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OMore board awaits presidents response to allegations

One of Franklin’s architectural and educational treasures has been embroiled in conflict over the past several weeks, but only publically over the past several days.

O’More College of Design, situated in the heart of downtown Franklin in the historic home of its founder Eloise O’More, faces an internal investigation that centers on its President and CEO Mark Hilliard.

Hilliard was appointed president of O’More more than 13 years ago, following the tenure of Randall Yearwood.

His leadership at the college has been marked by an expansion of the institution’s involvement in the community and global focus on art and education, including visits from internationally respected speakers and educators.

Today, however, the college leadership has been forced to turn inward.

Hilliard has been the subject of many accusations ranging from financial malfeasance to inappropriate behavior with students, all by members of his own faculty.

A statement of no confidence in Hilliard, signed by thirty faculty and staff members, was first released to O’More Board Chairman Scott Williams on June 24.

Williams, also an attorney, represents the body.

He had this to say yesterday about a month-long chain of events regarding Hilliard’s leadership that have forced the board to convene much more regularly than their usual quarterly meetings.

“I wouldn’t be much of a leader if I didn’t insist on moving on with the investigation.”

However, Williams said he has struggled with the nature of how the allegations were presented and subsequently leaked to media.

While Williams said he was hoping to finish deliberations last month on a pending annual budget for the college, instead he acknowledged that the Board has been thrust into an examination of Hilliard’s professional behavior.

Although the allegations have mentioned multiple matters that could be considered unethical, as well as potentially illegal, Williams said no outside agency has approached the board regarding an investigation, nor has the board sought assistance.
“One of the board members and I talked to Dr. Hilliard,” he said of his initial action after receiving an anonymous list of grievances. “I didn’t want to give it short shrift. I told (Hilliard) we’d be back to him with questions.”

The initial letter, five paragraphs in length, states “It is our sincere and justifiable belief that if the current leadership activities of Dr. Hilliard continue, O’More College’s present serious financial condition will not only fail to improve, it will soon likely result in the college’s inability to sustain its viability.

The letter further states: “We would welcome an opportunity to express our position further and in greater detail before the full Board of Trustees.”

Looking back on the beginnings of this matter, Williams said, “I was assured by the faculty and the student group that they would not publish the letter of no confidence they had been asked to put together. Of course that did not work out.”

By the end of July a 13-point list of allegations had been distributed to the board and members of the Nashville-area media.
Hilliard, who has retained Andy Norwood as legal counsel, has not made any public comments.

In the meantime, classes are in session and nearly 200 students are attempting to reach their educational and career goals amidst a difficult internal situation.

Williams admitted that there are “strained” relationships.

Shari Fox, Executive Vice-President, was appointed to her post in 1995. Her name was the first listed in the signature line of the no-confidence letter, followed by Amy Shelton, Vice President of Student Affairs.

Yesterday was spent talking with individual parents about their concerns, Fox said.

“I will tell you what I have been saying to parents all day today, ‘Yes, in my opinion, we do have a leadership problem, but we do not have an institutional problem,’ ” Fox emphasized. “O’More is delivering the same fine design education today as it has always done. Our faculty members are compassionate and committed to the students and education.”

She declined to comment more specifically about the matter, but gave her vote of confidence to the institution and the job at hand.

“We have a proud 43-year tradition. We have hundreds of graduates practicing in the design profession. They’re enjoying fantastic careers in the design industry all over the country. That’s our legacy and that’s what we are going to keep doing. We are going to keep educating these designers.”

The O’More Board has scheduled a meeting to be held next week. At that time, Williams said he expects Hilliard to make either an oral or written presentation to the board.

Posted on: 8/22/2013


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