Questions on President's Future at Washington College

Evidence points to board discussing possible removal even as members deny knowledge of plans for change.

May 26, 2017
 
Sheila Bair

The relationship between the president and the governing board at Washington College, on Maryland's Eastern Shore, has deteriorated and could soon lead to President Sheila Bair's departure after less than two years on the job.

Such a move would be a significant change for Washington College, a small but historic private institution with fewer than 1,500 students. The college counts itself as the 10th oldest in the nation. Bair is its first female president.

Bair is also a notable figure who served as chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation from 2006 to 2011. She was one of the early voices to worry about a subprime mortgage crisis and oversaw the FDIC as its powers expanded as a result of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill. She has become a critic of high amounts of student loan debt for those who cannot repay large balances. At Washington College she has overseen affordability measures like incentives for low-income students who save, a scholarship program matching tuition dollars families pay out of college savings accounts and a program offering full-ride scholarships to students from low-income backgrounds.

A source close to the college said Bair and members of the college's Board of Visitors and Governors have clashed over board members' high level of involvement in the institution's operations. A draft meeting agenda including an item that would terminate Bair's presidency has been circulating among board members, the source said.

A copy of an email sent by Board Chair H. Lawrence Culp Jr. on May 24 that was obtained by Inside Higher Ed appears to outline a future board meeting in which members were to discuss ending Bair's presidency. The meeting was scheduled for May 31 by conference call.

“Meeting agenda items include the end of Sheila C. Bair's employment as president and the consideration and approval of her successor,” the email said. It went on to say that Culp will cancel the meeting if it is determined to not be necessary.

Contacted Thursday before the email was obtained, Culp said business was normal at the college.

“Sheila Bair is the president at Washington College, I'm the chair of the board and we're hard at work,” he said. “I don't want to respond to rumors, so I think I'm just going to leave it there for now.”

Culp did not immediately return a second request for comment after the email was obtained Thursday evening.

Another board member also said he did not know anything about a leadership change.

“I don't know anything about the possibility of this happening,” said Richard Creighton, a vice co-chair of the board. “I'm surprised that's circulating.”

A college spokesman said he was unaware of any pending presidential changes.

Bair did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment. Her lawyer, Raymond D. Cotton, declined comment.

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