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UPDATED: O'More faculty has 'no confidence' in college president

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Updated at 4 p.m. Monday to add responses from Dr. Mark Hilliard and O'More board chairman Scott Williams.

Concerns over inappropriate behavior, misuse of funds submitted to board

A vote of no confidence in the performance of longtime O’More College of Design president Dr. Mark Hilliard was sent almost two months ago to the school’s Board of Trust from administrators and faculty members.

After initial complaints lodged by O'More staff members, alumni and students apparently were ignored, a letter dated June 24 and signed by 30 staff members was sent to board members outlining specific complaints of Hilliard's inappropriate behavior and misuse of the private college's funds.

But as of Aug. 16, no action or investigation into the complaints against Hilliard had taken place, according to an O’More administrator. Hilliard’s current contract, renegotiated in 2010, runs through 2018. He joined O’More in 1998 and serves as its president, CEO and a professor of educational wellness and behavioral science.

The letter claims that Hilliard’s “reckless actions, which are varied and numerous and range from fiscal irresponsibility to the effective abdication of his fundamental duties, have disrupted and diminished student learning, faculty capacity and the mission of the college over the course of a period of years.”

The letter also questions Hilliard’s use of college’s funds and claims the school’s survival could be at risk.

In his O'More campus office Monday,  Hilliard declined to comment when Franklin Home Page visited to address the letter of no confidence and the specific allegations set forth in a later document.

"I really can't comment until I've heard from the board," Hilliard said.

Board Chairman Scott C. Williams, who became chair in 2010, downplayed the delay in action.

"We've got nothing to hide, it's just a slow process," Williams said. He added the board didn't want to make any "knee jerk" reactions to allegations until both sides were vetted. 

Williams said that even though he had reassured faculty and staff that they would not lose their jobs for raising concerns about Hilliard, the group of staff members hired counsel to represent them which has also slowed down the process and discussion. 

Williams said the board is trying to pin down a date for Hilliard to meet with the board to address the allegations. He expects that date to be in the coming week. 

Founded in 1970, the four-year private college offers Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in fashion design, interior design and visual communications. Its seven-acre main campus is situated four blocks from Main Street, on South Margin Street.

Several supporting documents obtained by Franklin Home Page claim that Hilliard has not accurately reported financial figures to the board and has spent money from the school’s budget “researching” themes for parties and fundraising events on the campus which often see no return in funds. 

The documents include the 13-item "Summary of Concerns Regarding Illegal, Unethical, and Inappropriate Conduct of President Mark Hilliard."

In a separate letter to the board, a department chair expressed concerns over Hilliard’s performance as president calling him “distracted.” The letter states that Hilliard has started and put money toward 30 clubs for a college that has an enrollment of approximately 200 students.

“We’re a college of fewer than 200 students, comically incapable of supporting such an array of societies and alliances even if they were somehow relevant,” the letter read.

Funding for an on-campus sensory garden "is a significant expense in the annual budget — including the fish — and the subject of campus jokes," the department head wrote. "This garden is not related to design education, nor will plans to make it look like a Monet landscape redeem it.”

The staff group has hired attorney Doug Janney to represent its members, reportedly to prevent retaliation.

Franklin Home Page will continue to report on this story as developments occur.

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