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Patricia Nelson Limerick has been fired from her longtime position as faculty director and chair of the board of the Center of the American West, which she co-founded in 1986 at the University of Colorado. She remains a Professor of History at the school. (Honey Aschenbrenner, University of Colorado)

In the wake of a new dean’s sudden firing of renowned historian Patty Limerick, the co-founder and 37-year director of the University of Colorado’s Center of the American West, the entire executive committee of the center’s board has resigned.

And more board members are leaving. 

“This may be the end of the center and that is a very big loss because it was such a great place to deliberate on issues that are so important to the West,” said Sam Mamet, who joined the board in 2019 after serving 40 years at the Colorado Municipal League, including 15 years as executive director. “The center was where we could explore water, energy, policies, identities, culture and really the history of the West. All of that could be lost without Patty. I’m just so fearful that the loss of the center is a real possibility here.”

Glen Krutz, the new dean of CU’s College of Arts and Sciences, dismissed Limerick last week, sparking outrage among her many fans and supporters of the center. Limerick, a tenured professor at CU and a former winner of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant, founded the center in 1986, creating a forum that has shepherded Western thought and identities through its books, films and educational programs. 

Krutz, a former dean at Oklahoma State University who took over the administrative position at CU in July, declined to comment. He directed inquiries to the school’s media relations team, which on Friday described Limerick’s firing as “a difficult decision to part ways,” but said it was “an appropriate decision to have a change now and begin a new era.”

The university’s statement said an interim director will be named soon and that the center will “continue to play a vital role at CU.”

Sources have told The Colorado Sun the firing revolves around complaints from an employee Limerick hired at the center. She told friends the school investigated and dismissed those complaints. She told one friend the complaints were “absurd and bizarre.” 

“I am appalled by the callous, disrespectful, uninformed, mean-spirited and short-sighted manner in which the university has treated Professor Limerick,” Chris Whitney, the vice-chair of the center’s board alongside Limerick, wrote in a letter he sent to Krutz this week announcing his resignation from the board. 

“The university loudly touts its commitment to fairness and respect, but it is abundantly clear that the emperor has no clothes,” he wrote. “Professor Limerick’s firing lays bare the emptiness of that rhetoric and makes a mockery of those purported values. It underscores the difference between posturing and reality. It is a classic example of form over substance.”

Whitney spoke to The Sun and made clear his perspective was from himself as an individual and not connected to his work as Colorado Brand Commissioner, leading the Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Brand Inspection Division. 

Whitney said all five members of the board’s executive committee resigned this week and more board members were following suit. The board has 30 directors and 32 emeritus directors. 

In February 2021 that executive committee sent a letter to Theresa Hernandez, the associate dean for research at CU, saying it “unanimously and enthusiastically” supported Limerick’s reappointment as director of the Center of the American West. The committee directed Hernandez to Limerick’s January 2021 blog post and annual report from the center. The committee’s endorsement letter, written by Whitney, said the report “summarizes a stunning record of accomplishment on a variety of fronts — scholarship, innovation, outreach, engagement, fundraising, leadership, agility and adaptability.”

Limerick earned $30,400 for her role as faculty director of the center in 2022, with the position listed as 2.5% of a full-time employee. In 2021, she earned $28,881 for her work at the center. She remains a tenured history professor at the university. (She commented on Thursday that her removal from the faculty director position was unexpected and she was “considering her options.”)

Whitney called Krutz’s decision “ham-handedness.” His resignation letter points to Limerick’s “unique blend of wit, intellect, decency, curiosity, patience and willingness to listen and engage” as the inspiration behind the center’s influence over Western scholars, students and policy makers. 

“That she should be sacked without a meaningful opportunity to be heard is disgraceful. I suspect it will redound to the detriment of the University,” Whitney wrote in his letter to Krutz, noting his undergraduate and graduate degrees from CU. “In the circumstances, I take no pleasure in either. I am embarrassed to be an alumnus.”

Jason Blevins

The Colorado Sun — jason@coloradosun.com Email: jason@coloradosun.com Twitter: @jasonblevins