After a tumultuous search process that left alumni at odds and caused trustees to take a do-over on interviews, Daniel Wims was named the 12th president of Alabama A&M University on Saturday. Trustees voted 7-4 to approve Wims, who previously served as the university’s provost and vice president for academic affairs.
Wims beat out Huston-Tillotson University President Colette Pierce Burnette, who also interviewed for a second time on Saturday. A third candidate, Philander Smith president Roderick Smothers, withdrew from the search process last week, citing the quick turnaround time to take over at A&M and a new contract extension at Philander.
Wims, who has more than 20 years experience as a college administrator, will begin his tenure with a fractured university family. His nomination as a finalist in the search drew the ire of many alumni and faculty members, who believed the search process was being manipulated to give him the job. Those groups fired off letters to the governor and drummed up support in an attempt to block Wim’s candidacy.
As late as Friday afternoon, an anonymous group of faculty members sent out letters to the media saying they had been pressured by school officials into voting for Wims during a faculty senate meeting.
Wims was also accused by several A&M employees of sexual harassment — allegations that he and other university officials denied, but that they never addressed in detail. The accusers in those cases have threatened lawsuits — a fact that was brought up by trustees during Wims’ formal and public interview.
In the end, though, Wims was the choice of those in charge, and they made their feelings known. Outgoing president Andrew Hugine wrote three different letters essentially defending Wims and admonishing those who dared question the process. The last letter sent by Hugine was distributed to media by a public relations firm, raising questions about the ethics of a university presumably paying to help a candidate for a university job.
In a release issued by A&M following his selection, Wims said he planned to “stress artificial intelligence in cybersecurity, push data analytics, improve coding capabilities among a wider range of students, and recruitment of faculty in bio and alternative energy.
“Other key areas of concentration, he said, will include campus-wide commitment to student retention; a renewed focus on community college transfers; investment in placement and institutional advancement; growing the University despite a brief period when there is a smaller pool of high school graduates; and increasing state and federal support via relationships.”