Update: Termination of UA Spokesman John Diamond Followed Loss of Confidence

David Gearhart, chancellor of the University of Arkansas, told reporters Monday that he "and many members of the senior team" had lost confidence in the university's chief spokesman, John Diamond, months before Diamond's immediate supervisor, Chris Wyrick, decided to fire him after a particularly rancorous meeting on Thursday.

Diamond acknowledged to Arkansas Business that Gearhart had been unhappy with his service as far back as January, when they disagreed over how to respond to media demands for information on a budgeting shortfall in the University Advancement division.

"There is no question in my mind that the disillusionment that Dave Gearhart had with me had to do with my attempt to follow the [Freedom of Information Act] law and dealing with the media in general," Diamond said. He was contacted by telephone after the briefing held in Gearhart's office in Fayetteville, which included Wyrick and at least six other UA officials.

Prior to the briefing, the UA released correspondence between Wyrick, who took over as vice chancellor for university advancement earlier this year, and Diamond, who remains associate vice chancellor for university relations until his 30-day notice expires on Sept. 22. 

In his letters, Wyrick says he had planned to demote Diamond and then terminate his employment at the end of December because "the University's senior leadership had lost faith in you." But Diamond's behavior during and after a meeting on Thursday, Wyrick said, made it clear "there is no repairing our working relationship," so he gave Diamond an immediate 30-day notice of termination.

Diamond's four-page letter added much more detail to his troubled relationship with Wyrick, who was promoted April 1 to replace Brad Choate, who was relieved of his duties after overspending his department's budget by millions of dollars.

According to Diamond's account, he had expressed concerns about Wyrick's handling of Freedom of Information Act requests. Diamond also described a "pattern of inappropriate statements" by Wyrick described as "offensive and threatening." Among them were a comment about Catholics -- including Diamond -- that "travel in packs" and the use of the term "Brother Honky" to refer to a white administrator who attended a Black Alumni Society event.

In the briefing, Gearhart assured reporters that "we will follow the letter of the law" on the FOIA.

Wyrick acknowledged that he had made a joking reference to Catholics having a "fish fry on Friday," and he said that "Brother Honky" was a nickname he was given by former black athletes from the UA and that he had also used it to refer to others. But he said Diamond never questioned these comments until "almost what I would call a tirade" after he learned of his reassignment on Thursday. Wyrick said Diamond seemed to be trying "to raise my emotional level to where his already was."

Diamond said he had reported the pattern of "offensive" comments to the chancellor's office in July.

Contrary to Diamond's description of Wyrick's threatening behavior, Wyrick said that the meeting became a "volatile, threatening situation," and that as he was leaving Wyrick's office, "Diamond took an aggressive step toward me."

While Diamond had specifically denied calling Wyrick's leadership style "laughable," Wyrick and a witness to the meeting, Assistant Vice Chancellor Denise Reynolds, told reporters that he had used the word. Diamond said later that he didn't remember using the word.

Diamond has been a finalist for jobs outside Arkansas in recent months, and Gearhart said he and Wyrick had hoped to give him time to find another job before terminating his employment with the UA. Diamond's salary is $173,354.

Diamond had been hired by Choate, and Gearhart told reporters that he thought Diamond had been to overtly loyal to and defensive of Choate even as his mismanagement of the Advancement Division was becoming public knowledge.

Any suggestion that he was not willing to work for Choate's replacement was not correct, Diamond told Arkansas Business. "It become very convenient to say that I couldn't adjust to Chris," he said. "That's just not true. My job was to help [Wyrick] succeed. I had every intention of doing that."

Gearhart's stated desire to give Diamond time to find another job was similar to his approach to firing Choate, who was relieved of management duties but continued to be paid his salary of $348,000 a year until his contract ended on June 30. Gearhart said Choate had not yet found another job.