Chancellor James Schmidt praises departing administrator

Schmidt thanks vice chancellor for enrollment management for moving goals forward, announces transition plans

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November 2, 2020
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Photo by Owyn Peters

Chancellor James Schmidt held a press conference in the Alumni room of the Davies Student Center on Monday, Feb. 24.

Chancellor James Schmidt praised Albert Colom, former vice chancellor for enrollment management, for his time at UW-Eau Claire, chided the press, shared reasons for his departure and announced plans for the transition during a press conference Monday afternoon.

“He’s done an excellent job of bringing it all together, getting people out of the silos and working together — all focused on student outcomes,” Schmidt said of Colom’s time at UW-Eau Claire.

Schmidt also criticized the media for what he called one-sided coverage. 

“The conversation that was going to the public, which included one side of the story — I’m not taking a side on that, I’m just saying it was one side — led to this decision,” Schmidt said. “I will tell you that several women within that division came forward to tell a very different story. So, I have access to a lot more data. I’m not going to share it — I won’t go further than what I did — but all of the data needs to be brought together.”

As the story developed, Colom and Schmidt did not return the Spectator’s interview requests. Mike Rindo, assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, told reporters he couldn’t comment on personnel matters. At no time have current employees under Colom’s direction agreed to an interview with the Spectator or come forward to defend Colom. 

UW-Shared Services’ investigation, spurred by Colom’s alleged workplace gender descrimination, will continue. Schmidt said he will determine the next steps when the investigation is complete, but declined to say what those steps might entail. 

Faculty, staff and student leaders learned of Colom’s departure Monday morning via email. Colom’s final day in office was Friday, Feb. 21, and he officially stepped down from his position as vice chancellor Monday, Feb. 24. 

“I told Chancellor Schmidt it has become increasingly apparent to me that, regardless of the outcome of the current investigation of allegations made against me, I am no longer able to effectively serve UW-Eau Claire in a senior leadership role,” Colom wrote in his resignation statement.  

Schmidt said Colom will continue working on a strategic enrollment plan until Sept. 2, when his resignation will take full effect. During that time, he will receive a full salary. However, Colom will not be on campus or supervising any employees. 

HR did not respond with information about Colom’s exact salary before publication.

During his time as vice chancellor, Schmidt said Colom did an “excellent job.” According to Schmidt, Colom made “dozens” of significant strides in terms of enrollment management improvement. 

Under Colom’s direction, Schmidt said, the “Apply in July” effort was launched, Tenth Day Enrollment numbers for this spring semester are up compared to last year, full-time enrollment numbers were up in the fall, a student call center was established and early indicators for fall enrollment “look fantastic.”

The response

Angela Swenson-Holzinger, former associate director of advising, filed the official complaint against Colom on Feb. 3. She said she is “relieved” to learn about Colom’s resignation because others won’t have to endure the treatment she experienced under his leadership.

“I do still think some tough questions need to be answered about how he was able to be hired with his questionable past at previous institutions and, more importantly, why the Chancellor didn’t act sooner when concerns were brought to his attention as early as the fall of 2018 and again in January of 2019,” Swenson-Holzinger said.  

Local media asked Schmidt whether the search firm found any problems during Colom’s application process. Schmidt said the “top notch” search firm, Academic Search, did not reveal any negative information. 

During the press conference, reporters also asked why Schmidt didn’t act earlier after meeting with Heather Kretz, the former director of admissions. Schmidt said he can’t comment on past private conversations and added that Kretz did not file a formal complaint.

“She expressed concern about how Albert was leading,” Schmidt said during the press conference, “but in no instance did she claim there was any mistreatment that was based on gender or any other area.” 

Schmidt said he was working to improve supervisor training before the complaint was filed with David Miller, director of human resources; John Haven, III, vice chancellor for finance and administration; and Teresa O’Halloran, director of affirmative action and Title IX coordinator.

John Yancey, former vice president for enrollment services at the University of North Florida, worked under Colom for less than a year in 2014 before resigning from his position.

When Yancey heard that Colom resigned from UW-Eau Claire, he said this is “not a time to celebrate.”

Yancey criticized Schmidt for his continuous praise of Colom’s achievements and called him “significantly out of touch” for thanking a man who ended the careers of several professionals. 

“There are no winners here,” Yancey said. “The story’s not over yet. There’s still the final chapter to be written.”

Schmidt said he’s working with various campus leaders to determine how Colom’s responsibilities will be divided. He expects a solidified plan by the end of the week. 

This is an ongoing story. Updates to come.