake, if you’re going to do it, don’t copy straight from Wikipedia. After a Jan. 13, 2010 speech by President Gary Streit, vigilant students at Malone University noticed his reference to the Greek god Janus sounded a lot like “The Free Encyclopedia’s” description, which he did not cite. They called for an investigation, and the board of trustees granted them one. Shortly after it was kicked off, Streit informed the board he would retire, thus ending the inquiry.
In a very public and embarrassing scene, William Frawley was released as president of University of Mary Washington, a small liberal arts school in Virginia. In April, 2007 Frawley received two DUIs in the course of 26 hours. He had driven for 10 blocks with cops following him, lights flashing, totally unaware they were there, the morning after he had flipped his car and been taken to the emergency room. After his controversial firing, the humiliated Frawley shot back in the Washington Post that what he needed was help, not the ostracism of being let go.
Board members at Edison State gave president Kenneth Walker his walking papers in January, 2012, citing 10 instances where he “failed to provide leadership.” Probably the most embarrassing for Walker was the revelation of his annual salary: $837,085. Florida had recently passed a law limiting state college presidents’ salaries to $225,000 max, which Walker was making, plus that twice over from other channels. In the controversy, several deans and faculty members resigned and two vice presidents were fired. Walker’s presidency had already been troubled by a scandal where 180 students were given diplomas without completing their coursework.
By all accounts, UI president B. Joseph White is a stand-up guy who handled an embarrassing moment for the school with class. In 2009, the Chicago Tribuneuncovered a program in effect at the school for four years that allowed undeserving applicants to be admitted because of their connections. White decided to resign, timing his exit so that the school would not have to pay him a $475,000 bonus he was in line for. Fun side note: one of the benefiting students was a relative of Tony Rezko, who was recommended by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.