The president of Lyon College, W. Joseph King, resigned on Thursday after remarks he made in The Chronicle sparked a furor in the local community. In an article published on July 26, “Could Political Rhetoric Turn to Campus Violence?,” King was quoted as saying that while the campus’s home, in Batesville, Ark., is diverse and inclusive, it was “surrounded by a sea of angry, disenfranchised populations and a large white-supremacist population.” (The article was a condensed excerpt from a longer Chronicle report.)
King also referred in the article to an alleged November 2020 rally in support of President Donald J. Trump that he said had drawn crowds with Confederate flags and neo-Nazi symbols to the Batesville area, in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. He said the private campus, which was mostly closed due to Covid-19, had essentially been put on lockdown.
Three local officials, including Batesville’s mayor, wrote a letter to Lyon trustees saying that King had shown “overwhelming disdain for his role as a leader in this community,” and had shattered their confidence in his ability to lead the college.
On August 21, nearly a month after the article was published in The Chronicle, King posted a message on the college’s website. In it, he contended that The Chronicle had misquoted him in speaking about the purported rally. The following day, he contacted the article’s author, Alexander C. Kafka, a senior editor at The Chronicle, and said he had made an error in not flagging, during a fact-checking exchange with Kafka, that his original statement about the location of the rally was wrong.
“I did it on my phone, and I missed the part about the Trump rally,” King wrote. “We were afraid that that was going to happen in Batesville and had prepared as I discussed. However, it ended up happening in another town in the Ozarks.”
King did not respond to a request for comment about his resignation on Friday.
On Tuesday, The Chronicle updated its article with a correction that said the description of a pro-Trump rally “refers to events elsewhere in Arkansas, not in Batesville, as King erroneously said earlier.”
In a statement to Shannon Haney, a blogger who questioned the president’s description of the rally, Brock Read, editor of The Chronicle, said a review of correspondence between Kafka and King confirmed that King had not been misquoted. Read said that on May 24, Kafka had contacted King to confirm that his paraphrasing of the president’s comments was accurate. After Kafka clarified two minor points at King’s request, King replied that the revised wording “looks good to me.”
In his August 21 statement, King didn’t disavow his characterization of parts of Arkansas outside Batesville. “While Lyon and the surrounding Batesville community might be welcoming and inclusive, we cannot pretend to expect the same in all areas of the state,” he wrote. “We value our relationship with the community that we have called home for almost 150 years. Moreover, we will continue to strengthen that relationship, but we will also continue to support and listen to our students from marginalized communities. The safety and welfare of our campus community is always our utmost priority.”
On Thursday, Perry L. Wilson, chairman of the Lyon College Board of Trustees, announced that the board had accepted King’s resignation, effective immediately. King had been president since 2017. The college’s provost, Melissa Taverner, will serve as interim president while a national search for a successor is conducted.