Headmaster to Resign Amid Lawsuit : Courts: The head of Thacher School says accusations of sexual discrimination and harassment played a part in his decision.


The headmaster of Thacher School has announced that he will resign in July, in part because of a sexual harassment and discrimination suit brought against him and the school.

Willard G. Wyman, 61, headmaster of the 103-year-old institution since 1976, announced his resignation Monday during a student assembly.

School officials announced that Wyman would become headmaster emeritus in July, assuming responsibility for a $5-million fund-raising project to build a new dormitory on the sprawling, wooded campus five miles east of Ojai.


On Wednesday, Wyman denied all the allegations against him and the school and said the lawsuit--filed in February in Ventura County Superior Court by former riding instructor Barbara Orr--”only played a minor part in my decision.”

In the discrimination suit, Orr said she left her 11-year post as a riding instructor after she was denied a promotion to head of the equestrian program.

The suit alleges that Wyman told her that the school would not put a woman in the post.

Orr also contends that she was the victim of physical and verbal sexual harassment when Wyman made unwanted sexual advances and touched and kissed her without permission.

Although she declined to comment on the pending litigation, Orr was pleased to hear that Wyman had resigned. “I’m relieved that he is no longer in a position to do what was done to me,” she said.

The reason that Orr was not promoted is still being debated, but Thacher attorney Jonathon F. Light denied that there was any harassment or discrimination during Orr’s employment at the school.

Richard Norman, Wyman’s attorney, also insisted that there was no sexual discrimination involved in the decision not to hire Orr for the $40,000-a-year post.


However, assistant headmaster Michael Mulligan admitted that Wyman told Orr that the school wanted a rugged, male cowboy figure with ranching and roping experience who could inspire the boys to take an active part in the riding program.

“It was really a matter of asking, ‘What did the school need?’ ” Mulligan said, adding that Orr had a knee injury at the time that she applied for the job and could not ride at all.

“The man we hired, because of his background in roping cows and ranching, has brought a lot of the boys back into the riding program who were drifting,” he said.

Keeping students in the riding program is critical to the Thacher School curriculum, which mixes a rugged equestrian and camping program with a rigorous academic course load that regularly lands many of its 220 students in the Ivy League.

Tuition for one year at the school, the oldest private boarding academy this side of the Mississippi River, will be $18,000 next year, Wyman said.

The outdoorsy approach to education is a legacy of school founder Sherman Day Thacher, who opened the school in an orange grove near Ojai in 1889, offering young men from across the country a chance to live the harsh life of the Old West while receiving an education.


One of Wyman’s legacies was his decision to begin admitting women in 1977.

During an interview in his second-floor office, which looks out on the schools’ tennis courts, Wyman said he was not sad that his 16-year tenure was coming to an end.

“I had been talking to the board about stepping aside for several years, and this seemed the time to do it,” he said.

Citing other accomplishments, Wyman noted that during his years as headmaster, the endowment fund has increased from about $1 million to more than $20 million. He also said there has been a vast improvement in the school’s racial and cultural diversity and a more than sevenfold increase in the amount of financial aid provided to needy students.

“This is a great institution and a wonderful school, but the job can be wearing on you,” Wyman said.

An example of that arose Wednesday when Wyman approved a faculty decision to expel three students for using drugs, a violation of the Thacher student honor code.

Students and staff said they expected Wyman to resign after rumors of the lawsuit circulated throughout the school for weeks.


Wyman’s decision to resign was made in part to deflect negative publicity directed at the school, said Mulligan, who will serve as interim headmaster for the 1992-93 school year.

“Bill does not want to be the center of anything that will weaken the school,” Mulligan said.

Students praised Wyman as a headmaster Wednesday, saying he will be missed. But most said he was right to resign.

“It was necessary and appropriate because of all the talk going around about his case with Barbara Orr,” sophomore Brian Bennett said.

Senior Paige Fulton said the resignation was the end of an era: “We knew it was coming, because of all the rumors, (but) it’s sad,” she said.

“I wouldn’t even be here if not for him, because he’s the one who let girls in,” Fulton said.