By Katy Burnell
Ousted UMW President William Frawley says the school’s Board of Visitors twice agreed and twice reneged on a promised severance package after he was fired following two dunk-driving arrests in two days last spring.
In a lengthy editorial column, “I Needed Compassion, Not Ostracism,” which ran in last Sunday’s Washington Post, Frawley was sharply critical of the Board’s “hard-edged” response in the wake of the incidents.
Frawley said that he asked the Board for medical leave so that he could seek treatment for a variety of health issues, and for what he said was later diagnosed as life-long chronic depression. The Board rejected his request.
In an e-mail interview Wednesday, Dec. 5, Frawley told The Bullet that he was considering a civil suit against the school, but he declined to elaborate on a timetable.
“These are matters still under discussion,” Frawley said.
The Rector of the Board of Visitors, Bill Poole, who is the only University employee named and quoted in Frawley’s column, said “it would be inappropriate” for him or any University official to respond to Frawley’s accusations.
“As much as I’d like to comment, I just can’t,” Poole said.
Poole said that he walked straight to Giant to pick up the early Sunday edition after Acting President Rick Hurley notified him on Saturday. Hurley also declined to comment on the column, saying it was “a personnel issue.”
“It’s a matter that I don’t even want to get into,” Hurley said.
Frawley told The Bullet that he has received over 200 e-mails—all but 10 of them positive– from as far away as China in response to what he intended to be an explanation, not a defense, of his actions. He plans to respond to every e-mail.
“I wanted only one thing: to tell the facts fully, openly, and honestly. Everything in that piece is the absolute truth,” he said.
It took Frawley 19 drafts to write the truth, and it took the Post three additional drafts to perfect it. He told The Bullet that his original piece, which was much longer, was titled “Mary Washington and Me.”
The focus of Frawley’s piece centers on Mary Washington’s handling of what he calls his “April meltdown.”
“For 45 years, I had self-treated a case of undiagnosed depression with compulsive work and, lately, alcohol,” Frawley wrote. “New heart problems and allergies added to the mix, as did the stress of separation from my family, which remained in Maryland.”
Frawley criticized the administration’s response, which he said was undertaken “with no apparent consideration for my illness or my record and no support for my family’s transition to a new life.”
He was arrested twice in 48 hours on three charges relating to drunk driving, once in Fairfax, and again in Fredericksburg the following day.
His first arrest occurred April 10, when he totaled a UMW-owned vehicle on his way to a meeting in Bethesda. Frawley said that he was anxious on his way out the door that morning, and he decided to self-medicate.
“To calm down, I drank some wine (after taking allergy medication) before I got on the road,” Frawley said.
A few hours later, Fairfax Police discovered the semi-conscious 52–year-old in a flipped vehicle near an exit off of I-495. Frawley’s blood alcohol level was .21, two times the legal limit, according to court documents.
After a brief stint in Inova Fairfax Hospital, Frawley drove to Fredericksburg at 1 a.m. He showed up in G.W. hall the next morning for work, where concerned staff members advised him to return home.
“I drove to horse country, parked, took in the scenery and drank again,” he said. “On the way home I hit a pothole and blew out a tire but continued on, sleepless and disoriented.”
Frawley later told police that he had consumed six bottles of NyQuil, according to the officer’s report filed after his arrest in the driveway of Brompton.
Fredericksburg Police received a tip about a swerving vehicle with three tires crossing the Chatham bridge.
“Thankfully, someone noticed my erratic driving and called police, who surely thought I was a nut case heading into….well, the UMW President’s driveway,” Frawley said.
Frawley was found guilty on two counts in September. He faces an additional court date Jan. 4 stemming from an accident that occurred this summer in Rockville, Md.
According to his Post column, the Board of Visitors terminated a severance package negotiated through a mediator one month after his convictions. Frawley told The Bullet that he has yet to receive an explanation for the Board’s actions.
“All details were totally agreed on by both sides, and the agreement text had been finalized in writing and sent to my attorney by the [Attorney General]’s representative himself,” Frawley said.
UMW’s representative in the State Attorney General’s office, Jack Knight, was not available for comment.
Frawley said that this was the second time the Board had walked away from a settlement. He negotiated a severance package with the Board in the weeks following his arrests, which he says was taken off the table on the same day it was offered.
“I was instantly left with no salary or benefits, no severance, no tenure. Our zero-tolerance times have seemingly produced zero tolerance for tolerance,” Frawley said.
Frawley compared the treatment he received at the University’s hands to the experience of other embattled administrators at institutions of higher education, such as the former President of American University, Benjamin Ladner.
Critics of the former President’s column have raised the issue that this comparison is not appropriate considering that Frawley’s tenure at UMW is far out-shadowed by long-term Presidents such as Ladner.
Rector Poole said that the duration of Frawley’s employment did not, and would not influence the Board’s decision to terminate Frawley.
“The time he was here has nothing to do with it. His actions were what led to our decision,” Poole said.
Frawley told The Bullet that he has not been keeping tabs on online critics’ reaction to his column.
“Blogs are sometimes used as opportunities to be vicious, unnecessarily laudatory, and, whether good or bad, truth defying,” he said.
“Sometimes people use a blog to brag to other people that they are writing something,” he continued.
Frawley told The Bullet that he currently volunteers to teach math, geography and English to bi-lingual fourth-graders in a low-income housing project.
“My spanish is very good, so I can manuever the context well. They are great kids,” he said.
He also told The Bullet that he is continuing to seek treatment for his medical matters, and has recently recovered to a point that permits him to to speak publicly about his situation.
“Some parts of anyone’s recovery can never be cured, only managed. I am fully healthy now and ready to resume my work,” he said.
He is currently writing two books, one, he told The Bullet, is about his academic career, “the rise to a presidency, the calamity and its aftermath, the lessons learned and how you remake a life.”
The other book focuses on the future of higher education, “a short book of radical ideas for the next 50 years.”