The Lincoln University's board of trustees decided Saturday to conduct an internal review of the school's president, Robert Jennings, who has been under fire for comments about women and sexual assaults while also being at the helm during drops in enrollment and financial ratings.
Chairwoman Kimberly Lloyd said after a closed two-hour session that the board "reviewed the actions of the president" and would refer the matter to an executive committee.
The committee of several board members will begin the review immediately, though no timetable was given for a decision.
The announcement pivoted away from a lengthy statement earlier in the day when Lloyd threw her support behind Jennings and said the board was "satisfied" in his leadership. It sparked renewed anger and calls for Jennings' resignation.
Jennings apologized Wednesday for comments he made at a September all-women's convocation, in which he discussed women making false rape claims. Some have interpreted those comments as blaming women for sexual assault.
"I have nothing to say," he said Saturday. "I'm going to wait for the committee's review."
At least 100 parents, students, faculty, and alumni waited outside the trustees meeting, hoping to hear from Jennings. The board refused to let anyone stand in the room and the 50 seats filled up by 8:30 a.m., leaving a frustrated crowd in the hallway straining to hear.
State and national representatives from the American Association of University Professors stood outside with signs calling for Jennings' resignation. One sign read, "Worst President Ever."
Students staged a silent protest, dressed in black and wearing duct tape over their mouths with phrases such as "It's like I'm invisible" and "Who am I to speak?" written on the tape. Most of the students refused to talk at all, writing on a note that they would make a unified statement Thursday.
Jared Thomas, a junior health science major from South Pemberton, N.J., did not participate in the protest but said he wants Jennings out.
"I love my Lincoln University, but I feel we could have better leadership," he said, adding that the national attention the comments received "branded us" and that males and females have a good relationship at the school.
Tatiana Foskey, a junior communications major, said she felt uncomfortable when she heard Jennings' remarks. "Everything about it was disrespectful. Rape is rape, no matter your gender," Foskey said.
"He voiced his opinion, didn't know when to stop, and now he has to face it."
Kevin Favor, a Lincoln professor of psychology, said he supported the board's decision to get more feedback.
"Ultimately we believe that there is an ill fit between Lincoln University and President Jennings. We trust that a complete review will come to that same conclusion," he said.
Late last month, faculty at Lincoln took a vote of no confidence in Jennings. Five months earlier, the university's alumni association also voted no confidence in Jennings, who has presided over the historically black university in rural Chester County since January 2012.
Alumni president Robert Ingram, Class of 1976, called the environment at the school "toxic."
The board "will prove to be somewhat derelict if they just kick the can." he said. "You just had this guy go viral - there are serious questions of his fitness for the job, period."
Ingram said one of Jennings' self-touted accomplishments was securing a portion of the university as a Keystone Urban Growth Zone. The state designation means the university can offer tax incentives to developers on 200 unused acres of its land. Ingram wondered if the project's future was tied to Jennings and whether that would affect a decision.
Faculty members have complained about dropping enrollment - a 7.3 percent decline after Jennings' first year - a decrease in the endowment, and negative financial ratings. Since 2009, Lincoln's full-time equivalent enrollment has fallen 26 percent. This year's numbers were expected to be about the same as last year, with 1,875 students.
Moody's Investors Service in May lowered its bond rating and gave Lincoln a negative outlook.
In her early statements, Lloyd said it was unfair to blame the rating and the decline on Jennings, because both started dipping before his arrival.
"The Board appreciates the unprecedented level of progress Dr. Jennings has made over the last 34 months. We believe it would have taken others much longer," Lloyd said.
The latest controversy arose from one of the separate convocations Jennings has started for women and men to mentor each group.
At the women's convocation, he told an auditorium full of women: "We have, we had, on this campus last semester three cases of young women who, after having done whatever they did with young men and then it didn't turn out the way they wanted it to turn out, guess what they did? They went to Public Safety and said, 'He raped me.' "
The university has been embroiled in the controversy since the speech received hundreds of views on YouTube and The Inquirer reported on the remarks.
A state audit was moved up because of the comments and will probably begin in January. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale called the comments "disturbing" and said they raised questions about whether Lincoln had a campus culture in which "the administration is not taking these allegations [of sexual assault] seriously."
At Saturday's meeting, the schools' auditor, Baker Tilly, gave a clean report from the previous fiscal year.