The Collegian
Saturday, March 25, 2023

Cooper plans to stay in office until replacement president found

University President William E. Cooper, who announced his resignation on Jan. 12, plans to stay in office until a replacement has been found.

"It's probably a good time to do a search to continue the momentum that we enjoy here at Richmond," Cooper said. "I think it's a good time for the university and it's a good time for me."

Cooper said the Board of Trustees had not placed restrictions on his responsibilities or authorities during this transition period, a point confirmed by Otis D. Coston Jr., head of the board.

"They expect an energetic, active president at all times," Cooper said. "I pledge to continue to play that role until a successor is in office so that we can continue our momentum."

Robert L. Burrus Jr., a trustee, will lead a nationwide sweep for a new president, Coston said, and the rest of the search committee will be announced within the next few days.

Cooper's announcement of resignation surprised some members of the community because the president had received a vote of support from the Board of Trustees on Dec. 2. The vote was brought about by controversy that developed after remarks Cooper made at his annual staff address on Oct. 20.

One of the comments Cooper made that angered many alumni, students, staff and faculty members was that he wanted the quality of entering students to be higher so that the university could "transform bright minds into great achievers instead of transforming mush into mush."

In the ensuing months people called for Cooper to be fired and in general, brought his leadership into question. An online petition currently with 2,914 signatures was formed in opposition of Cooper and another was created in favor of the university's direction. The supporting petition features 147 names.

Stories of the dispute were featured in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and newspapers across the country ran copies from the Associated Press.

Cooper has been in office since 1998 and the trustees cited many achievements attained under his tenure, including the creation and implementation of a 10-year strategic plan to launch the university onto a national stage academically.

"I think President Cooper has brought a whole lot to the university," Coston said. "He's done a great job in so many areas in helping us develop the vision for the university going forward, developing the strategic plan and starting to implement a substantial number of those items in the strategic plan."

Coston also credited Cooper with leading a fundraising campaign that reached $177 million recently toward a 2008 campaign goal of $200 million.

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"Any achievements should never be attributed solely to the president," Cooper said. "They are team achievements. They're not my achievements alone. It's for others to say what the major achievements have been in recent years."

Cooper's contract was set to expire in June 2008. His annual salary is $478,696, according to the latest salary report by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Senior Braxton T. Bragg, president of the Richmond College Student Government Association, said he was a little surprised when he heard of Cooper's resignation announcement.

"I thought if he was going to do it he would have done it earlier given the alumni outcry but I think what happened was a pretty good compromise," Bragg said.

Junior Will L. Kelly, when asked for his opinion on Cooper's tenure, said: "It seems that the university doesn't seem to garner a whole lot of community support and it probably could. If we had a strong relationship with all of our alumni, not just those who have a very large bankroll then we could, for example, really draw crowds to the athletic events, host community events to really gather support for the school both in the alumni population and in the student population."

Kelly said he wanted to see some of Cooper's qualities in the next president but also a few other characteristics he did not see in the last few years.

"My ideal candidate would be willing to sit down with some donor who was proposing some $10 million deal, but would also be willing to walk across campus and talk to students in the same day, which I didn't necessarily see from Cooper," Kelly said.

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