Rumors flooded the Hope College campus after Provost Rich Ray abruptly stepped down at the request of President John Knapp on Monday, April 11.
Students, faculty and alumni took to Twitter to express their affirmation of Knapp as president after rumors soon spread that his job, too, was at risk. Many students called for greater transparency from the Board of Trustees and college administration.
While it is true that the board met this week, rumors that their meetings were secretive or that they were discussing Knapp’s job cannot be confirmed.
Vice President of Public Affairs and Marketing for Hope, Jennifer Fellinger, said, “The board has been meeting. The board has been having conversations. Those are private and confidential, and no action has come out of those meetings.”
Meetings for the Board of Trustees are always private due to the nature of things that they discuss, meaning that the only people who know for certain what has been said are the trustees in the meetings, and they are not able to discuss the substance of their meetings without breaking confidentiality. Thus, the meetings seeming secretive is not out of the norm but is actually protocol for the Board of Trustees.
“I don’t know what’s being discussed or the nature of the discussions. John Knapp is and remains the president. No action’s been taken,” Fellinger said.
Thus far, Knapp has not been attending the recent board meetings, and he recently deferred all questions to Fellinger.
When contacted about the board meetings, Chairperson Mary Bauman said, “President Knapp is and will be the president of Hope College until otherwise notified by the Board.”
Apparently leaked email
Adding to the controversy, the widely read online news site named “Inside Higher Ed” reported on Monday about an email that was was allegedly written by Bauman stating that the executive committee of the board had recommended the termination of Knapp as president but has since unanimously withdrawn that motion.
Regarding Monday’s article, Fellinger reiterated the confidentiality of board meetings.
“There is an expectation that any board communications before, during and after meetings are private and confidential. The letter referenced in the ‘Inside Higher Education’ article is not a public document; it is a private document, made public by a leak,” Fellinger said.
Provost Ray’s departure
Other rumors claimed that Knapp’s email had been hacked, leading to a lawsuit which resulted in Ray’s departure last week. To date, no lawsuits have been filed with the Ottawa County Circuit Court, a fact confirmed by Fellinger.
“The request for the provost to step down comes down to leadership and management and differences in leadership and management. There are rumors that suggest that the president’s decision was about something other than his desire for the academic program to be led differently. These rumors are not true,” she said.
An article published on Friday, April 15, by “Inside Higher Ed” highlighted how some professors and students feel Knapp has made Hope a more inclusive and accepting campus, believing that this has led to his position being questioned, if it is in question. Knapp addressed this in an email he sent to the campus community, also on Friday.
“My request for the provost to step down was about a need for new leadership for Hope’s academic program. My decision was not based on any differences of opinions on social or religious issues,” the email stated.
This comment echoes Fellinger’s statement that the request for Ray to step down was a result of differences in leadership.
In the same email, Knapp acknowledged that there have been disagreements between college leaders.
“I recognize that this is a challenging time for the Hope community as many have become aware that leaders of the college are seeking to resolve some disagreements,” Knapp wrote. “This process is ongoing, but please rest assured that everyone concerned is aware that uncertainty has heightened anxiety on our campus.”
Faculty and staff were initially notified of Ray stepping down through an April 11 email from Knapp, revealing that Ray would be taking a year-long leave until 2017, when he will return as a kinesiology professor. Until a new provost is hired, Provost Emeritus Jim Boelkins will fill the post for the college.
Though there is considerable uncertainty on campus surrounding these issues, the information provided points to no imminent threat to Knapp’s position.
Closing the academic year
In closing his email, Knapp pointed to the importance of finishing the semester as a team:
“As this academic year comes to a close, our highest priority is to support our students and assure them of a superb Hope College experience. Let’s remember to support and encourage one another, too.”