Two presidents leaving LU system within 3 weeks sparks questions

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Two presidents leaving LU system within 3 weeks sparks questions

The Lindenwood sign outside the J. Scheidegger Center.   Photo by Taylor McDaniel.

The Lindenwood sign outside the J. Scheidegger Center.
Photo by Taylor McDaniel.

The Lindenwood sign outside the J. Scheidegger Center.
Photo by Taylor McDaniel.

The Lindenwood sign outside the J. Scheidegger Center.
Photo by Taylor McDaniel.

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MATT HAMPTON | Sports Editor

Lindenwood’s president Michael D. Shonrock was fired less than three weeks after he announced the departure of the Belleville campus president. 

No reason has been given for Shonrock’s dismissal or Belleville President Brett Barger’s exit. In a Jan. 22 announcement, Shonrock stated only that Barger “has left Lindenwood University to explore new opportunities.”

The departures have left students, faculty and staff concerned about the future of the university.  

“Is a scandal like this going to hurt what our degree stands for and what it means?” Posy Durr, president of Lindenwood Student Government, asked. “Is graduating from this institution not going to look as good as it potentially could have?”

Austin Bearden, president of the Belleville Student Government, said Barger’s leaving caused fear that their campus would close, and Shonrock’s firing has brought more questions.

Mike Hiestand, senior legal counsel for the Student Press Law Center, said students, faculty and staff may never learn the reasons for the departures.

“The university is under no legal obligation to provide information in the same way they would be required to do at a public school,” he said.

Court documents provide some clues

When Shonrock was on leave, he filed a petition against Lindenwood with the St. Charles County Court so he could attend the board meeting Feb. 8 that would determine his employment.

In Lindenwood’s legal response to Shonrock’s petition, the university stated that it may terminate his contract for “any activities which are illegal or immoral, or involve continuing acts or a course of action intentionally performed to bring embarrassment or scorn to the University.”

The document states the Board of Trustees Executive Committee voted unanimously on Jan. 23 to recommend to the full board that Shonrock be fired because of “conduct believed to warrant” his firing.

The response further states that on Feb. 4, the Executive Committee voted to place Shonrock on leave because he made statements about his employment that could “disrupt the operations of the University,” including telling “senior University staff that they would lose their employment with new management in place.”

The next day, Lindenwood’s new attorney, Troy Perdue, hand-delivered a letter to Shonrock saying he had been placed on paid administrative leave and could not contact university employees, use university systems or go anywhere on campus besides his house.  

Shonrock was fired Feb. 8, the next scheduled board meeting. Since then, neither he nor his attorney, Jerry Dobson, have given the reason for his dismissal.

Still seeking answers

The day of the board meeting, students from both campuses gathered in Spellmann Center seeking answers, but security barred students from the fourth floor, where the meeting was held.

“[Shonrock] asked for the support of students, so we’re just here trying to figure out what’s happening with his administrative leave, because we haven’t gotten any information,” Katie Gierer, an LSG senator, said at Spellmann.

The board has issued just one statement to students about the changes in leadership, an email from Chairman of the Board J. Michael Conoyer on Feb. 8.

In an email to faculty on Feb. 6, Conoyer said that although the board cannot comment on personnel matters, it is “moving deliberately and thoughtfully according to institutional policies and practices. The operations of the university will in no way be affected during this brief time.”

That day, Arthur Johnson, vice chairman of the board of trustees, was announced as acting president at a 9 a.m. meeting that included officers from faculty and staff councils as well as several administrators.

Faculty Council President Annie Alameda said in an email to faculty that “Dr. Conoyer and Mr. Johnson were both very reassuring that the stability of Lindenwood, both St. Charles and Belleville, is no different than before and that our mission and strategic plan still guides our daily responsibilities.”

According to a presentation by Vice President of Fiscal Affairs Frank Sanfilippo at a faculty meeting last month, Lindenwood’s expenses rose to $139 million from $132 million between fiscal year 2015 and 2018, while revenue fell during that same period to $143 million from $157 million.

However, the university seems to be rebounding from its recent enrollment troubles, according to Terry Whittum, vice president for Enrollment Management. Last semester, Lindenwood had a 5 percent increase in total new students, and Lindenwood continues to see strong recruitment numbers for next semester, he said.

The last Lindenwood president to be fired was Dr. Robert Johns, who left office in August 1982, according to Lindenwood’s archives. 

During that time, Lindenwood suffered decades of financial difficulties.  In 1973, Dr. John Anthony Brown was also encouraged to resign as president a year before he intended.