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UT leader downplays concerns for his job

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University of Toledo President Dan Johnson opened his biannual town hall meeting on campus yesterday by making light of rumors that have been swirling about his future at the school.

He told about 50 people gathered in the Student Union that he was surprised at the "speculation" about his job stability, an idea evidently raised by a professor's e-mail that has spread around campus.

"If you hear any more rumors like that, would you please let me know? I have a vested interest," Mr. Johnson said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Mr. Johnson made the remarks less than 24 hours after Dan Brennan, chairman of the university's board of trustees, sent out an unusual e-mail to the campus community defending the president and criticizing those who've spread the rumor.

"President Dan Johnson has the complete support of this board and all its members," Mr. Brennan wrote.

"I am appalled that some on campus would choose to spend their time exploiting the fears of their colleagues, rather than helping to find solutions during these difficult times," he wrote.

"Yes, enrollment is down," he continued. "Yes, there are serious budgetary challenges associated with our situation. And yes, the board is dedicated to seeing these issues resolved. However, this is a time for a clear vision, strong leadership, and solidarity on campus, not rumor mongering."

The damage control was necessary, Mr. Brennan said yesterday, after he became aware of e-mails written by Donald Wedding, an associate professor of management at the university.

The e-mails contended that Provost Alan Goodridge and Mr. Johnson had fallen out of favor with the board and could be fired as soon as the Christmas holidays.

Mr. Wedding could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Goodridge said he first heard the rumors and later saw the e-mails. He said they might appear confusing to some because they were mixed with facts, strong opinions, as well as outright untruths.

"When it comes to gossip, everyone tends to be subject to it," he said.

Andy Jorgensen, chairman of the university's faculty senate, said he thought the widespread rumors he was hearing were false. He said he alerted the administration, which already was aware of them.

"If people are saying this, that's undermining the president," Mr. Jorgensen said. "Dan Johnson deserves our respect. He's earned that: He's a fine man."

The rumor controversy occurred as the administration is facing a serious budgetary crisis, which is a result of another enrollment drop this fall. Goals to return student headcount to fall, 2003, levels failed. This year's budget was based on the university being able to restore enrollment by more than 800 students, a goal that was not met.

The enrollment shortfall is expected to have an $8 million impact on the budget, the president said at the town hall meeting. Mr. Johnson said a fiscal advisory committee is looking at ways to reduce costs, but he said no decisions have been made.

Energy conservation is among possible cost-saving measures.

"We will make the necessary reductions and we'll manage the reductions the best we can," Mr. Johnson said.

Despite the university's budget woes, yesterday's town hall meeting generated only five questions from the audience.

Mr. Johnson concluded by telling the audience: "I'm pleased to be here. I'm glad the board reinforced that to you in its memo."

Contact Kim Bates at:

kimbates@theblade.com

or 419-724-6074.

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