Faced with court proceedings an attorney estimated would cost between $300,000 and $500,000 and continue for two to three years, trustees said they believed settling with Walker was in the best interests of the college.
“When you consider the trauma to this campus — the bad publicity for this campus will continue for two to three years if we litigate — it makes me believe this to be a bargain,” Trustee Marjorie Starnes-Bilotti said. “(This campus) can continue regaining the respect that we may have lost.”
With former trustee Pam Seay absent from the meeting following her request to not be reappointed, the board voted 7-1 to accept the settlement.
Only Trustee Chris Vernon voted against it, saying he thought the amount was “too rich” and could have been lowered further. He said after the meeting that he thought resolving the matter was beneficial to the college and did not have a more ideal amount in mind.
“I think there are a lot of benefits to this, even at $540,000,” he said. “It allows us to put this behind us and end the Walker era.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the college will accept Walker’s retirement as of Jan. 23, and neither side will pursue further action. The $540,000, due to Walker by May 11, will be paid by the college’s Financing Corporation, a direct support organization of the college that is funded through auxiliary services including book store sales.
Walker, who had already signed and agreed to the settlement before trustees voted to accept it, wrote in a prepared statement that he is pleased the two sides were able to reach an agreement that “focuses on the best interest of the college.”
“I now leave this outstanding institution with a sense of pride and accomplishment, knowing that the college I began serving in 1991 with a student body of 9,000 today serves some 27,000 students, and offers far more opportunities than ever before, including four year degree programs pioneered here on our campus,” he wrote. “My greatest affection will remain always with Edison State.”
The settlement agreement comes five months after Walker was first suspended from Edison following repeated calls for his removal. Though he had enjoyed a celebrated presidency for nearly 20 years, the last year of his tenure was mired by controversy. Many students and faculty members blamed Walker for miscommunication about the school’s unaccredited nursing program, egregious course substitutions and potential discriminatory hiring practices.
The revelation that he earned a $837,000 salary — the highest among Florida’s state colleges and universities — only fueled the fire.
Faced with the prospect of stepping down earlier than planned, Walker said in November that he would focus on his accomplishments at Edison when looking back at his time there.
“The good things that have been achieved for the college still stand and speak for themselves,” he said at the time. “Those things are not going to be tarnished.”
In January, trustees fired Walker under the recommendation of law firm Fowler White Boggs, hired to investigate terminating the president with cause. The firm cited 10 failures of leadership, including instances in which Walker ignored legal advice, wrote a memorandum reinstating his full pay if terminated and interfered in investigations into course substitution issues and alleged discriminatory hiring practices.
Walker refuted the firm’s findings, and requested a hearing with an administrative judge to contest them.
The two parties agreed to mediation, but were unable to come to an agreement during the April 13 session attended by Walker, his wife, Edison Interim President Dudley Goodlette and attorneys for each side. After several hours, the mediator proposed the $540,000 settlement.
Goodlette would not say how the figure was reached, as the mediation is confidential, but said it was based on a calculation and noted that it is divisible by 12. On Tuesday, Goodlette recommended the board accept the agreement.
Joe Coleman of Fowler White Boggs listed several reasons it was in the college’s best interest, saying that if Walker were to prevail, the college could stand to lose $3.4 million. Coleman was clear in saying the settlement does not negate the board’s decision to terminate Walker with cause.
“We feel as strongly as ever that this board acted appropriately when it found cause and terminated Dr. Walker,” he said.
Trustees Chairwoman Ann Berlam reiterated that point after the meeting when asked whether the settlement would cast doubt on the trustee’s decision to terminate Walker.
“I think that’s important — no board action is negated or undone,” she said. “I think we had a very compelling case.”
Coleman said the settlement was advisable for monetary reasons: attorney’s fees and costs of $300,000 to $500,000 would essentially be nonrecoverable.
If the board had decided not to settle, the case would have gone before an administrative judge. Walker had indicated he also planned to file a breach of contract action in the circuit court. Coleman said the court proceedings could continue for years.
“It would be an open wound, an open sore that you’d have to deal with month after month,” Coleman said.
That point was echoed by trustees, who added that the settlement could have a positive impact on the college’s search for a new president: There won’t be a lawsuit hanging over the new president.
“I think this puts something behind us that’s been out there for over a year,” Berlam said.