Ozarka College has an interim president.
The Ozarka Board of Trustees appointed Gayle Cooper July 13 to replace former Ozarka College President Douglas Rush during a special board meeting at the college.
Cooper, the vice president of academic affairs at Ozarka, will serve as president until a permanent replacement is hired, said Ozarka Board of Trustees Chairman Barbara Perryman.
"He's worked at the college since it opened its doors," said Perryman. "Gayle is a natural fit."
Cooper was at a meeting and unavailable for comment as of press time.
Perryman said the college will conduct a national search to find a replacement for Rush, who was fired July 7.
She said Rush's contract was terminated because he failed to comply with state laws, was dishonest and insubordinate and didn't follow college policies.
The board of trustees would like to elaborate on their reasons for firing Rush but the Attorney General's Office in Little Rock has advised them against doing so, Perryman said.
"We're not trying to keep secrets; we're trying to follow the law," Perryman said. "We're under the threat of being sued. Because of these circumstances we have decided not to release information and things discussed during executive sessions."
Matt DeCample, spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, said they are not allowed by law to give information about a litigant they represent.
"The client is welcome to share whatever information they want with the media, but we can't confirm or deny anything," DeCample said.
Rush said his firing was the result of a personal vendetta between him and board member Bonnie Wyatt. He said he will sue Ozarka College if he is not paid his base salary of $124,000 and benefits that raise the total compensation to $165,000.
Perryman, Wyatt and board members George Thomas of Salem and Ben Cooper of Melbourne voted to oust Rush.
Wyatt refused to comment about the firing, but Perryman has said repeatedly that Rush lost his job due to poor performance -- not a personal grudge.
"It wasn't a decision we just jumped into," Perryman said. "In light of some of the things he did, it was an agonizing choice we had to make."
Perryman said Rush's firing should not have been a surprise to him. She said the board told him on numerous occasions that his conduct would not be tolerated. Perryman would not comment as to what specific conduct Rush was warned about.
Rush attended the meeting and took notes as Cooper was named as his replacement.
Judy Cannady, chairman of the Ozarka College Arts and Humanities Department, said she was shocked by Rush's termination.
"I hate that he had to go," Cannady said. "I want people to remember all the good things he did for the college."
Cannady said those good things included expanding the current Melbourne campus, building satellite campuses in Mountain View and Ash Flat and encouraging student population growth.
"When I came here in 1992 we had 125 students. Last year we had over 1,000," she said.
Cannady said the faculty had a mixed impression of Rush, whom she considers a friend.
"I thought it was positive, but there are a few who didn't see it that way," Cannady said.
She said she respected the members of the board and considered several of them, including Barbara Perryman, as friends.
"We all need to move on now," Cannady said. "The best thing to do is focus on our students and the upcoming school year -- not the past."
Besides Cooper, two other candidates, Gary Phillips of Salem and Ronnie Helm, Ozarka's vice president of student services, were considered for the interim position, but both declined.
Helm said he would serve the college best by remaining in his current position.
Phillips, who is a member of the Ozarka Foundation Board and has a doctoral degree in speech communications, was appointed to serve as vice president of academic affairs by the board.
"Gary's easy to work with and he is definitely qualified," said Perryman.
Phillips said he declined consideration for the interim president's post because he felt Cooper was a better fit.
"I thought given the situation, Gayle could make the transition more smoothly," Phillips said.
He said he is looking forward to his new job in academic affairs.
"We want to add classes and push towards a record enrollment this fall," Phillips said.
He will replace Linda Morgan who resigned last month. Perryman said Phillips' appointment is temporary but could become permanent in the future.
Perryman said the search for a new president could take three to six months. She said the new president will come from outside the college.
What qualities and qualifications will the college use to select a new president?
"I don't know right now," Perryman said. "We've never had to do this before."