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'Mush' turns to muck for educator

RICHMOND, Va. -- Insulting alumni and donors isn't the best way to show that you are trying to improve your university's national profile, as the president of the University of Richmond has found.

During a ''state of the university" speech in October at the private liberal arts college, William E. Cooper discussed the school's efforts to become more academically competitive by attracting more-talented students.

''The entering quality of our student body needs to be much higher if we are going to transform bright minds into great achievers, instead of transforming mush into mush, and I mean it," he said.

He later apologized for his remarks and said they were misinterpreted.

Some alumni remain supportive of Cooper's vision, but he has come under fire from many others, who are calling for him to step down and are threatening to withhold contributions until he is gone. At a recent home basketball game, some Richmond fans wore buttons proclaiming, ''Mushheads Unite."

''It's time to send Cooper to the 'mush' pit and get our beloved University back on a positive track," Keith Stojka, a 1996 graduate, wrote on an online petition calling for new leadership.

The number of signatures approached 2,000 yesterday, a day before he was to meet with the executive committee of the university's Board of Trustees. The full board will then take up his case, university spokesman Randy Fitzgerald said.

Cooper denied a request for an interview. University spokesman Dan Kalmanson said that no major donors have suspended their pledges over the controversy, but ''clearly the situation is something the Board of Trustees, the university does take seriously."

He said that students, faculty members, and alumni should ''look at the big picture, the positive things that Dr. Cooper has achieved, and weigh them against the remarks, the changes here that some people may not be supportive of."

Before coming to Richmond, Cooper was Georgetown University's executive vice president and dean of faculty at Tulane.

He started at Richmond in 1998 with a goal of boosting the school's national profile, and to that end Richmond has undertaken a $200 million fund-raising campaign. Cooper angered some students when the university raised tuition 31 percent this fall to nearly $35,000, among the nation's highest, despite a $1.1 billion endowment.

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