JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State University President John Beehler will take a 90-day family medical leave from the university beginning Oct. 1, the JSU board of trustees approved in an emergency meeting Saturday.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to he and his family during this trying time for them,” board Chairman Randall Jones said.
Jones said he could not comment on any specific reason for Beehler’s leave, and efforts to reach Beehler Saturday were unsuccessful.
Jones said that during Beehler’s absence, a “management team” consisting of Christie Shelton, provost and vice president for academic affairs; Jim Brigham, vice president for finance and administration; and Don Killingsworth, chief external affairs officer, will run the university. Killingsworth will act as the chief operating officer, Jones said.
“We have great people on the staff here at this school,” Jones said. “We’ve got committed, committed educators that love this school.”
Beehler’s absence is covered under the Family Medical Leave Act, which, according to the U.S Department of Labor’s website, allows employees “to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.”
The board’s action comes at a time of much speculation about whether Beehler’s permanent departure from the university was imminent. The Saturday afternoon meeting, previously described as an “emergency,” was preceded by a meeting of the evaluation committee; that group is contractually required to evaluate Beehler’s job performance annually and report its findings to the full board during an open meeting. Both meetings were held on the 11th floor of Houston Cole Library.
Saturday, the committee met about an hour and voted to delay the completion of the evaluation.
“We're recessing it and looking at a time to call it back,” committee chair and trustee Tony Ingram said.
The committee meeting adjourned and the full board convened about 1:30 p.m., although the session lasted only minutes before members called a closed-door executive session that would last more than three hours.
At the end of the session, the board resumed the public portion of its meeting and, acting on request of the evaluation committee, voted to approve the family medical leave for Beehler.
According to Beehler’s contract, an annual evaluation is required, with Beehler automatically receiving a one-year contract extension unless the board decides that an extension should not occur and puts it in writing within 30 days of the evaluation. This creates a “rolling” three-year contract, with Beehler’s current deal running through 2022 if the board does not cancel his automatic extension.
According to Jones, the board was also briefed during the executive session on the recent reports of rape on or near the JSU campus.
Last week, authorities charged nine people in connection to several alleged rapes of underage victims. Eight were charged with second-degree rape of one victim, while one was charged with second-degree sodomy of a second victim.
“I do want to stress that we maintain a safe campus,” Jones said. “In regard to the current reports, nothing has indicated that any of our students were placed at risk, are at risk, or will be at risk for the matters under investigation,”
Jones said the university would be expanding security measures on campus buildings and residence halls in light of the reports.
According to Jones, trustees also discussed during executive session the pending arbitration with state insurers on a payout for Merrill Hall.
After JSU’s business building was heavily damaged by the EF-3 tornado that swept through JSU’s campus and the city of Jacksonville on March 19, 2018, the university has been at odds with state insurers over a payout for the building.
Since the damage, JSU’s business programs have operated in the former campus of Kitty Stone Elementary, which is owned by JSU. Trustees approved plans for a new business building, to be built on the site of Merrill Hall, in July.
“That’s ongoing, and hopefully that’s all going to be resolved soon so we can get this campus back to normal,” Jones said.