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West Liberty University Doesn’t Renew President W. Franklin Evans’ Contract

photo by: Alan Olson

West Liberty University President W. Franklin Evans, left, takes a seat for Wednesday’s Board of Governors meeting, during which members rejected a motion to offer him a one-year contract extension. His current contract expires Dec. 31.

WEST LIBERTY — West Liberty University will have a new president in 2023.

In an 8-4 vote, WLU’s Board of Governors decided not to renew President W. Franklin Evans’ contract after this year, ending his tenure at West Liberty at two years.

The board met behind closed doors in executive session for 55 minutes Wednesday afternoon, returned and made a motion to offer a one-year extension to Evans’ contract through 2023. That motion was rejected.

Voting against extending Evans’ contract were Jack Adams, Sydney Burkle, Richard Carter, Thomas Cervone, Rich Lucas, David McKinley and Jason Metz. Michael Baker, Arlene Brantley, Jamie Evick and Stephanie Shaw voted in favor of retaining Evans.

Both Evans, the university’s 37th president and the first Black president in WLU’s history, and Metz, who serves as the faculty representative to the board, declined to comment.

Evans spoke for 40 minutes during Wednesday’s meeting to deliver his president’s report, but did not otherwise comment or participate in the discussion, and was not present for the executive session.

Lucas, who serves as the BOG’s chairman, did not give a specific reason for why Evans’ contract was not renewed, but did say that all board members considered Evans’ entire record in making their decision.

“Dr. Evans was hired two years ago with an 11-0 unanimous vote,” he said. “We took a lot of time assessing his entire body of work over the last two years — we did his presidential assessment from the first year, faculty, staff, and community outreach. Each governor took that body of work and made their decision either to extend or renew his contract.

“I know for a fact that each board member did the absolute best thing that they thought was best for the students at our university.”

Lucas said the university would now begin the process of searching for a new president, which he anticipates will take several months.

“There’s a defined process, very clear on timelines, very clear on the process, very clear on qualifications to apply,” Lucas said. “Having been around West Liberty for many years, I’ve been through a few of them, and it’s typically a three-, four-, five-month process depending on weather, COVID, you name it.”

In the event that the Board does not find a president when Evans’ contract expires Dec. 31, an interim president will be appointed.

Evans has faced scrutiny and discontentment among the university’s faculty since assuming office at the beginning of 2021. In his first year, Evans was accused of, and would later apologize for, having lifted quotes, without attribution, from a variety of sources for his fall convocation speech, a speech he gave on Juneteenth and a speech he had given on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Evans subsequently apologized in a letter to the university.

Evans narrowly survived termination in October, when the Board of Governors voted 7-5 in favor of retaining him as the head of the university. The following month, the board voted unanimously — though with two members absent — to formally censure Evans, indicating severe disapproval with his actions.

The faculty senate issued a vote of no confidence in Evans, voting 14-1, with one abstention.

In April, WLU faculty and staff were surveyed and showed widespread distrust of Evans’ leadership and personal integrity. Among the survey results of those polled, representing 149 people out of the 231 who had been asked, 86% considered his leadership “compromised,” and only 11% responded that they felt he was capable of leading the university. Only 7% had confidence in his integrity.

Earlier this year, Evans attributed some of the criticism aimed at him to be based on race, wondering if he’d be under the same scrutiny were he not the university’s first Black president. Evans came to West Liberty after serving as president of Voorhees College in Denmark, South Carolina.

He also served as interim president of South Carolina State University, where he also spent time as provost and chief academic officer.

Previously, Evans served as vice president of academic affairs at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia. He also has worked at Elizabeth City State, J.F. Drake State Technical College, Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, and Tennessee State University.

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