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Alabama university limits president's love life

President's Home or Prison?
January 10, 2014

The new Alabama State University president’s contract comes with strings attached -- to her love life.

Gwendolyn Boyd is coming back to her alma mater from Johns Hopkins University to shepherd Alabama State through a rough patch involving a damning audit aimed at the university. Boyd’s new contract is pretty standard -- $300,000 a year, a car and the presidential residence -- except she can’t have lovers staying overnight for an extended period of time.

Boyd, who is single, said she didn’t have a lawyer when she signed the contract but has no problem with the language.

“I do live alone, so it was not problematic for me,” she said.

But the phrasing may be illegal nonetheless, said Raymond Cotton, a Washington lawyer who has negotiated several hundred presidential contracts. Cotton, who represents boards and presidents alike, said he's never seen such language in any public or private college president’s contract.

The Alabama State contract, finalized late last week, says, “For so long as Dr. Boyd is president and a single person, she shall not be allowed to cohabitate in the president’s residence with any person with whom she has a romantic relation.” The contract was obtained and posted online by The Birmingham News.

Cotton said Supreme Court cases prevent government, including Alabama’s, from interfering in personal lives this way.

“I don’t know of any state that has the right to invade someone’s residence even if the state owns that residence,” Cotton said. “To convey that residence and dictate what kind of romantic relationship you can have in that facility – I mean, she’s not in prison.”

Officials at Alabama State, a historically black university, did not explain where the language came from or say whether it's standard language for any president, single or not.

“The contract was negotiated between Dr. Gwendolyn Boyd and the Alabama State University Board of Trustees and both parties agreed to it and have no problem with it,” a university spokesman, Kenneth Mullinax, said in the university’s sole response to questions.

Scott Miller, the president of Bethany College in West Virginia and chairman of the board at Academic Search, a higher education headhunter, said contract clauses about a president’s personal life and values are unusual but not unheard-of.

“Mostly they reflect the increasing scrutiny that campus CEO’s face as the chief image-makers -- indeed, the living ‘brand’ -- of the institutions that employ them,” Miller said in an email.

Cotton, who has worked on over 300 presidential contracts, said he’s never seen such explicit language but has come across situations where boards or presidents have sought to hide away a president's love life.

One board of a public college was unhappy about an ex-convict staying overnight at the presidential residence, Cotton recalled. At another institution, a gay president decided not to bring someone into the residence because he didn’t want to project a certain image – but it was his decision, not a contractual obligation, Cotton said.

The Alabama State contract does not prevent Boyd from having immediate family members live in the presidential house.

It’s a bit unclear how the contract would be enforced if Boyd changed her mind about living alone, though.

“No board that I know of, certainly that I would advise, would have anything to do with a clause like this,” Cotton said. “How would you enforce it? Would you go marching into a president’s home and say, ‘Stop that, get your hands off him or her!’ ”

Plus, Cotton said, the contract only prohibits the Alabama State president from having over a person that is a “romantic relation.”

“Suppose she is cohabitating with someone she is not having a romantic relationship with, is this a violation?” Cotton said.

Boyd takes office as president on Feb. 1. She’s spent 33 years at John Hopkins University and been an engineer and executive assistant in the university's Applied Physics Laboratory. She graduated from Alabama State before she went to Yale University for a master’s degree.

The university Boyd inherits is mired in contretemps. An ongoing audit commissioned by the governor's office has already made allegations about contracts for services that were not delivered and found numerous questionable relationships, including payments to family and friends of board members. The university is fighting back, arguing that it’s being targeted for political reasons; university officials released a report to counter the governor's audit and have sued the auditing firm.

Many of the questions began after a new president took office in fall 2012 and began questioning some of the university’s dealings. He was paid $685,000 to resign after less than three months on the job. Boyd replaces William H. Harris, the interim president and president emeritus.

 

 

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