Later in the day, TBR Chancellor Flora Tydings announced in a news release that she has accepted the retirement and plans to appoint TBR Executive Vice Chancellor James King to serve as interim president of Northeast until a national search for a permanent successor can be conducted.
The announcements come two days after a closed-door executive session of the TBR Audit Committee and months after a no-confidence vote by the school faculty. The committee is set to give a report to the full TBR on June 23. TBR spokesman Rick Locker confirmed the retirement letter had been received by TBR Chancellor Flora Tydings after 4:30 p.m. local time Thursday. It also was addressed to Gov. Bill Haslam, as chair of the TBR, Vice Chairwoman Emily Reynolds and the other TBR members.
“I have reflected and analyzed on many occasions these last few months and as objectively as possible, on the best solutions for the situation at Northeast State,” Gilliam wrote. “The decision to announce my retirement effective June 30, 2017, seems to be in the best interest for the College in moving forward.”
Locker said the executive session of the Audit Committee is not public and he does not know what might be presented at the June 23 meeting. Northeast’s Faculty Senate and later the full faculty voted no confidence in Gilliam earlier this year, alleging over-expansion, unrealistic revenue projections and an “environment of distrust,” among other things.
King has worked in the TBR system since 1983 and served as TBR vice chancellor for the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology from 1999 until June 1, when Tydings elevated him to executive vice chancellor. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee at Martin and has a master’s degree from the University of Memphis. He is chairman of the Council on Occupational Education, the national accrediting agency for postsecondary occupational and technical career education institutions.
The TBR later will approve the search criteria and qualifications for the next president and appoint a search advisory committee consisting of board members and representatives of the college’s faculty, staff, administration, students, alumni and the broader community. Locker said such searches usually take between two and a half and three months, meaning a new president could be in place sometime after the fall semester begins.
Northeast spokesman Tom Wilson said the college and Gilliam would have no comment Thursday. Gilliam has been battling breast cancer.
“This has been a very difficult decision given the good things going on in Tennessee and at NeState,” Gilliam wrote. “While TBR and faculty, staff, students, and the community have provided great support and guidance, it is the right time of year, the right time for me personally and professionally, and the right time in circumstances for my retirement. I continue to draw on my Appalachian upbringing that doing the right thing in good times or in challenging times is the ultimate level of leadership.”
Gilliam in the memo also lauded the TBR, the staff, faculty and students at Northeast, “especially my cabinet,” as well as Haslam and Tydings.
“I will continue to assist in any way possible to make for a smooth transition,” Gilliam said. “Thanks to all for the opportunity to work for such a great system and great leaders.”
Gilliam has been president of Northeast for eight years. Before that, she spent 28 and a half years working in higher education in North Carolina.
“I thank Dr. Gilliam for her many years of service to the students and the communities she has served, not only in Tennessee but in North Carolina,” Tydings said in the release. “She has led Northeast through its 50th anniversary celebration and its development into a comprehensive community college serving the entire Northeast Tennessee region.
“She also led the college through its successful five-year continuation of its accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Most of all, she is passionate about the success of her students.”
Gilliam was appointed president of Northeast State by the Board of Regents in June 2009 and she assumed the presidency Aug. 1 of that year. She is one of the longest-serving current presidents in the state’s community college system. She was previously the vice president of student success services at Haywood Community College in North Carolina.
A Faculty Senate representative on April 5 called for Gilliam to be placed on paid leave, but the TBR declined that request. The TBR was investigating the allegations brought up in the no-confidence votes.
“The Faculty Senate has previously stated their concerns on this matter,” Tydings said in a written statement April 5. “With all due respect to the Faculty Senate, they need to clearly understand that they do not dictate the terms of an ongoing investigation. TBR is following the appropriate policies and procedures.”
In late Feburary, TBR officials said Gilliam agreed to three interim actions addressing some issues in the faculty vote based on a Faculty Senate recommendation. They were hiring Rosemary Jackson as interim chief financial officer, having a TBR Office of Academic Affairs review of academic management, and searching for and implementing best practices on shared management on the campus among TBR, Gilliam, faculty and others.