An anonymous letter and an outdated resume have cast a cloud over the search for a new president at the University of Tennessee, where Utah State University President Kermit Hall was a finalist last month.

Hall and American Council on Education lawyer Sheldon Steinbach characterize the search, which ended with John D. Petersen being named UT president on April 21, as "tainted" and "flawed."

Negative information about "several" of the final six candidates, including Hall, was submitted anonymously to key people involved in the search. Hall didn't find out about a secret letter about him until after Petersen was chosen.

Hall said the anonymous letter was sent to Tennessee media and the UT search committee. That letter portrayed Hall as being "in cahoots" with Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, who is chairman of the UT Board of Trustees.

In a copy of the letter obtained by The Deseret Morning News, the first line reads, "It is well known among those close to the Bredesen administration in Nashville that Governor Bredesen has carefully orchestrated the appointment of Dr. Kermit Hall, current president of Utah State University, to be the next president of the University of Tennessee." The letter bears the name "UT Savior" at the end.

"I don't have any idea who wrote the letter," Hall said. Nor could he imagine why someone would want to tarnish his name.

The letter suggests a "Mormon connection" between Hall and Gordon Gee, who was president at Ohio State University when Hall was dean over arts and sciences there. It's believed Gee, who is Mormon, was influential in the UT search.

Gee, now chancellor of the private Vanderbilt University in Nashville, is originally from Vernal and was the USU commencement speaker last year.

Hall said he's a Presbyterian. Further, he was critical of the letter not being brought to his attention sooner.

"I didn't think anybody even saw it," UT search executive director Margaret Perry said of the letter. She helped organize the search but did not take part in the final voting process, in which Hall finished second.

Hall didn't see the letter until he found a copy on his desk when he returned to USU. "Which meant that I never had the opportunity to defend myself publicly against a smear that was clearly being orchestrated privately," he said.

But many did see the letter, according to Jim Murphy, chairman of the search advisory council. He said search committee chairwoman Andrea Loughry, UT vice president Thomas Ballard and a lawyer for UT all saw the letter.

"We treated it just like any other of the anonymous kind of information that we had received about any candidate," Murphy said. "Which was we discounted it, and we didn't disclose it."

Murphy said he thought Hall knew about the letter and that a "miscommunication" led to Hall being kept in the dark.

"We thought he was already aware of that allegation," Murphy said.

Hall even received an apology from Atlanta-based Baker-Parker and Associates Inc., the private firm UT officials used to recruit candidates in a $250,000 search that many called one of the most open ever for a university president job.

Firm principle Dan Parker called Hall to apologize that the letter wasn't brought to his attention earlier. Parker was unavailable for comment.

It was also disclosed that Petersen was originally billed as University of Connecticut chancellor and provost for university affairs since 2000. He was not, however, chancellor at the time search committee members received rsums for Petersen, Hall and University of Colorado System's Jack O. Burns, who were chosen as the three finalists last month.

Baker-Parker was blamed for that mishap.


E-MAIL: sspeckman@desnews.com