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Almost half of Martin U.'s trustees resign

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Martin University's board of trustees hired Algeania Freeman to turn around the small, predominantly black college. But the new president's shake-up has affected the board itself.

Seven of the board's 16 members have resigned this year, and at least two say Freeman's methods were a factor.

Former board Secretary C. Catherine Gibson said she urged Freeman to be diplomatic, but, "I realized she was not going to listen."

Gibson, who had voted in favor of Freeman's hiring last fall, left the board in July after eight years.

The other trustees who departed were Gary Gibson (no relation to Catherine Gibson), Eugene Anderson, Alonzo Walker, Matt Steward and Clotilda Jackson. Former Chairwoman Virginia Goodwin is now the university's bursar.

Freeman in January succeeded the Rev. Boniface Hardin, a Benedictine monk who founded the college in 1977. She told IBJ in July that she already had closed a $653,000 deficit by collecting more than $450,000 in gifts and cutting the 95-person faculty 25 percent.

"She's trying to do so much, so quickly," Gibson said. "I hope she can pull it off. I really do."

Employees have complained for months that the methods Freeman used to downsize were overly harsh and accompanied by shuffling of people into jobs that made little sense.

Neither Freeman nor board Chairman Bill West could be reached for comment.

Matt Steward, a board member for 15 years, left in September after Freeman said there was a conflict of interest in the university's serving as fiscal agent of Steward's for-profit lecture series.

"I didn't necessarily see it that way," Steward said, noting that Martin had no conflict-of-interest policy when he and Hardin decided to work together. "We both thought it was a plus to the university. My commitment was to the students and Father Hardin. There's new leadership, and it appears to be going in a different direction than what I was comfortable with."

Another board member, Alonzo Walker, who retired as an Indianapolis Public Schools teacher in 2007, said he stepped down in February because he took a more demanding teaching job at the University of Indianapolis. He also was traveling to his son's athletic events.

"I got too busy to stay on it," Walker said.

Gibson said the final straw for her was when Freeman this summer asked board members to sign a loyalty oath.

"I had no intention of doing anything to take advantage [of the university] financially," Gibson said. "I didn't feel she was being cautious enough."

Gary Gibson said he resigned in July because he didn't have enough spare time. However, he added, "I wasn't particularly excited with how things were happening."

Gibson said he knew Freeman would have to cut teaching positions because enrollment had fallen. (Martin this month reported having 1,158 full- or part-time students, up from 716 last winter but still down from 1,300 in 2004-2005.) Even so, he said, "There was a lot of valued staff and faculty that were complaining about how they had been treated. You don't want to discount their complaints."

Not all those who've had run-ins with Freeman criticize her performance.

After board member Eugene Anderson arrived late for graduation in May, he found his robe locked in the president's office. He became angry when security officers refused to let him in.

Later, Freeman told him via an e-mail, copied to other board members, that he owed letters of apology to everyone involved. Anderson never wrote the letters, but he said, "That didn't have any impact on my decision to leave."

Anderson, who resigned in July, said he fully supported hiring Freeman.

"She is the right person for the university, based on the challenges she was facing," he said. "Everybody has their style."

He added, "If three years from now, the same things are happening, there should be some valid concerns. The board of trustees will need to evaluate whether that person is the right leader for the university."
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