Adviser resigns at University of Rhode Island, ‘bullying’ cited

Staff Writer
Monday, October 17, 2011

When Andrew Winters, former assistant to the vice president for student affairs at the University of Rhode Island, resigned his post in June under controversial circumstances, faculty members, alumni and local organizations rose to his defense.

Winters, who worked at URI for 17 years and served as adviser to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs and Services beginning in 2001, resigned four months after receiving a critical letter in March from Kathryn Friedman, the associate vice president for community, equity and diversity appointed by the university in January.

A group of faculty members convened in defense of Winters immediately after he received the letter. The group then drafted a response to the URI administration, which held that Friedman’s letter included allegations that Winters put his own “desires and opinions before the needs of the community,” is “difficult to work with” and “continually misrepresents issues.” The letter also called Winters “divisive” and said he drove away “away a significant population of GLBTQ from participation at the center,” according to the response.

The group’s letter to the administration in April reflected that its members were “alarmed with the tone of Friedman’s letter,” said Albert Lott, professor emeritus of psychology. Faculty members protested Friedman’s lack of specific allegations other than those pertaining to Winters’ personality. Their response stated that Friedman’s letter “bears no resemblance to the person we know as a good and decent man.”

In September 2010, when Friedman was not yet employed at the university, Winters oversaw a student-run sit-in protest and the writing of a list of demands for GLBT rights on campus. The administration accepted the students’ demands, which included a larger space for the GLBT center and sensitivity training for faculty, staff and resident advisers.

URI President David Dooley told the Providence Journal on Sept. 25 that Winters retired from his position and that the departure was mutually agreed upon.

Though “President Dooley said (Winters) left voluntarily, realistically, it was the same kind of ‘voluntarily’ as one might use to describe a person accepting the protection of the mob in Providence,” said URI Professor of Physics Peter Nightingale. He called Friedman’s letter an act of “bullying.”

Tom Dougan, vice president for student affairs, said the administration could not comment on Winters’ departure because it is a “personnel matter.”

The URI Student Senate also declined to comment for the same reason.

In recent months, a group of faculty members has called for a full investigation of the circumstances behind his resignation. The group took issue with what they saw as a lack of “due process” or “checks and balances” in the system, Nightingale said.

Winters “did not want to leave URI at all but had no choice other than fighting the university on his own dime for the next 10 years,” Nightingale said.

The group received no response to its letter to Dooley.

Faculty members also wrote letters to the Board of Governors of URI and to Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14. Lott also wrote a letter defending Winters’ contributions to URI’s GLBT community to the editor of Options, a Rhode Island LGBT magazine.

Marriage Equality Rhode Island has also been trying to get involved in the investigation, though their involvement is still in its “preliminary stages,” Nightingale said. Members of a Unitarian Universalist Church in Newport have also expressed interest in speaking out on Winters’ behalf, Nightingale added.

He added many individual alums and faculty members who worked with Winters over the years continue to send letters to the university on his behalf. 

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