Fred Williams, president of the Kansas University Alumni Association since 1983, has been fired. Former Chancellor Del Shankel is stepping in as his temporary replacement.
Williams received a letter Friday morning indicating he had been terminated, said his attorney, Roger Stanton, of Prairie Village. Williams had been told Saturday that he was on administrative leave with pay.
"Now they pulled the trigger and shot a guy who has developed the financial strength of the association and given it a good national reputation," Stanton said.
In announcing Williams' firing, Linda Duston Warren, the association's national chairwoman, said Shankel would take over as interim president until a permanent replacement was found. Shankel is a retired KU biology professor who also served as executive vice chancellor in the early 1990s and as interim chancellor from 1980 to 1981 and from 1994 to 1995.
Warren said a committee would be appointed to conduct a national search for the new president, though no time frame has been set. The association is an independent affiliate of KU with 45,000 members.
After the board of directors voted Saturday to suspend Williams, Stanton said association officials had contacted him asking Williams to resign. When Williams refused, the association fired him.
Warren declined to give specific reasons for the termination but said board members "decided it was a time for a change, and the board of directors decides who serves as president and CEO of the organization."
Stanton said legal grounds for termination were included in the letter sent to Williams, but he declined to discuss them.
"All I can say is their grounds don't comply with the contract," Stanton said. "They just don't."
Relations between Williams and university administrators have long been strained, sources said. And there have been past efforts by members of the executive committee and board to make changes in the association's leadership and structure.
Williams reportedly had three to four years remaining in a multiyear contract and was paid $170,000 salary in 2002, according to documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service, and $37,194 in other compensation. The board apparently asked for his resignation because that would require less -- or no -- compensation from the association.
Because Williams was fired, Stanton said his client would be eligible for compensation, but both he and Warren declined to say how much that might total.
"This is a very well-drafted contract," Stanton said. "It's exceptionally well done. We'll seek to have it enforced, and we'll negotiate with their people in good faith to see that happens."
Warren said David Wescoe, who becomes the board's executive vice chairman this summer, met with Shankel earlier this week and asked him to serve as interim president.
"When I met with Del, I simply said, 'The university needs you one more time,'" Wescoe said in a news release. "Understanding the personal sacrifice this service would mean for him, I was thrilled when he immediately said 'yes.'"
Shankel came to KU in 1959 as an assistant professor of microbiology. In addition to serving as interim chancellor and executive vice chancellor, he served stints as acting athletic director, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and department chair. He retired from the university in 1996.
"I have long known that the KU Alumni Association is one of the very best alumni groups in the country," Shankel said in a statement. "I am honored to be asked to lead the current fine staff through a period of transition, and I look forward to working with them and the superb alumni board to continue the association's tradition of excellence and service to the university."
Warren said the association's members had no reason to be concerned about the change in leadership.
"This is one of the leading alumni associations in the country," she said. "They should only be reassured that this change in leadership will be done in such a manner that we'll be able to continue to serve the university and our membership as they would expect, in the high level of KU tradition."