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2-year colleges chancellor quits
Culverhouse 2nd interim head to resign this year; board to start replacement hunt Wednesday

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — For the second time in as many months, the interim chancellor of the state's two-year colleges resigned abruptly Tuesday. This time state Board of Education members say wisdom, not haste, should determine their next choice to lead the system.

In a letter to members of the state Board of Education, Renee Culverhouse cited the need for immediate modifications in treatment for the relapse of an unnamed but painful "chronic, serious degenerative disease," including required time off from work as the reason for her decision. She planned to return to her position as president of Gadsden State Community College.

"It would not be fair to the Board or the System for the Chancellor to be on sick leave with so many pressing issues facing us at this critical time," she wrote.

Her resignation came soon after an investigation into the two-year college system revealed that she had paid a Birmingham criminal defense attorney with state funds to advise her and other Gadsden State employees during an investigation. The state ethics commission cautions against using state funds for such purposes.

The board will proceed with a previously called meeting Wednesday to plan the search for a permanent chancellor and expects to conduct its regular K-12 board meeting Thursday. There is some question about whether a regularly scheduled two-year system work session will take place after that meting since there is no chancellor.

Board Vice President Sandra Ray said the rapid departure of two interim chancellors shows the system needs someone to act as second in command in the chancellor's absence. Ray, D-Tuscaloosa, asked system attorney Joan Davis to prepare a statement on chain of command for the board to consider. "I wish we had known about Renee's condition two months ago," Ray said.

She said she is open to suggestions about the next two-year leader. Ray said if there are at least five board members who can attend, she wants to have a called two-year board meeting at 11 a.m. Thursday after the regular K-12 board meeting.

"We are going to survive this," said board member Mary Jane Caylor, D-Huntsville. Caylor's district includes Calhoun Community College, where the board approved a $20,666 per month employment contract for Culverhouse at its April meeting.

Caylor pushed for the board to hire Culverhouse after Thomas Corts, the previous interim chancellor, resigned abruptly on Feb. 28.

But Tuesday, Caylor said the board now has an opportunity to consider options and seek consensus.

"I had lunch with Renee on Monday and encouraged her not to do this," Caylor said. She said she thinks Culverhouse made the right decision, however.

Caylor called for the board to seek unity in its decision. Her ideas do not include the name Don Edwards, a central office attorney Corts hired earlier this year and whose name some Republican board members proposed when they hired Culverhouse in March. Caylor believes the next interim chancellor should be someone without ties to the system.

Gov. Bob Riley, president of the board, opposed giving Culverhouse an employment contract during the meeting at Calhoun because of her opposition to funding workforce development programs at the expense of employee salaries.

Riley said he was sorry to learn about Culverhouse's illness. "I think everyone will offer sympathy to Dr. Culverhouse as she deals with something as painful as this must be," he said. "Tomorrow we have a great opportunity to come together and work on a plan on how we go from here."

Board member Stephanie Bell, R-Montgomery, said Culverhouse's decision to pay Birmingham white collar crime attorney James Sturdivant $250 per hour with state funds to advise her and other Gadsden State employees was wrong.

"When she was questioned about this earlier, she did not say she used state funds," Bell said.

Bell proposed that the board hire Edwards when it hired Culverhouse in March, and she said she "has not withdrawn support for him."

Heading into Wednesday's meeting, however, Bell said she hopes the board will work together to select someone who is not a part of the current two-year system.

"I think the position will attract a maverick, someone who is willing to clean house and not afraid of controversy," Bell said. "The good that has come out of this is, I hope, the board will work together to select someone who is not part of the system."

For the students and workers of colleges in the system, Bell said she is not worried. "We are blessed with outstanding faculty and staff and we have motivated students." She considers employees of the system as allies.

"Two-year college employees don't like what has been going on," Bell said.

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