The chief fundraiser for the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, Chris Wyrick, has resigned his $310,000 job, one month after the school's new chancellor redistributed Wyrick's senior staff and part of his budget.
Wyrick's resignation comes about a month before the school revs up a $1 billion Campaign Arkansas fundraiser in September.
"It became clear to me that we needed new leadership for Campaign Arkansas and the Division of University Advancement," Chancellor Joe Steinmetz wrote Monday evening in response to questions from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
"Chris and I had a conversation this morning, and we mutually agreed that resignation was the best course of action."
Asked whether the division's reorganization or any employee grievances involving Wyrick played a role, Steinmetz wrote: "Mr. Wyrick chose to resign. Beyond that I will not comment on personnel matters."
Wyrick took over the university's Advancement Division on July 1, 2013, after then-Chancellor G. David Gearhart declined to renew the contract of division chief Brad Choate, who presided over a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.
Under Wyrick, Campaign Arkansas has already raised $500 million in what fundraisers call the "quiet" phase. The campaign is scheduled to conclude June 30, 2020.
"It has been an honor to serve as the vice chancellor of Advancement through the quiet phase on Campaign Arkansas," Wyrick wrote in a text message late Monday. "As the University moves into its launch this fall, I am excited to watch its progress and see the great results that the campaign's success bring.
"I leave the position with enthusiasm for the future and wish the entire Razorback family the absolute best."
Wyrick declined to answer further questions.
When Gearhart selected Wyrick for the top fundraising job, the then-chancellor applauded his pick as a "superstar highly regarded and admired by his colleagues," according to a UA news release.
Wyrick was finishing his fifth month as executive director of the Razorback Foundation, the nonprofit fundraising arm for the University of Arkansas' athletic department. He had worked for the university since 2008.
When Wyrick's new job was announced, University of Arkansas donor and former trucking executive Johnelle Hunt praised Wyrick's work with the foundation.
With Wyrick in charge of university fundraising, the school announced gifts totaling $113.3 million in August 2014, surpassing a goal of $108 million. In 2015, the gift total was $116.5 million, topping a $112 million goal. The university hasn't announced its gift total this year.
Wyrick's promotion came during a tempestuous time for Arkansas' largest university.
In late 2012, officials announced what they at first believed was a $3 million-plus spending deficit in the fundraising division's $10 million budget. Auditors ultimately estimated the overspending at $4.19 million.
Gearhart immediately reassigned Choate and a budget officer. Gearhart also declined to renew their contracts the following July 1.
Although officials and auditors said no fraud occurred in the overspending, Gearhart blamed Choate and budget officer Joy Sharp for failing to keep track of the division's finances.
Choate said he did nothing improper.
Legislators and state auditors later questioned Gearhart and other university officials about how the overspending went undetected for months.
And the university's former spokesman, John Diamond, also accused Gearhart of withholding public documents related to the controversy. Gearhart denied the charge.
Shortly after taking his new post, Wyrick fired Diamond in August 2013 for "irate and confrontational" conduct during a meeting, according to university documents.
Diamond denied that and also alleged that Wyrick had been involved in a "pattern of inappropriate statements to me personally and in group settings that were offensive and threatening."
Wyrick acknowledged calling someone "brother Honky" and making a remark about Catholics that offended Diamond. He said he regretted the remarks. Wyrick acknowledged the comments weren't appropriate and promised "it will not happen again."
Gearhart retired last year.
Effective July 1, Chancellor Joe Steinmetz, who replaced Gearhart on Jan. 1, removed 18 fundraisers from Wyrick's division. The division had about 75 employees as of October, university records show.
Nine senior directors began reporting to academic deans and central administrators. In the past, the fundraising division had supervised them and paid half their salaries.
In addition, Steinmetz moved nine associate-level directors from Wyrick's control.
The change was to ensure that academic deans "are closely aligned to the development officers," Steinmetz's Chief of Staff Laura Jacobs said when the changes were announced June 30.
The new fundraising hierarchy is similar to what's in place at Ohio State University, where Steinmetz served as provost before joining the Fayetteville campus, Jacobs said.
"The advancement division is strong fiscally, on budget and in great shape," Steinmetz wrote in response to the Democrat-Gazette's questions Monday. "I want to thank Chris for his service to the U of A and the advancement division."
Associate Vice Chancellor Mark Power will take over Wyrick's role in the interim, as the university searches for a permanent replacement.
Information for this article was contributed by Jaime Adame of the Democrat-Gazette.
A Section on 08/02/2016
Print Headline: Top UA solicitor of gifts resigns