Joseph King, the president of Lyon College since 2017, resigned Thursday after the mayor of Batesville and the county judge of Independence County asked trustees for the private college to fire King over remarks made to a reporter about the community.
King told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the private college is a bubble “of inclusion and of diversity surrounded by a sea of angry, disenfranchised populations and a large white-supremacist population,” according to an article published July 26.
Batesville Mayor Rick Elumbaugh and County Judge Robert Griffin in an “open letter” dated Wednesday said “King’s inaccurate portrayal of the community and later comments about the State of Arkansas have resulted in overwhelming disdain for his role as a leader in this community and shattered confidence in his ability to represent and lead Lyon College.”
Elumbaugh and Griffin were joined in the letter by Crystal Johnson, president and chief executive officer for the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce. Elumbaugh’s office provided the letter to the Democrat-Gazette.
In response to an earlier backlash to his comments, King wrote in a Facebook post on Aug. 21 that the surrounding Batesville community “might be welcoming and inclusive,” but “we cannot pretend to expect the same in all areas of the state.”
King, in his Aug. 21 statement posted on the Facebook page for Lyon College, also said that he was “misquoted” in a part of the article describing a Batesville rally for former U.S. President Donald Trump during the 2020 election season, which did not happen.
The Chronicle has since appended a correction to the July article stating there wasn’t such a rally in Batesville, but describing the rally information as “erroneously said” by King.
The announcement of King’s resignation — effective immediately — came from Perry Wilson, chairman of the college’s board of trustees. Wilson gave no reason for King’s resignation.
Melissa Taverner, who has been the college’s provost, will serve as the college’s interim president, said Wilson. His announcement was posted on the school’s website, which stated that Wilson’s message was also sent out to staff, students, faculty and the college’s “community partners.”
King’s Aug. 21 statement led to more than 300 Facebook comments, many with criticisms of King.
“Over my 4 years at Lyon I hardly ever saw this man. His blatant lies show just how out of touch he was/is with the Lyon College community,” wrote a commenter identified as Katelyn Elizabeth Platt, an alumna of the college.
A commenter identified as John Pruden stated that he was “deeply ashamed of my alma mater for this” and “horrified that our president blatantly lied to a major publication and is trying to throw their staff under the bus instead of taking responsibility for his actions.”
Previous positions held by King include senior adviser to the president of Emory & Henry College in Emory, Va., and vice president of innovation at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.
King is listed on the website for Johns Hopkins University Press as the co-author of a forthcoming book titled “Leadership Matters.”