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O'More's Hilliard retires; interim president named

Dr. Mark Hilliard in a photo from the O'More College of Design website.

Updated 10 p.m. Monday

O’More College of Design’s board of trustees on Monday agreed to accept Dr. Mark Hilliard’s offer to immediately retire early in light of multiple allegations of malfeasance on the longtime president’s part.

Board chairman Scott Williams said Monday night that Hilliard’s retirement was the “best thing for the college.” 

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While the action was announced after a special board meeting Monday, a second board meeting is scheduled Thursday during which Hilliard will have the opportunity to address the board and answer the charges shared with the board in July following a June statement of no confidence in his leadership by a majority of the private, four-year college’s faculty and staff.

“He still wants to respond,” Williams said of Hilliard. Williams said he’s not sure if Hilliard will choose to respond in person or will offer a written response. If he chooses the latter, Thursday’s meeting may be cancelled and the response simply distributed to the board

Asked if the retirement closes the official investigation into the allegations and concerns made by staff and students, Williams, an attorney who has served on the board since 2007, said “not necessarily.”

Of the “huge number of allegations” the board received, some of charges were serious while others “were more opinion,” Williams said. “If we find credible evidence of something we need to investigate, we’ll certainly look into it.”

The 13-point summary of concerns faculty and staff presented to the board included information that Hilliard allowed and encouraged underage students to drink wine in his classroom and communicated inappropriate information of a personal sexual nature to students.

Also included in the staff’s summary were several charges of financial mismanagement.

Williams said an audit of the college’s finances is under way. “If it’s not fully complete, it’s close.”

Rebecca Stillwell, a member of O’More’s board of trustees and executive committee, was named interim president on Monday. Attempts to reach her Monday were unsuccessful.

Williams said a conversation with Stillwell about the position began several weeks ago. She begins her new role Tuesday.

The board chair acknowledged Stillwell, who has no previous college administration experience and is a former managing director for Morgan Stanley, is truly is serving an interim role.

“She is charged with the oversight of our staff, who do a very good job,” Williams said.

Stillwell has also been tasked with compiling a board report to be presented in 90 days. It will address staffing needs and concerns as well as advance O’More’s desire to become accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Currently O’More is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.

Williams said a negotiated retirement settlement with Hilliard still has to be ironed out. Hilliard, with 15 years at O’More, is fully vested in its retirement plan. The board will analyze what his total retirement compensation should be.

Williams met with a group of students and parents Monday following the board meeting. “I felt I owed it to them,” he said.

A Presidential Search Committee has been established. It will include O’More Board members involved in higher education, a faculty representative and the president of the O’More Student Government Association.

Williams stressed that many exciting things are happening on the campus located just three blocks from the Historic Square in downtown Franklin and in the greater community.

“We’re not hunkering down and pouting,” he said.

Susan Leathers is editor of Franklin Home Page. Contact her at susan@franklinhomepage.com.

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