Vice President for College Advancement, K. Johnson Bowles, unexpectedly leaves college

As of Friday March 29, the college no longer employs Vice President for College Advancement and Executive Director of the Geneseo Foundation, K. Johnson Bowles. Bowles’s departure allegedly came after multiple years of complaints from staff members in the Office of Advancement regarding Bowles’s leadership style. 

College President Denise Battles announced that Bowles was “no longer serving [in her positions] effective immediately,” according to a campus-wide email. Currently, Assistant Vice President for College Advancement Justin Johnston is serving as the “officer in charge.” 

The college has not announced yet what the process will be to find a permanent or interim replacement for Bowles, but Battles said in a phone interview that the college will likely conduct a national search, as is protocol for senior administrative positions. 

Battles declined to speak on the reason for Bowles’s departure. 

“Because it is a personnel issue and out of respect for my former colleague, Johnson Bowles, I will not share anything further about the nature of that transition,” Battles said. 

Members of the Office of Advancement met with Battles on Friday afternoon to speak about the transition, according to Director of Development Miglena Charpied. At the meeting, the college asked members of the office not to comment publicly about the transition. Seven of the eight members of the office who The Lamron asked to comment, declined; some cited the college’s proscription when they declined. 

Charpied, who started at Geneseo a year after Bowles in 2017, spoke on her experience working under the former vice president. Charpied spoke to The Lamron prior to the meeting where the college asked employees not to comment publicly. Charpied specifically highlighted Bowles’s contentious leadership style. 

“She had a very authoritarian leadership style—everything came from the top-down and she didn’t talk to us,” Charpied said. “We tried complaining to the college and to our unions, but nothing happened until now.” 

Charpied said that the members of the Advancement office were informed of Bowles’s departure only a couple hours before the college community received the email from Battles. The rationale for Bowles’s departure was not clarified any further to Advancement employees, according to Charpied. 

“It’s very, very bizarre,” Charpied said. “Everyone has been very tightlipped about this situation so no one knows what’s going on.”

Charpied also recounted three months from November 2018 to February 2019 where Bowles was on what the college called “personal leave.” Members of the office had very little contact with Bowles during this period, according to Charpied, and they received no explanation for her leave when Bowles returned. Charpied also said that when Bowles did return, she didn’t say anything about her absence to the staff.

During Bowles’s absence from campus, one member of Battles’s cabinet indicated that they had received no explanation of where Bowles was or whether the absence reflected a disciplinary sanction by the college. 

Battles would neither confirm nor deny whether Bowles was suspended during that period or whether her absence during that period had any bearing on her official departure on Friday March 29. 

“I have to emphasize again, you’re wanting me to discuss what really needs to be a confidential personnel situation,” Battles said. “That’s not something I’m prepared to do and this is out of deference to my former colleague and necessarily so.”

Since Bowles began at Geneseo, at least six members of the office have either retired or taken different jobs. Kimberly Faber, who worked in the office for 14 years before she left Geneseo in 2017, corroborated Charpied’s characterizations of Bowles’s behavior in the workplace. 

“I left my job because of [Bowles’s] lack of leadership, knowledge and inability to work or manage anyone,” Faber said. “Leaving my alma mater was not easy, but she was an unkind person who abused and treated colleagues poorly and was unable to foster relationships that are critical for any Advancement office.” 

Faber, who served as the second-in-command under Bowles, also emphasized how the negative impact of Bowles’s behavior specifically drove her to search for a position elsewhere. Faber currently serves as the Executive Director of Alumni Engagement at SUNY Binghamton. 

“I could no longer look donors in the face and assure them their investment was in good [or] competent hands,” Faber said. “I was unable to stay on and be successful. Her poor management style made it easy for me to process the fact I need[ed] to leave for my professional future.” 

The Vice President for Advancement is responsible for much of the fundraising and alumni relations work that the college conducts. The position-holder also serves as the ex-officio Chair of the Geneseo Foundation, which is a 501 (c) 3 not-for-profit organization that accepts donations and offers scholarships and grants to members of the Geneseo community. 

Before working at Geneseo, Bowles spent two years as the Vice President for Advancement at Warren Wilson College, a small liberal arts college in North Carolina. When The Lamron briefly spoke to a member of Warren Wilson’s Advancement office over the phone, they said that the characterization of Bowles as having a difficult leadership style “brought back many memories.” 

Battles spoke about whether Bowles’s departure indicates the college is looking to change directions. 

“I think we have a well-defined direction in terms of our advancement and our fundraising priorities,” Battles said. “At this point in time, my intention [is to look] forward.” 

Charpied emphasized that she felt Bowles created a significant negative impact for the college’s fundraising ability. 

“The worst part about all of this is that it creates a lot of uncertainty,” Charpied said. “People don’t want to donate to the college when there is all this uncertainty and when there is bad publicity.”