Common Application Announces Abrupt Change in Leadership

Rob Killion, the Common Application’s executive director, has left the organization he led for nearly 10 years, but he insists he did not do so willingly.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the Common Application announced that Mr. Killion had stepped down. In an interview, Thyra Briggs, president of the Common App’s Board of Directors, said Mr. Killion had decided to leave following conversations about the organization’s future. “Ultimately, it was Rob’s decision to step down,” she said.

In an interview, Mr. Killion dismissed that characterization. “That’s PR-speak,” he said. “I was fired.”

Mr. Killion said he received a telephone call at 8:45 Wednesday morning at his hotel, in Virginia, near the Common Application’s future offices. Two members of the board’s executive committee, he said, asked to meet with him in a conference room at his hotel. The meeting apparently did not last long.

“I was told, ‘Effective immediately, your services are no longer required,’” Mr. Killion said. “When I asked why, they said, ‘It’s time for new leadership.’”

Some admissions officials had predicted that one or more of the Common App’s leaders would depart following a tumultuous fall. For months a slew of technical problems dogged the brand-new version of the organization’s online-application system, causing headaches for students and counselors, and prompting colleges to push back deadlines. In light of those problems, some enrollment officials have questioned the organization’s direction.

Late last year, the Common App’s board hired a consulting firm to conduct a “complete and expeditious review” of the organization’s structure and technology. Ms. Briggs, vice president for admission and financial aid at Harvey Mudd College, said on Wednesday that board members would soon receive and review the firm’s final report.

Although they have yet to decide on the qualifications for Mr. Killion’s replacement, Ms. Briggs said board members would probably seek someone with experience in both technology and admissions. ”We’re going to take a very deliberate internal look at what we need,” she said. “Right now our No. 1 priority, bar none, is to make sure that on August 1 we have an application that is reliable.”

Mr. Killion said he now felt “free” to describe how and why the online system experienced so many problems over the last year: ”The Common Application’s Board of Directors is making me the scapegoat …,” he said. “And I will have much more to say about this publicly soon.”

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