MUW, alumni clash goes before Supreme Court

Published 1:44 pm Thursday, October 2, 2008

A university president acted within her authority to cut ties with an alumni group that had challenged her policies and sought to replace her, an attorney argued Tuesday to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Mississippi University for Women President Claudia Limbert broke with the group in 2007 and created a new association that she said would be more diverse, cooperative and supportive of MUW’s mission.

Cal Mayo Jr., representing MUW and the state College Board, told the high court that a judge improperly ordered Limbert to maintain affiliation with the MUW Alumnae Association. She had a strained relationship with the group for some time.

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“The court improperly second-guessed the management decision of Dr. Limbert. The court improperly sought to force the university to maintain affiliation … with an organization that was trying to manage and control the university and remove Dr. Limbert and replace her with their own choice,” Mayo said.

Mayo said Chancellor Dorothy Colom’s order intruded on the College Board’s constitutional power over operations at the university when she ordered Limbert to resume relations with the group. The MUWAA in 2007 sued Limbert and the College Board to force the school to take it back.

Mayo said when re-affiliation was proved to be unlikely, Limbert cut ties with the group. The new MUW Alumni Association officially carries the university’s name.

MUW Alumnae Association leaders have denied allegations they don’t support MUW and said Limbert is reaching too far in trying to control its activities.

The association’s attorney, Kimberly Golden Gore of Jackson, told the court that Limbert torpedoed any reconciliation by trying to rob the group of its independence and trying to force a reorganization that would give the president complete control.

“This was not a negotiation. It was sign it or you will not be affiliated,” Gore said.

“This organization has supported the university for 117 years … against merger threats and closure and raised money. She did everything she could to sabotage an agreement.”

Gore said the College Board’s own policies recognize the independence of affiliated organizations.

Mayo said Limbert did not dissolve the MUW Alumnae Association. He said the group could continue to exist and raise money. It could not, he said, use the MUW logo, claim to represent MUW, use the college’s facilities, or raise money in the university’s name.

Mayo said he agreed with Justice Michael Randolph’s observation: “You’re saying the association can exist as a separate entity as much as it wants. It will just be a contest out there for the hearts and souls of the graduates.”