Michael D. Shonrock, president of Lindenwood University, a private, religiously affiliated institution west of St. Louis, lost his job last week for reasons that, four days later, remain a mystery.
Lindenwood’s Board of Trustees hand-delivered a letter to Shonrock on Feb. 5, telling him he was being placed on paid administrative leave. It was signed by Board of Trustees chairman J. Michael Conoyer, a retired St. Louis physician. Shonrock told a St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist, “He’s given me no reason why.” The letter, he said, “doesn’t describe any rationale at all.”
The board fired Shonrock Friday. A university spokesman referred a reporter to a statement issued by Conoyer that offered no explanation, but court filings by Lindenwood and Conoyer associated with Shonrock's firing allege that in the weeks leading up to Jan. 23, 2019, he “exhibited and/or engaged in certain conduct believed to warrant [Shonrock's] separation from employment,” St. Louis Business Journal reported.
Another filing in the case noted that the board’s executive committee, meeting on Jan. 23, voted unanimously to recommend to the full board that Shonrock be terminated.
Shonrock came to Lindenwood from Emporia State University in Kansas, where he’d been president for three years. He’d earlier spent 20 years at Texas Tech University.
His departure is only the most recent over the past few months. In November, Brett Barger, president of Lindenwood University-Belleville, was placed on administrative leave and later left the university, which offers classes at six other Missouri locations, two campuses in Illinois and via an online program.
During Shonrock’s short tenure, Lindenwood, based in St. Charles, Mo., expanded its presence in downtown St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch reported. But it also laid off 17 employees, or 1.5 percent of its work force, in May. The cuts were part of a strategic plan to “reallocate resources.”
Lindenwood calls itself “an independent institution firmly rooted in Judeo-Christian values” that include “belief in an ordered, purposeful universe, the dignity of work, the worth and integrity of the individual, the obligations and privileges of citizenship, and the primacy of truth.” It is historically associated with the Presbyterian Church.
Shonrock’s contract extended until June 2020. He told the Post-Dispatch, “I’m very proud of what we accomplished here. This is our family. We love these kids. We were very committed to being here.” He said he had done well enough since his arrival in June 2015 to be offered raises each year.
Neither Shonrock nor his lawyer, Jerome Dobson, responded to requests for comment, but Dobson last week told the Post-Dispatch that he didn’t know why Shonrock had been placed on leave. He said Lindenwood could be in legal jeopardy for firing a president without a stated reason. The chair of Lindenwood's faculty council also declined to comment.
Dobson said Conoyer, the board chairman, and Art Johnson, the vice chairman, were apparently trying to oust Shonrock without the full notice of the 22-member board, denying Shonrock the opportunity “to tell his side of the story.”
A university spokeswoman responded to a request for comment by offering a written message Conoyer sent to faculty, staff and students. It merely said Shonrock “is leaving his position” and that the board had appointed Johnson, the board vice chairman, as interim president.