AU President Bows To Pressure And Resigns

Dr. William Walker stepped down from his post as president of Auburn University.

Auburn, Ala.--Dr. William Walker, the president of Auburn University who has drawn much criticism for his handling of an athletics issue, resigned in a prepared statement on Friday.

Walker, who apologized in November for his clandestine meeting with Louisville head football coach Bobby Petrino, issued multiple apologies in late November and early December. However, none of his statements quieted critics among Auburn alumni, students and athletic fans.

Among those critics was the governor of the state of Alabama, Bob Riley, president of the university's board of trustees, who is believed to have helped convince the president it was time for him to leave his post.

Riley's choice to replace Walker, state superindent of education Dr. Ed Richardson, is expected to be named interim president at 2 p.m. Tuesday meeting of the university's board of trustees.

Two days prior to Auburn's regular season ending football victory over archrival Alabama, Walker and athletic director David Housel along with two board of trustees members--Earlon McWhorter and Byron Franklin--took a flight aboard a Colonial Bank private jet to a small airfield in Indiana for a secret meeting with Petrino.

That foursome from Auburn was there to discuss hiring Petrino to become head coach at Auburn to replace Tommy Tuberville. However, after the details of the trip to Indiana were made public after the Tigers' victory over Alabama, Walker met with Tuberville, apologized and asked the coach to stay. Tuberville agreed to stay at AU as head coach, a position he has held since the 1999 season.

On Friday, Tuberville issued a short and terse comment on the news that the man who was looking to replace him is no longer Auburn's president. "It's been a tough last couple of months for everyone," Tuberville said. "Dr. Walker did a lot of positive things for athletics. Now, we just need to move on."

Housel also issued a statement on Friday evening that reads, "I, and I think all Auburn people, should appreciate Dr. Walker's service to the University during a very difficult time. He came in a difficult situation and he's leaving in a difficult situation. But, I believe the record will show he did a lot of positive things for Auburn, including the Athletic Department and moved Auburn forward during his time as the university president."

Walker took over the presidency 19 months ago, originally as the interim replacement for Dr. William Muse. When the university's board of trustees asked him to continue to handle the job, he agreed.

Walker's statement said, "I'm grateful to the Board of Trustees for the leadership and guidance they have provided during my tenure and to all Auburn people who have supported our efforts to make Auburn better. I am hopeful that my decision to step down as president will mark the beginning of a new day at Auburn and that all members of the Auburn Family will put aside their differences and work together to refocus Auburn on its true land grant mission of instruction, outreach and research."

Executive vice president Don Large is expected to handle the duties of the president until the board of trustees appoints a successor. That could happen as soon as Tuesday.

Faculty Senate chairman John Mouton said, "While there's been a lot of controversy over the last 45 days, Dr. Walker has, in his tenure as president, provided strong leadership to the benefit of the faculty and the university as a whole. Perhaps Auburn needed a catalytic event to unite its various constituencies. If so, I sincerely hope this is that event."

On Nov. 26, former Auburn offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino announced that he was not interested in the Auburn job after being confronted by Louisville administrators on the subject. Discovery of Auburn's contact with the Louisville coach, without following the protocol of asking Louisville permission to negotiate with a coach under contract at the U of L brought a sharp rebuke from Louisville's athletic director to Petrino, Walker and Housel.

Petrino initially denied contact with Auburn officials, but later admitted that he had not been telling the truth and that he had met with the Auburn president and the other officials. Walker issued a statement confirming the meeting and issues a series of apologies.

University officials normally fly on the university jet for business trips, but used a Colonial Bank jet in attempt to avoid detection of their night flight to Indiana. Colonial Bank is a company run by AU board of trustee member Bobby Lowder, however, he did not fly to Indiana with the other four AU officials.

Walker's resignation came exactly one week after he issued a statement denying rumors that Housel would resign as athletic director. "David Housel is the Auburn Athletic Director," Walker's statement said. "He is a valuable member of my administrative team. He has my full support. I expect him to be our Athletic Director for a long time."

Housel also denied that he was leaving. "I thought I made my position clear," he said. "I have no plans to resign. We're going full speed ahead towards the only goal that matters-making Auburn better today and everyday."

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