Arrendale: Board of Trustees has ‘complete confidence’ in Mellichamp

Piedmont University Board of Trustees Chairman Thomas "Gus" Arrendale, III (second from left) is supporting the university's president Dr. James Mellichamp (far left) after the faculty expressed 'no confidence' in Mellichamp's leadership. Here, the two are seen at a groundbreaking ceremony in 2021 for Piedmont University's largest residential hall - Mystic Hall. The dorm is due for completion soon. (file photo)

The Chairman of the Board of Trustees for Piedmont University has thrown his full support, and that of the board, behind the university’s president following a no confidence vote by the school’s faculty earlier this week.

In a statement released May 11, Thomas “Gus” Arrendale acknowledged the faculty’s vote but dismissed their accompanying call to remove Dr. James Mellichamp as president.

“Regarding the call for a new president: The Board of Trustees respectfully, but decidedly, disagrees. Piedmont University has thrived during President Mellichamp’s decade of leadership,” Arrendale says.

The $10.1 million music Springer Mountain Farms Conservatory of Music was completed in 2019.

Arrendale laid out a list of accomplishments he says exemplify Mellichamp’s leadership, leading with the construction of Piedmont’s “state-of-the-art Springer Mountain Farms Conservatory of Music.” Springer Mountain Farm is a subsidiary of Fieldale Farms, of which Arrendale is the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman.

Other achievements Arrendale credits to Mellichamp include renovation of the college’s center for education; the near completion of the university’s largest residence hall; rankings for return on investment, safety, and teacher placements; growth of the Piedmont Symposium; as well as, “high marks” on the university’s student satisfaction survey.


Majority votes for new leadership

Ninety-four of the university’s approximate 120 faculty members participated in a secret ballot vote on May 9. The results were 54% in favor of the no confidence motion and 40% opposed. Five of the faculty members present abstained.

Click on image to read full resolution

The vote advanced a resolution outlining a series of claims against President Mellichamp, including financial and personnel mismanagement and “failure to maintain a clear academic mission.” The faculty also voiced their concern over the civil liability they say Mellichamp has exposed the university to through “indifference and lack of continuity of generally accepted policies and protocols.”

“President Mellichamp’s management has been damaging to the University’s reputation, stature, and sustainability,” the resolution states. Faculty members cite as evidence of that the three chief financial officers who have been employed during Dr. Mellichamp’s ten years as president. They claim the lack of consistency in the school’s financial office has been disruptive and has resulted in less than reputable and reliable budgetary information.

“This lack of supervisory oversight and lack of full understanding by the President has left Piedmont University in a dire financial position. Evidence of this is our current financial status as well as his self-statement of the administration making a two million dollar ‘boo-boo in the budgeting process.”

In February, Mellichamp announced an 8% cut resulting in the layoffs of approximately 30, mostly new, faculty and staff.

Chairman Arrendale’s response seeks to counter the faculty’s claims of financial mismanagement.

“Student deposits for fall 2022 are up nearly 15 percent over this time last year, at a time when college enrollment nationally is declining. Housing deposits are also up year-over-year,” he says.

RELATED: Piedmont faculty members express ‘no confidence’ in president

Legal liability

In his response to the faculty, Chairman Arrendale did not directly address their concerns about personnel mismanagement and lawsuits, even as the university remains mired in litigation. The latest involves a Title IX claim by a Piedmont University senior and former girls volleyball player who alleges her coach sexually harassed her and that the administration, under Mellichamp, did nothing to stop it.

In documents filed in federal court this past April, the student’s mother claims the “retaliatory, hostile environment that President Mellichamp and the University created” was so bad her daughter had to “quit the team, move out of her room, and has been emotionally distraught all year from the abusive treatment she endured by President Mellichamp and the University who ratified the sexual harassment and subjected her to retaliation because she reported it.”

The case rings similar to other claims in affidavits filed in the wrongful termination lawsuit against Piedmont by former biology professor Robert Wainberg. In one of those affidavits, former Piedmont student Paul King-Allen claims he was subjected to sexual harassment by a college voice teacher and that Mellichamp, who was chair of the music department at the time, did nothing to stop it.

The Wainberg lawsuit, pending since 2018, opened a floodgate of complaints against Mellichamp. Since Wainberg was filed, Piedmont has been involved in several other lawsuits, including one the college filed against the City of Demorest and another the former mayor of Demorest, Rick Austin, filed against Mellichamp and Piedmont’s Board of Trustees.

At the time, Austin was a tenured biology professor at Piedmont, and the administration made clear in its lawsuit that it wanted him gone.

This past January, after more than a year of legal wrangling, Austin settled his suit against Mellichamp and the trustees. He moved on to become Dean of the Pilgrim Marpeck School of STEM at Truett McConnell University in Cleveland. He also left politics, choosing not to seek re-election after eight years as mayor.

Little hope for change

Thomas A. Arrendale, III, Chairman of the Piedmont College Board of Trustees (left) and President James F. Mellichamp welcomed Sandra Deal to the college’s board in 2019. (Piedmont College)

For outside observers who believed the turmoil at Piedmont University was largely driven by the soured professional and political relationship between Austin and Mellichamp, the no confidence vote affirmed by the university’s faculty could serve to dispel that.

“The Faculty of Piedmont University has no confidence in the ability of President James Mellichamp to lead Piedmont University in a professional manner that enables our faculty to educate and serve our students effectively in the spirit of shared governance, transparency, trustworthiness,” the resolution concludes.

Even with his full-throated support of President Mellichamp, Arrendale says he is “deeply troubled” by the issues contained in the Resolution of No Confidence. “There are clearly numerous opportunities to improve faculty-administration relations,” he says. Still, his response leaves little hope for those on the faculty who voted for change. Chairman Arrendale concluded his response to them by saying, “the Board has complete confidence in President Mellichamp’s ability to continue leading this institution forward for years to come.”

This article has been updated to reflect that the player with a Title IX claim against Piedmont University was on the girls volleyball team, not basketball. Also, Piedmont officials say they have employed three CFOs during Mellichamp’s tenure as president, not five as previously reported. 

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