Wesleyan cuts 15 staff members


Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

N.C. Wesleyan College is undergoing a major shift in leadership and direction since the resignation of former president Dewey Clark.

And the rapid-fire pace and apparent casualties of those changes have become apparent as 15 staff members, most in administrative positions, have been fired in the past week.

On June 1, Clark, who had served as president of the college for roughly five years during a time of unprecedented growth, began serving a three-year contract renewal with the college. On June 10, Clark resigned “effective immediately” and Evan Duff, the former provost and vice president of academic affairs for the college, began serving as interim president.

On June 18, the college’s Board of Trustees officially endorsed a new reorganization plan, which was announced on June 19. The plan included major changes to staffing and direction.

“Responding to the changing landscape in higher education, North Carolina Wesleyan College plans to unveil a reorganization plan that will become effective July 1. The plan will redirect vital resources toward efforts to equip Wesleyan students with the life skills necessary for their success in a society that is increasingly dependent upon highly educated citizens,” the announcement from the college read.

The plan apparently was unveiled in a “state of the college” address delivered by Duff to the college’s faculty and staff on June 15, just five days after Clark’s resignation.

“We need to be our best self as a college and help our students to become their best. Becoming our best requires us to look closely at multiple facets of Wesleyan’s operations,” Duff said in the address. “As we navigate this journey to become our best, it is time to evaluate the organization by examining roles and responsibilities, infrastructure and programs. While some changes will be made, we must maintain a laser focus on the reason behind this reorganization … our students. Providing the best college experience for our students to learn and develop as an individual, regardless of age, has to be our number one priority.”

According to the release from the college, Dr. Dan Crocker, a local physician and chairman of Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees, introduced Duff to the faculty and staff at the event and said that the board members “are unanimous in their support of Dr. Duff and have every confidence that he will help propel NCWC to new heights.”

“The Board of Trustees is fully aware of the challenges facing small colleges and universities nationwide — challenges that have been brought on by changing technology and rising costs. The board must maintain strong leadership, leadership with vision, leadership with the business savvy to create resources that can be invested in new, innovative programs of study,” Crocker said.

Crocker also introduced a new hire, Charles “Chuck” Taylor, who will serve as the president’s chief of staff. A Rocky Mount native, Taylor was the first chief financial officer at what now is known as Nash Community College. He also has served in executive positions for Meredith College and at Wingate University during his 50-year career in higher education.

Though the press release from the college announced only these surface changes, a letter sent to alumni revealed deeper truths about the changes and the extent of the reductions that were not mentioned in the official public announcement. The 15 people fired as a result of the reorganization reportedly were gone from the campus by Friday.

“This reduction involved 13 full-time positions (mostly upper-level) and two part-time positions. This form of right-sizing was required to reallocate resources to areas that have a direct impact on our students,” Duff’s letter to alumni said. “Those who have most impact on our students include our faculty, coaches and front-line staff who interact with them every day. Our desire is to invest in these areas as well as new programs to heighten the academic position of the college.”

Since Wesleyan College is a private college, its meetings and minutes generally are not public information, so details are hard to come by. When asked for a list of the positions eliminated in the move, Duff’s only comment was, “The college cannot comment on specific personnel matters.”

The letter to alumni does reveal details about changes to some key positions, however. Molly Wyatt, current associate provost and sociology professor, will be moving into the position of vice president of academics and dean of students; Suzanne Bracket, current vice president of finance for the college, now will oversee all facilities, security and contract services for the institution; and Michael Drew, who has served as the director of adult studies in the past, now will serve as interim dean of admissions and adult studies.

In the letter, Duff also put emphasis on the changing nature of the faith community at Wesleyan. Over the past five years, Clark had sought to bring Christian values and principals back to the campus structure. In an April 2016 interview with the Telegram, Clark said he felt the school’s renewed focus on its faith-based roots had contributed to the growth of the college.

“Our return to a faith-based culture has made a significant impact in our growth and allows us to appeal to students from private and Christian schools that would have previously not considered us,” Clark said.

However, Duff said his goal is to focus on a more inclusive model.

“I am proud of the faith development initiatives that currently exist on campus but am also excited about new opportunities to be an inclusive campus,” Duff said in his letter, which is attached to the online version of this article. “I trust the efforts of our chaplain, Dr. Barry Drum, our Youth Theology and Church Relations Director Mikah Brondyke and our religious studies professors, Dr. Andrew Stern and Dr. Jung Choi. They will be the keys to help our students explore their faith and spiritual development journey.”

Duff, who said he has spent most of his life associated with Covenant United Methodist Church, one of the largest in the state, said he affirms the stated values of the UMC, citing their social principals which say, in part, “We urge policies and practices that ensure the right of every religious group to exercise its faith free from legal, political or economic restrictions. We condemn all overt and covert forms of religious intolerance, being especially sensitive to their expression in media stereotyping. We assert the right of all religions and their adherents to freedom from legal, economic and social discrimination.”

In an email interview, Duff stressed that the reorganization is not due to financial concerns.

“This was a restructure plan to reallocate resources to programs and services that directly impact and improve the experiences of our students. We are in good standing with our banks, our auditors as well as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools-Commission on Colleges, who is our accreditor,” Duff said.

When asked about the swift nature of changes made since Clark’s resignation and concerns over whether these changes meant that Clark’s decision to leave was more in the nature of a coup, Duff would only respond, “The college cannot comment on specific personnel matters.”