University of Arkansas officials on Monday defended the sudden decision to end the employment of Associate Vice Chancellor of University Relations John Diamond, with UA Chancellor G. David Gearhart saying Diamond had been “insubordinate.”

UA Vice Chancellor for Advancement Chris Wyrick announced Friday (Aug. 23) that Diamond was “terminated from employment,” with his last day to be Sept. 22. Diamond, who earns $173,000 a year, is to work from home, with his work assignments received by e-mail or phone.

Wyrick alleges that Diamond responded inappropriately during an Aug. 22 meeting in which Diamond was informed that UA “senior leadership had lost faith” in him. It was during that meeting that Wyrick informed Diamond he was being reassigned to associate vice chancellor of communication for the campaign.

“During the course of our meeting, however, you became irate and confrontational. Rather than demonstrating any willingness to maintain a professional and positive working relationship during the reassignment period, you made statements that my leadership style is ‘laughable’, and frankly escalated the discussion to the point that I had to end the conversation,” Wyrick noted in his Aug. 23 letter to Diamond.

Link here for a PDF of the letters from Wyrick.

Gearhart supported Wyrick’s action in a statement sent to the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees and System President Donald Bobbitt.

“Mr. Diamond has been argumentative, inflexible, insubordinate and aloof with his direct report. He consistently refused to take direction from Chris or many of the senior leaders of my team on a variety of issues,” Gearhart wrote.

Gearhart said Diamond maintained too close of a relationship with Brad Choate, the former head of the UA advancement division. The advancement division has been under review for a $3.3 million deficit. In December 2012, Choate resigned as vice chancellor of the division and Joy Sharp resigned as budget director.

On Feb. 7, Gearhart asked auditors for the Arkansas General Assembly and the University of Arkansas System to perform independent audits of spending within the university’s advancement division. Following the Feb. 7 announcement, Gearhart named Chris Wyrick the new vice chancellor for university advancement. At the time, Wyrick was serving as executive director of the Razorback Foundation. In mid-July, Wyrick announced several staff changes within the division.

DIAMOND BACKGROUND
Diamond was hired by Choate and university in September 2010. Prior to arriving in Northwest Arkansas, Diamond managed public relations and lobbying for the University of Maine system. Diamond, who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in speech communications from the University of Maine, was elected in 1980 to the Maine House of Representatives. At age 30, he was elected by his peers to be the House Majority Leader, and was at the time the youngest majority leader in the country.

While at the UA, Diamond worked with Jeff Long, UA vice chancellor and director of athletics, as the university responded to the Bobby Petrino scandal in early 2012. The UA earned top honors for “Best Crisis Management” in the PR Daily’s 2013 Nonprofit PR Awards because of how the university dealt with the investigation of the Petrino’s activities and his eventual dismissal. Kevin Trainor, associate athletic director for public relations, was also cited by the UA for his work with Long during the events.

DIAMOND RESPONSE
The UA on Monday also included a four-page letter from Diamond, in which he lays out a completely different perspective on the issue.

Much of the letter focuses on Diamond’s belief that the UA was creating “unjustifiable delays” in responding to Freedom of Information Act requests from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Following are some of the key points Diamond included in the letter.

• “As directed, I forward, via e-mail, the document to the Democrat Gazette as the totality of responsive documents in the university’s possession which, based on the e-mail exchanges, documents, and video that had been circulated on campus and within the division, was not accurate. By directing me to provide that single page as the sole responsive documents, you put me in a position that jeopardized the university’s credibility, a position I objected to on Thursday morning when we met. I believe the action you took on Friday morning to terminate me in 30 days was in retaliation for pointing out that concern.”

• Diamond noted that Wyrick’s action in firing him as “a continuation of a five-month pattern that I and other members of the Advancement division’s leadership team had advised you against – that is, imposing serious, disruptive, and secretive changes in personnel appointments with little regard to the stress it places on affected individuals, their colleagues, and Division operations.”

• “As I and others have tried to tell you during your five months as Vice Chancellor, good leaders must maintain trust and credibility of their leadership team and staff. The way you dealt with me on Thursday and Friday has contributed further to the toxic environment that currently exists within the Division and which has permeated other parts of the campus.”

• “Even more damaging, your disregard for the University’s obligations under FOIA continues to jeopardize the U of A’s relationship with its internal and external constituencies. To be sure, complying with the Freedom of Information Act may at times be disruptive and time-consuming. However, that’s a reasonable burden for the University to bear in exchange for the taxpayer and tuition-payer dollars it receives. The University’s students, employees, alumni, donors, and friends – as well as the public – deserve the University’s cooperation.”

Link here for a PDF of the letter from Diamond to Wyrick.

GEARHART RESPONSE
Following is the complete text of the letter UA Chancellor G. David Gearhart sent to the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees and to System President Donald Bobbitt.

Members of the Board of Trustees and President Bobbitt:

Over the past several days I have been in close contact with several members of my senior staff as well as Dr. Bobbitt over the personnel issue surrounding Mr. John Diamond. Any time we deal with issues of termination the accounts of the actions taken are paramount. I wanted to send you this email to insure that you too are in the loop on what already has become a public issue. The purpose of this email is to give you some important background information in advance of any further media articles.

For many months Chris has attempted to build a relationship with Mr. Diamond as his new supervisor. Diamond was hired by Choate three years ago and has found it difficult to accept our new advancement leadership team. It has been a particular concern to me for many months. Mr. Diamond has been argumentative, inflexible, insubordinate and aloof with his direct report. He consistently refused to take direction from Chris or many of the senior leaders of my team on a variety of issues.

As you may know, since Brad Choate’s dismissal, Mr. Diamond has been interviewed for at least three positions at other institutions in the last several months and has been unable to land a job to date.

Diamond has been very defensive of his former boss, Brad Choate, who hired him, and continued to maintain a very close and inappropriate relationship with Choate during a time he was serving as our chief spokesperson, a clear conflict of interest.

Over the last several months the relationship with Diamond and Chris, and my senior leadership, has deteriorated to the point of irreparable damage.

Thursday, Chris met with Diamond and told him he felt a change was necessary and that his relationship with him was beyond repair. Chris told Diamond that the senior leadership had lost faith in him for a variety of reasons, including his inflexible attitude and his inattentiveness to his daily duties, including his refusal to answer e-mails and phone messages from myself, Vice Chancellors and Vice Provosts.

Chris told Diamond that he wanted to give him more time to find a job, but he should expect to conclude his position by the end of the calendar year. He made it very clear to Diamond that he did not want to harm his reputation or embarrass him.

Diamond became very agitated, hostile and exhibited aggressive behavior bordering on rage. In what appeared to be a premeditated, emotional rant, Diamond accused Chris of racism, harboring ill will toward Diamond’s religion and told him his management style was “laughable”.

This was all witnessed by one of Dr. Pederson’s staff members, Ms. Denise Reynolds, who sat in on the meeting. Ms. Reynolds personally felt threatened by Diamond.

Diamond stormed out of Chris’s office and within minutes an ADG reporter called Chris with knowledge of the meeting.

Chris attempted to call, text and email Diamond throughout the day in hopes he had cooled down, but Diamond refused to take the calls or respond in any way. On Friday, Chris gave Diamond an opportunity to resign but only received a combative text in return.

After discussions with me and senior officers, Chris terminated Diamond with 30 days notice. He also asked him to leave his office and finish his 30 days from home so as not to continue his creation of a hostile and threatening work environment.

Diamond contacted several members of the media and has yet to respond to his supervisor.

Diamond is claiming to the media that he was fired because he had a different philosophy of transparency with the public. In reality, Diamond has always insisted that all communication with the media come through him and that my senior team should not answer any media inquiries directly. Any lack of transparency with the media or the public can only be attributed to Diamond’s own failings as that was his primary responsibility. Diamond also refused to allow the university to release the termination letter which describes the reasons for his termination.

My apologies for the length of this message but you needed to have these facts.

Please call me or Chris should you have questions.
Thank you.

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The City Wire Staff

The City Wire Staff

The City Wire, a content partner with Talk Business & Politics, is a media company that covers business, politics and culture in the Fort Smith and Northwest Arkansas regions of the state. Read online at TheCityWire.com or follow on Twitter: @TheCityWire.