President Accused of Bullying

Adams State president Beverlee McClure has been put on leave for reasons unknown, though professors have accused her of mismanagement and cruelty. Her Halloween costume left many appalled.

February 21, 2018
Beverlee McClure in her Halloween costume from 2016

Adams State University president Beverlee McClure has been put on leave following complaints of her caustic behavior toward college employees.

McClure has been the target of much criticism, the most vigorous from a blog, Watching Adams, run by a former professor, Danny Ledonne, who widely publicized what he perceived as McClure’s faults, including her mockery of blue-collar workers with a Halloween costume in which she donned a fat suit and bulbous and yellowing false teeth.

A businesswoman by trade and the institution’s first female president, McClure was brought on in 2015 to help fix the many woes plaguing the small public institution in Colorado, but she has so far failed to remedy its troubles. She was previously the president and chief executive officer of the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry, a lobbying group for businesses.

Adams State has suffered from sliding enrollments and has also had to deal with its accreditor placing it on probation shortly after McClure’s tenure began.

McClure has also both publicly and privately soured her relationships with some professors and other employees.

The costume criticism -- again, brought to the forefront by Ledonne -- comes from a party McClure attended in 2016, organized by Chris Gilmer, a former vice president for academic affairs. McClure’s costume included a suit that made her appear obese, with a faux belly hanging out of a much-too-small shirt emblazoned with the logo of a fake plumbing company.Photo of Adams State president Beverlee McClure, wearing a backward baseball cap, a painted-on beard, false teeth, tinted sunglasses and a fat suit, under a T-shirt emblazoned with a plumbing logo.

She painted on a smudgy beard and popped in grotesque and decaying teeth and posted photos of herself to Facebook. One caption read, “Ain’t I pretty?”

The statement by the Adams State Board of Trustees does not touch on any of the blog’s attacks or the Halloween costume. Instead, they state that they and McClure have agreed their priorities are no longer “congruent.”

“The parties are therefore working to accomplish a mutually agreeable resolution,” the statement reads.

Cleave Simpson, chairman of the board, declined to comment beyond the statement other than to say he was disappointed in the way some media reports have mischaracterized its decision.

The trustees put in charge Matt Nehring, the interim vice president for academic affairs, who did not respond to a request for comment.

McClure could not be reached for comment.

In a statement last year, she defended herself against “cyberbullies,” not naming Ledonne’s website, but saying that they had gone after her reputation, both professionally and as a private citizen.

“I am disgusted by what I’ve seen,” McClure said. “These attacks have been the weapons of cowards, safely hiding behind a website to exercise their aggression. They try and take the moral high ground that they are ‘fighting’ to save the university. But it is anything but high ground and it is anything but helping save this university. These attacks are demeaning, and they constitute an act of violence not just against me, but also against people everywhere who have been the victims of such intimidation.”

Ledonne taught in the mass communication program at Adams State for four years, until 2015, when his contract was not renewed. McClure barred him from campus amid allegations he was harassing university employees, but he sued, with the backing of the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and got his banishment lifted. The university settled the lawsuit for $100,000, paid through its insurance, which officials considered a nuisance case.

After McClure announced the ban, the state faculty union, the American Association of University Professors Colorado Conference, wrote to her expressing concern that she had violated Ledonne’s free speech and due process rights and that her actions would chill faculty expression.

By email, Steve Mumme, co-president of AAUP Colorado Conference, said the union has long been concerned with the “mismanagement” of Adams State.

Mumme said that after McClure kicked Ledonne off campus, faculty who did not agree with the decision and voiced their concerns were subject to “threats and intimidation” by her administration. Some professors feared they would not be promoted or would lose their jobs if they dissented, Mumme said.

“Chapter faculty were so fearful of administrative reprisals they insisted on meeting off-campus and resorted to using non-university email for most communications among themselves,” Mumme said in his email.

Gilmer, the former vice president for academic affairs, also departed from the university after eight or so months there, according to his LinkedIn profile, apparently after feuding with McClure.

He lodged an unknown complaint against McClure but later settled with the trustees and arranged to quit. Per the terms of the agreement, neither Gilmer nor his spouse could make “any disparaging remarks” about McClure, and his complaint would be dropped. The university would pay his salary in a lump sum, as well as some money related to his benefits, and set up a reference for him for future jobs.

The settlement also required him to release a statement, which he did.

In it, Gilmer acknowledged that McClure had been accused of creating a hostile work environment and of retaliation and “harboring homophobic tendencies.”

“Regrettably as many of you already know, the friendship which President McClure and I formed quickly and easily has unfortunately dissolved and has begun to affect the university in a negative way,” Gilmer said. “My husband and I freely admit that we have known and valued President McClure as a friend, co-worker and colleague since moving to Alamosa. President McClure was instrumental in helping us to secure a home near the university and attended our Halloween party and both of our birthday parties. In fact, she hosted my birthday party at her home.

“Some people have used this opportunity to spread misinformation, including on the Watching Adams site. I deeply regret any challenges recent events have created, and I am also very hopeful and fully committed that together we can move forward toward more noble goals.”

The Denver Post also cited five unnamed faculty members who criticized McClure and characterized her as bullying.

But in an interview with Inside Higher Ed, one professor, who asked to remain anonymous given the sensitivity of the topic, painted a more positive picture of McClure.

The professor said that she never had any negative interactions with McClure -- the president was always attentive and wanted to listen to faculty, the professor said.

McClure inherited “a tough time” and she believes the reasoning of the trustees, the professor said.

The Higher Learning Commission, the university’s accreditation agency, had deemed it out of compliance with commission standards in 2016 after it investigated reports of the ease of the institution’s distance-learning courses. Athletes at other universities had taken these classes to stay eligible, among other flaws such as a taxing faculty workload, the commission found. The problems started before McClure was hired.

The university remains on probation until the Higher Learning Commission meets in June, spokesman Steve Kauffman said. The commission won’t comment on active cases, Kauffman said, but it is aware of the issues on campus and the media reports. (McClure has made some inflammatory comments about the commission. In an interview after the university was put on probation, she said Adams State was the commission’s “whipping boy.”)

The professor who spoke sympathetically of the president said that a small number of her colleagues had “dramatized” the situation and helped create the Watching Adams site. In part, the professor requested anonymity because she was worried she would be targeted by the blog. To her knowledge, no one was discussing the Halloween costume from more than a year ago until Ledonne mentioned it again in a recent post, which the professor described as a “sleazy” move.

“We do some really great things here,” the professor said. “Just a few people magnify all the bad things and really taint our reputation. It’s unfortunate. We should be magnifying all the good things that we do here.”

Adams State is approaching its centennial, but like many liberal arts institutions, it has faced declining enrollment and thus financial difficulties. In a year, the number of students dropped from 1,635 in the spring 2017 semester to 1,577 in spring 2018.

AAUP’s Mumme said the history with McClure -- the poor judgment with the Halloween costume, how the distance-learning classes were later handled, the conflict with Ledonne -- is concerning.

“These actions establish a pattern of administrative and professional mismanagement that cast doubt on President McClure’s … competence and undermine the administration’s professed commitment to academic freedom and the practice of shared governance on campus,” Mumme said.


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