Outgoing Murray State University President Randy Dunn said this week the controversial decision not to renew his contract was the result of a difference in philosophy between him and Board Chairman Constantine Curris. Dunn's last day as MSU President is July 8th.
The MSU Board of Regents voted against renewing Dunn’s contract 7-4 in a surprise move during a regularly-scheduled meeting in March. The vote came after a social gathering at which a quorum of regents was present.
A month later, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Connway concluded the gathering was illegal. The Board in May held another 7-4 vote and began the process of searching for a new president by naming MSU Foundation Director Tim Miller interim president.
The same day Murray’s Board voted against a contract renewal, Dunn was selected as Youngstown State University’s new president. Dunn signed a contract to begin work at YSU in Ohio by July.
But it was what Curris called Dunn’s willingness to leave Murray State that led the Board to seek another president. Dunn’s name had made headlines almost a year prior searching for a new job, but he claims that was only in response to the board’s delay in discussing his contract.
Dunn says he approached Curris in April 2012, asking when the Board would bring up those discussions. Dunn said Curris indicated that he would not have the board consider a renewal at that point.
“When I shared with him that he likely understood that that would entail me at some point in time looking at other positions – instead of trying to engage in a conversation around that – his remark was, ‘Well, nobody expected you to be Ralph Woods,” Dunn said. “Of course President Woods served well over two decades here. That told me about all I needed to know.”
Apart from opposing philosophies, a division amidst the Board itself seemed evident as contract discussions loomed nearer in the spring. Curris began discussions on Dunn’s contract in March with a promise that it was not a divided Board. But Dunn agreed that the impact of votes over his contract illustrated a far different story.
“I don’t see how you have two 7-4 votes, you have a regent who resigns after the first vote and not have a divided Board,” he said. “(Curris) can say what he wishes.”
Dunn was hesitant to remark on whether part of the reason his contract was not renewed was due to small-town politics. He said, certainly the decision was largely political, but it did not reflect the entire university or even region’s opinion of the work he’s done at MSU.
Rather, he said, a small group of individuals in Murray may have judged programs he helped implement, like broader international enrollment or the establishment of a more effective Paducah regional campus against older MSU initiatives.
“They’ve looked at that type of work and questioned whether it’s appropriate for the Murray State University that they remember from possibly some years ago,” he said.
He stressed that he did not believe the university will forever suffer because of the small group’s stronghold on forward progress. Dunn believes, however, that important decisions will need to be made in the near future to help preserve the best interests of the faculty, staff, students and members of the community MSU seeks to serve.
“I do think there is a set of dynamics at play here that does kind of pull the university back to more parochial interests,” he said. “Having a desire to be more focused and turned inwardly as opposed to thinking about broader approaches to what the university can and should do – reaching out in meaningful ways to the larger region.”
Work toward that regional impact is what Dunn said he believes is his greatest legacy at the university. Under the direction of the Council on Postsecondary Education, Dunn helped found the Office of Regional Outreach with a broad council that aims to support the region through local and statewide grants toward education, entrepreneurial efforts, agriculture and more.
“You can’t build the future of Murray State University on Calloway, Marshall, and Graves counties. It has embrace the Purchase, the Pennyrile, areas beyond the Commonwealth, and I would submit to you around the globe even, for us to stay at the top of the game as a regional state university.”
And Dunn said he worries about the future of this type of initiative with his leave. He said any future presidents and boards will either enlarge Murray State’s regional footprint, or the university will shrink its focus, leaving diverse and important areas of Kentucky and surrounding states underserved.
But for now, as his time at MSU ticks away, Dunn will turn his focus to Youngstown State, where he said there is much work to do. He said he will miss Murray State a great deal, and he is encouraged by an outpouring of support he and his wife received after the spring vote, but now he will look forward.
“It’s tough to leave,” he said. “At the same time, life in this work has its ebbs and flows. It has its chapters. We’re looking forward to going to Youngstown. There’s so much to be done there.”