The president of Ave Maria University in Southwest Florida will not have his contract renewed, the university announced this week.
In a press release issued on October 8, AMU Board of Trustees Chairman Michael Timmis announced that President James Towey will be stepping down on June 30, 2020 at the end of his contract term.
In an email sent the same day to students, faculty, and staff, Towey stated that the Board began discussing the extension of his contract last May, but since then Towey has decided not to “seek or accept” an extension. After pointing to record enrollment during his seven years as president, Towey asks in regard to the future leadership of the university, “What is in the best interests of this University I love?”
The announcement was made nearly six weeks after Towey issued a controversial statement on Archbishop Carlo Vigano’s August 22 letter claiming that Pope Francis knew about allegations of sexual misconduct against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and calling for the Pope to resign. Towey’s statement characterized Vigano as being politically motivated, and said the former papal nuncio’s letter was part of a “rift between Pope Francis and some conservative members of the Church hierarchy.” Towey called for an end to the undermining of “the Holy Father’s legitimate authority” by “so-called conservative Catholics,” calling it part of a trend toward “defiance” against the Church.
After the release of Towey’s statement, some supporters of the university voiced their concern. Among those voices were nearly 70 alumni who signed a letter criticizing the president for speaking on behalf of the university, and organizations such as the Cardinal Newman Society, which publicly expressed their disapproval of Towey’s attack on “faithful Catholic leaders.” Towey later issued an amended statement, and the original statement was removed from the university’s website.
Towey’s statement and the ensuing controversy came at a time of legal tumult for Towey, who is being accused of covering up scandal at the university in a pending lawsuit. Towey is being sued for breach of contract by a former AMU literature professor, Michael Raiger. Raiger alleges in his First Amended Complaint that his contract was breached by wrongful termination in retribution for reporting what Raiger claims were Title IX violations. Raiger says the violations consisted of “seriously disruptive, scandalous, and disreputable behavior” by another AMU literature professor, Travis Curtright. Raiger alleges that after he reported the “scandalous” acts to Towey, Towey told him to cover them up. In Towey’s Motion to Dismiss, Towey alleges that Raiger reported that Curtright was spreading rumors that at least one AMU professor was actively homosexual. Towey argues in the motion that neither spreading rumors nor homosexual acts are violations of Title IX. Raiger has not yet filed an Opposition.
On October 1, an article was published on the blog of Catholic author Simcha Fisher, alleging that Curtright maliciously spread rumors that a professor was having homosexual relations with a student and with another, married professor. Nearly one week after publication, the story was removed from the website and was replaced with a Cease and Desist letter, which Fisher says was sent from Towey’s legal counsel, threatening legal action.
In the press release announcing the end of Towey’s contract, Timmis announced that a national search for Towey’s successor will begin next summer.
[Editor’s note: Kate Peterson, the author of this article, is an alumna of Ave Maria University.]