By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama State University board of trustees has suspended school president Gwendolyn Boyd, taking the first step in the termination process.
The trustees voted 8-6 to place Boyd on immediate administrative leave and will hold a public hearing to fire her on Nov. 14.
Boyd, in her third year at ASU, has watched her relationship with the school’s ever-changing board erode significantly over the last two years. So much so, that even among those who consider Boyd a friend, her ouster from ASU had become less a question of if it would happen than when it would.
“If you’ve been following this for awhile, you could see this coming – I’m surprised it took this long,” said one trustee following Friday’s meeting. The trustee and four others agreed to speak to APR only if their names were not used.
After the vote to place her on suspension, Boyd left the meeting, which continued. Outside of the board room, Boyd acknowledged that she had long butted heads with some trustees, but she also expressed surprise at the Friday’s vote.
“This was not something on my radar, no,” Boyd said. “But you could tell, it was well orchestrated. They had their votes lined up. They had an attorney already in place. I don’t know if that’s a violation of the Open Meetings Law, but I think it’s pretty close.”
Shortly after voting to place Boyd on leave, the trustees voted to hire an attorney from the lawfirm Balch & Bingham to conduct the process, including drawing up charges for Boyd to answer and addressing any legal issues.
Three of the trustees who voted to remove Boyd called her claims of a secret meeting inaccurate.
“I didn’t meet with anyone,” said former state senator Larry Means, who was a recent addition to the board over the summer. “And I don’t do email. So, I think that’s farfetched.
“I voted to place her on leave because I don’t like some of the things I’ve seen out of here under her watch. They’re just not good. That’s nothing personal with her, because I don’t even know her. I’m basing my vote strictly on what I’ve seen.”
Other trustees cited various, ongoing and systemic issues for which they have often criticized Boyd. One of the most consistent criticisms of Boyd from trustees has been her seeming dismissal, at times, of trustees’ requests and directives.
“You know I’ve long had issues with the way our reasonable requests have been ignored and treated as if they were annoying,” said a trustee who voted to place Boyd on leave. “She works for the board, not the other way around. And I think a lot of the requests we’ve made, had they been addressed, we could’ve avoided some of the issues at this university.”
With Boyd on leave, the operation of ASU now falls to provost Leon Wilson. Following the meeting, Wilson said that while he had heard rumblings of Boyd’s ouster, he did not know it was coming Friday and had not spoken with trustees.
“My goal is to move this university forward and get us back on the right track,” Wilson said. “Frankly, I don’t like where we are. I’m going to work to get us into a better place.”
ASU has been plagued by issues throughout Boyd’s tenure – many of them out of her control. The most serious problems involved the school’s finances, which took a hit following state and federal investigations into potential fraud. To date, no fraud has been found, but the investigations devastated ASU’s financial standing with credit rating agencies.
Once the credit issues took hold, the school’s accrediting agency placed it on warning status. All of that, coupled with numerous public spats, drove away students. Two years ago, Boyd and her administration were forced to chop more than $20 million from the school’s proposed annual budget.
There have also been self-inflicted wounds. A month ago, ASU was found to be using inmates with convictions for murder and assault to clean dorm buildings and work – sometimes with little or no supervision – around students.
The board, and later the State’s Public Examiner’s Office, admonished Boyd for accepting a car allowance while racking up thousands of dollars in overtime pay for a campus police officer to chauffer her everywhere she went.
Despite it all, the board approved a three-year extension for Boyd in September 2015.
When asked Friday if she would want to remain at ASU after the trustees’ vote, Boyd didn’t directly answer.
“This is a great place; this is my home,” Boyd said. “There are so many opportunities here. I want this place to thrive. Whether or not I’m here, that’s up to them.”