Riekman’s resignation shakes up Palmer

The groundswell of support for the Palmer president and chancellor who resigned his job is turning into lost financial support for the chiropractic college and outrage toward the board and its leader, the great-granddaughter of chiropractic’s founder. . Meanwhile, the board is conducting an audit of the institution and requiring approval of all hiring and salary increases. It also hired a former chief operating officer — who left after a no-confidence vote in 1997 — as a consultant. . Palmer students sent a no-confidence vote with 759 signatures to Vickie Palmer and the board Friday, with the promise of more action this week if former president and chancellor Guy Riekeman is not reinstated. Alumni are organizing a similar vote. Some have said they have or may take their money out of the school. Others said they will refer future students elsewhere. . And officials from the International Chiropractors Association, founded 78 years ago by B.J. Palmer, the son of the school’s founder, said they are “deeply concerned over the uncertainty at Palmer College and doctors and students in unprecedented numbers are looking for answers in what appears to be a very unfortunate situation.” . The board is not negotiating with Riekeman to bring him back, board chairman Vickie Palmer said in an interview Saturday with the QUAD-CITY TIMES. Palmer understands students and alumni are upset, she said, but added that she hopes the information released by the board Saturday will help “with clarification.” . The man with her during the interview was Larry Patten, who resigned from the school seven years ago — the last time Palmer students and alumni took a vote of no-confidence. . “Conflict clarifies,” B.J. Palmer once said. . Palmer College of Chiropractic is indeed in the midst of a conflict. . The resignation . Riekeman resigned his position as president of Palmer College and as chancellor of the Palmer University System on Feb. 5. He had been president for five years, chancellor for eight months. . The board and Riekeman acknowledged that he resigned because of resolutions passed by the board, namely the requirement for board approval of hiring and salary increases and the employment of Patten. The board said his hiring is on a temporary basis “to ensure that the board has accurate and timely information to make informed and appropriate decisions related to university affairs.” . The board and Riekeman also say he supported the audit. They agree there was a communication problem between them. . William Wilke, secretary of the board and a retired bank chairman from Bettendorf, said the board of trustees ordered the audit because it had concerns about “fiscal prudence.” . Specifically, Wilke said cost overruns at a building project on the Florida campus, the expense of legal services from outside of the area, contracts for consulting services, salary increases, lax accounting controls and the commission of a sculpture will be examined. . The sculpture depicted three generations of chiropractors, the idea of Fred Barge, a well-respected chiropractor who passed away in July, Riekeman said. The artist decided to use the likeness of the Riekeman family — a younger Guy Riekeman, his father (a Palmer graduate) and his daughter (who is attending Palmer) — as a model for the sculpture that was expected to cost $50,000 to $60,000 to create and expected to raise at least $180,000 with engravings from families with generations of chiropractors, Riekeman said. . The board stopped the project, Riekeman said. . He declined to dispute the board’s issues point by point, but said Saturday “all financial issues were approved along the way. Nothing we spent was outside of the approved budget.” . The university system has a budget of about $40 million, according to its 2002 tax forms. Since the 1997-98 school year, the amount of federal funding to the Palmer Center for Chiropractic Research increased from $525,800 to more than $3.4 million this school year, according to statistics from the institution. . The number of members in the President’s Club — the group of people who gave $1,000 or more to the school in a year — rose from 278 members in October 1998 to 590 members in October 2003. A $35 million capital campaign also is underway. The largest previous campaign was for a tenth of that in the 1980s. About $20 million has been pledged or received of that $35 million goal. . Riekeman also is credited with the success of the institution’s annual Lyceum celebration, a continuing education event that replaced homecoming. The event made $190,000 last year. When asked about the continuation of Lyceum, Vickie Palmer said the board is allowing interim presidents to decide how to continue with such programming. . Fall enrollment in 1998 as Riekeman was taking over was 1,695 at the Davenport campus. At its California campus, 711 students took classes, totalling 2,406 in the system. . Enrollment this past fall was 1,750 students in Davenport, 447 in California and 203 in Florida, for a total of 2,400. School officials said they expect 120 fewer students at Davenport in the next trimester. . Patten’s return . Larry Patten resigned from Palmer in 1997 after no-confidence votes. The International Alumni Association was the first to issue its vote, saying it had concerns about declining enrollment, low faculty morale, increased student unrest, mismanaged funds and an atmosphere of “fear and intimidation” that permeated the campus. . Then-chancellor Michael Crawford had a long history with Patten. They worked together at St. Louis Community College in Missouri. Patten also led Vickie Palmer’s for-profit business, Signal Hill. . Patten is again working with Palmer — as a consultant to the Palmer University System board and at the newly created Vickie A. Palmer Foundation, Palmer and Patten said, adding that the two entities are completely separate. . Frank Bemis was the president of the International Alumni Association at the time of the no-confidence vote in 1997. He is now a member of the board. . “The board functioned for too long in an information vacuum,” he said in a statement released by the board. “Hiring Larry Patten on a temporary basis to collect information has been an important step in regaining the board’s oversight role of the university system. Mr. Patten facilitated the flow of information between the board and the chancellor so that it could make more effective decisions.” . Bemis said he has re-evaluated his opinion about Patten. . “It is also important to note that the alumni, based on what we know today of the university’s operations, were mistaken in our assessment of Mr. Patten’s past performance as Palmer’s chief operating officer. I am confident that Mr. Patten’s temporary fact-gathering assistance will speed the transition to better things within the Palmer Chiropractic University System.” . And Crawford added in the statement: “Seeing these resolutions, it is clear that they are in the best interest of Palmer College,” he said of the resolutions that prompted Riekeman’s resignation. “I could have lived with the resolutions. Obviously, if that would have happened during my tenure, it would have signaled that I needed to take the initiative to communicate more effectively with the board and make sure that I was carrying out the requirements of my administrative position.” . Patten said he simply hopes to help the institution. . “I care very deeply about Palmer. If I can be of help, I want to be helpful,” he said. . Alumni no confidence — again . Alumni are organizing a vote of no-confidence in the board of trustees, a challenge to gather because chiropractors are spread across the world, said Mary Flannery of Durant, Iowa, who is organizing the effort. . A Web site will gather opinions on whether chiropractors support the board or Riekeman, she said. The site will be up early this week. . She supports Riekeman’s return, but said this battle is just not about his return. . “This is about direction and lack of accountability,” she said. . The alumni are questioning the board, which is elected by a group of nine people known as certificate holders, including Vickie Palmer. . Janet Cuhel of Cedar Rapids graduated from Palmer in 1993 and is the president of the Iowa alumni. She called Riekeman’s resignation a “very, very unfortunate course of events” for Palmer and the chiropractic profession. . “The board statement has been that everything will stay the same,” she said. “The people that they have put in the position of leadership — their vision is completely different. So all of the phenominal pieces that Dr. Riekeman put in place will not be followed.” . Cuhel practices with 1966 graduate Gene Cretsinger, who said Riekeman “brought vision, integrity and a hope for freedom to practice chiropractic as a wellness and human potential model.” . A member of the President’s Club, Cretsinger has pulled his financial support from the school. . “I want Palmer to have the best leadership that is available in the chiropractic profession,” he said. “That leadership is best expressed through Dr. Riekeman in his abilities to articulate that message and draw people. If Dr. Riekeman is not there, I am going to support wherever he goes with that vision.” . Other alumni contacted by the Times expressed similar opinions, including some who said they cast a no-confidence ballot in 1997 and they are prepared to do it again. The alumni association’s past president’s council has also called upon the association’s executive committee to issue a statement in support of the reinstatement of Riekeman. . Alumni association president Kirk Lee, who previously voiced his support for the board, could not be reached for further comment. . Eric Russell, president of the Texas alumni association, said Riekeman brought a feeling of excitement to chiropractic. The profession refers to it as “spizzerinctum,” Russell said. . Student no confidence . The student no-confidence vote, sent to the board Friday after they did not receive a response to their request for dialogue between the board and Riekeman, contained 759 signatures. It calls for the immediate reinstatement of Riekeman. The document states that the $35 million capital campaign for a learning resource center “is in jeopardy.” It predicts the campaign will fail. . “Student pride in Palmer College will and has dropped; activities and growth will stall and fade,” the document continues. “Student recruitment will fall just as other chiropractic colleges has, a severe financial loss to Palmer Chiropractic University System can be expected.” . The students say the board has made an “abrupt and foolish decision without anybody qualified to even begin to fulfill the standards, knowledge and presentation of Dr. Guy Riekeman’s job.” . Failure to reinstate, the students promise, will “result in further action taken by the students” if their request is not complied with by Wednesday. . A table on the Palmer campus, adorned with posters shouting support for Riekeman, was a gathering place for signatures. Students are wearing purple ribbons in support of him. An e-mail account, [email protected], is receiving student comments. . Students plan to march down Brady Street to Vickie Palmer’s office Tuesday to show their support for Riekeman, according to the Palmer Beacon, the student newspaper. The week of turmoil is documented on the newspaper’s Web site at www.palmerbeacon.com. . They wonder when and if they will meet with Vickie Palmer. . Palmer said Saturday she hopes to meet with faculty and student leaders, but has not set up a time to do so. . The future . Vickie Palmer will be reading the correspondence sent to the board about Riekeman’s resignation this week, she said. An office at the school has been collecting the information. The alumni Web site to collect votes of support for the board or for Riekeman will be up in a couple of days, Flannery said. And students are making plans to continue their protests. . Riekeman believes there are bigger issues to be resolved than whether he is the leader. He hopes, but does not anticipate, that he will return to work at the institution. . “I never thought short of a miracle that they would give me my job back,” he said. . Ann McGlynn can be contacted at (563) 383-2336 or [email protected]. This information is reprinted with permission of the Quad-City Times. Copyright 2004.

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