Colleges and Universities and Leadership Transition and Martin University and Education & Workforce Development and Workplace Issues and Diversity

Controversial Martin University president to retire this month

December 6, 2010

Controversial Martin University President Algeania Freeman will retire Dec. 31 after three years at the school, officials said late Monday morning.

Former NCAA executive Charlotte Westerhaus will serve as acting president while the predominantly black university conducts a nationwide search for a new leader.

In January 2008, Freeman succeeded the Rev. Boniface Hardin,  a Benedictine monk who founded the college in 1977. By midyear, Freeman told IBJ 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.

But her tactics drew complaints from employees who said Freeman was overly harsh and shuffled people into jobs that made little sense. Students protested after a popular professor was fired, and seven members of the university’s 16-person board of trustees resigned in 2008, including at least two who said Freeman’s methods were a factor.

Former board Secretary C. Catherine Gibson, who voted to hire Freeman, told IBJ at the time that she had urged the new president to be diplomatic, but, "I realized she was not going to listen." She left the board in July 2008.

Freeman has said she was simply doing the job the Martin board of trustees hired her to do: Cut costs and increase fundraising.

Board Chairman John Bartlett said Freeman made the decision to retire on Friday and informed the board of her decision. He would not say whether the board had asked Freeman to resign.

"She felt it was time to retire," said Bartlett, who is also a state representative from Indianapolis.

Freeman, 61, founded consulting company The Freeman Group before joining Martin and served as president of Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., from 2001 to 2004.

Livingstone placed Freeman on leave in August 2004, according to stories in the Salisbury Post. Five months later, the school announced her resignation. Newspaper accounts at the time called it a "forced exit" and said Freeman had "set a controversial course for herself at Livingstone."

University presidents typically give notice months before their departures. Butler University’s Bobby Fong, for example, announced in October that he would leave at the end of the school year to take a job leading Ursinus College in Pennsylvania. And Adam Herbert, Indiana University’s widely criticized president, said he would leave the president’s post in 2006—more than a year before the end of his contract.

Westerhaus is the former vice president of diversity and inclusion for the Indianapolis-based NCAA. She also has worked at Purdue University, the University of Iowa and the University of Wisconsin.

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