E-mail forced Gilley to resign
July 31, 2001
A potentially embarrassing e-mail message led University of Tennessee officials to demand the resignation of former university President J. Wade Gilley, sources have confirmed.
Dr. Gilley, 62, was asked May 30 for his resignation and that of former administrator Pamela S. Reed by university Trustee William B. Sansom of Knoxville, who had seen an e-mail message that suggested an attempted intimate encounter between Dr. Gilley and Ms. Reed.
According to sources, Mr. Sansom called Dr. Gilley in Destin, Fla., where he was attending a four-day meeting of Southeastern Conference university presidents. Mr. Sansom told Dr. Gilley to resign, or he would be terminated. Mr. Sansom also asked for Ms. Reed's resignation. Other trustees had designated Mr. Sansom to contact Dr. Gilley.
Dr. Gilley later called Mr. Sansom back and asked that Ms. Reed, 44, be paid a year's salary. The offer was rejected. Dr. Gilley also offered to pay Ms. Reed out of his own pocket.
Dr. Gilley told Mr. Sansom he would resign, and that Ms. Reed would resign at a later time.
On June 1, the last day of the SEC meetings, Dr. Gilley faxed a resignation letter from Florida to Johnnie Amonette, vice chairwoman of the university board of trustees.
Trustees accepted the resignation in an emergency meeting of their executive committee that day and appointed Executive Vice President Emerson "Eli" Fly as acting president.
The e-mail message from Dr. Gilley to Ms. Reed dated Feb. 19 begins with what appears to be a reference to a failed intimate encounter. The e-mail has been fabricated or altered, according to John Konvalinka, Ms. Reed's Chattanooga-based lawyer.
Ms. Amonette said Monday she was aware of the discussions between Mr. Sansom and Dr. Gilley about the resignation, but did not know what the men said.
"I know there were discussions that went on. I wasn't present when those discussions went on," Ms. Amonette said. "I'm not aware what was discussed."
University officials have said that the e-mail's existence had been rumored for months, but that no one had seen it before a copy was discovered June 18 or June 20 by university auditors conducting an inventory of Ms. Reed's office.
University Vice President T. Dwayne McCay said July 19 that he had seen the e-mail "ages ago" but did not tell anyone about it immediately. "I didn't see enough of it to understand what it was, and I questioned whether it was real," he said. He said he later told a university official about it, but he would not name that person.
Dr. McCay said again on Monday that the first time he had ever seen the e-mail in its entirety was when university officials released it to the public on July 19. He would not reveal how or when he saw the e-mail the first time.
Mr. Sansom, Mr. Fly, trustee Jim Haslam, university lawyer Catherine Mizell and university spokesman John Clark did not return phone calls Monday seeking comment. Neither Mr. Konvalinka nor Dr. Gilley's lawyer, Morris Kizer, responded to requests for comment.
Following his resignation, attention focused on Dr. Gilley's relationship with Ms. Reed. He denied his resignation after 22 months on the job had anything to do with the university investigation into her résumé. He described himself as a mentor to Ms. Reed.
Dr. Gilley's resignation followed by about a week the beginning of an investigation into whether Ms. Reed's résumé was accurate. Five days before a Knoxville newspaper published a story outlining questionable items on Ms. Reed's résumé, university officials met to discuss questions the paper's reporter had raised. The story was published May 25.
Ms. Reed resigned June 13, writing in her resignation letter, "there are driving forces behind the resignation of President Gilley, which are also determined to undermine, through whatever means, those who were strongly supportive (of him)."
The university accepted her resignation "in lieu of termination."
On the same day Ms. Reed resigned, the university released 935 pages of mostly e-mail correspondence among Dr. Gilley, Ms. Reed, Dr. McCay and others.
In one e-mail, Ms. Reed wrote, "Wade -- I love you, I really do and I will never make the statement to the press or anyone else that could harm you about our relationship."
Dr. Gilley's resignation came during a year in which his health suffered. A long-time diabetic, he had an insulin pump installed to help treat the disease. He also told associates on several occasions this year of suffering severe fatigue.
Just prior to his trip to Florida, Dr. Gilley had announced plans to take much of the summer off to rest, but had told a meeting of the university's top managers he was not planning to resign.
Staff writer Dorie Turner contributed to this report.
By Gary Tanner, Chattanooga Times Free Press