Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Aca-drama, or life in the executive's seat

Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle, not to mention the New York Times and the appropriate local and state newspapers, are all having a field day with the scandals at North Carolina State University, University of Illinois, and the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. In each of these three settings, the public university leaders are embroiled in pretty bad scandals. While they all are bad, NC State's scandal has the most fallout.

Chancellor Oblinger of NC State has been shown as a liar who misrepresented his work behind the scenes with the head of the state's Board of Trustees and the Governor Mike Easley's staff to create a job for the Governor's wife, Mary Easley. He also was part of the discussion to reorganize her job at the end of her first 3-year contract for $80K-$90K to secure her a larger job with an $88 raise to $170K a year for 5 years. A quick read of some of the MANY documents released to the US Attorney General's Office (as part of the investigation of the ex-governor) and posted on the university's website made me think that the decision was based partly on the hope that Mary Easley would continue to raise a ton of money for the university. A well-connected politico, Easley actually raised money from several state business folks WHILE her husband was still in office.

To make matters worse, it also looks like Oblinger got his Provost to fall on his sword and take a deal to resign his position and return to the faculty. In return, Oblinger sweetened the Provost's severence deal for resigning. The Greensboro News and Record notes:

[Provost] Nielsen resigned on May 14, citing "intense public attention and criticism" of his hiring of former first lady Mary Easley. Oblinger said in a news conference at the time that Nielsen resigned on his own. But officials would not release the terms of his separation.

Then, last week, Oblinger and other university officials said that Nielsen would keep his provost's pay for six months while he had a six-month study leave. Oblinger said the payout to Nielsen was part of his original contract and was "very standard." The documents now show otherwise.

On Saturday, officials disclosed that Nielsen would actually be paid over 18 months — then later said it would actually be over three years.

A university policy says such deals should be for a maximum of a year.

So, the Chancellor breaks the rules to hire the governor's wife, breaks the rules to create a new, higher-paying job, and breaks the rules again to pay off the Provostm and lies about each decision along the way. One bad decision begets another.

As a result, Chancellor Oblinger, Provost Nielsen, BOT Chair McQueen Campbell, and Executive in Residence/Instructor Mary P. Easley are all gone from their respective positions--all resigned except for Easley, who refused to resign and was eventually fired.

As Inside Higher Education somberly notes:
David Ashley at UNLV and B. Joseph White at Illinois still have their jobs,
but the heat is turning up on both of them. Ashley has taken criticism for his
communication style -- not to mention his wife’s harsh treatment of staff -- and a university regent recently said “Nobody’s really happy with David right now.” As for White, a Chicago Tribune exposé about the influence lawmakers and other powerful
figures have on admissions at Illinois has prompted at least one legislator to call for the president’s resignation.

Basically, President David Ashley and his wife have run into culture clashes with the folks at UNLV. His wife, who gave up an $80,000/year actual job to play (volunteer-wife) hostess on campus ran into troubles when she got frustrated that staff didn't want to report to her or accommodate her complaints. She wrote nasty emails and pissed off everyone, as far as I can tell. The President ran into similar problems in not building good relationships on campus. It also didn't help that he brought in someone who some are characterizing as a friend to do his "objective" evaluation, a move that made some of the faculty and governing board members a little uncomfortable. Then, notified by the university system Chancellor that his job was on the line, President Ashley left for China with his wife, leaving one regent to note, "Nobody's really happy with David right now." (UPDATE: President Ashley returned home ahead of schedule to meet with the Chancellor and address the brewing crisis.)

President White is in trouble for a "clout list" that was created to identify applicants to U of I who are connected to important politicians, donors, alumni, and other VIPs. According to an exposee by the Chicago Tribune, the clout list seems to allow folks who aren't quite making the grade to get the little extra they need to get into the university. It starts feeling even grosser when the headline reads, "Clout goes to college: Rezko's relative is among those admitted to U of I in shadow of system influenced by trustees and other insiders ." The Tribune notes:
Though documents obtained by the Tribune show that admissions officers worried
about the "terrible" and "weak" academic records of some applicants, the university redacted their academic qualifications, preventing analysis of just how far below U. of I. standards prospective students fell.

The governor of Illinois has established a panel to examine the U of I's admissions process.

As a bawdy and loud Jew from NJ, I am less appalled by the issues at UNLV regarding tone and communication--hell, that could be me!--than I am by the "clout list" that gives some applicants for Illinois an unfair advantage getting into the school of their choice. It is a public school, for goodness sake. As the product of big, flagship, public schools, I am disgusted. If those of us everyday people cannot get into the state school on our merits, our strengths, our abilities and our promise, what is the damn point of having a state school? It is like the state of Illinois is so freaking politically corrupt that they have to bastardize the university application process as well. How privileged and entitled do they think they should be? It makes me crazy.

Sometimes the best thing one can take away from all of the Aca-drama in the news these days is a primer on "what not to do when I am running something." The gf and I have made a deal that if I ever get into a position of power (unlike the little administrative job I hold now, where the only power I wield is over students and the occasional adjunct instructor), she will help me be careful and thoughtful in my actions. The ugliest messes seem to have to do with spending university money on personal things, poorly managing up and down, and moving too quickly on one's personal agenda and leaving the joint visioning behind. I am likely to follow the model of the new interim Chancellor at NC State, former UNC-Charlotte Chancellor Jim Woodward, who had charged his staff at Charlotte with pointing out anything that seemed awry or improper in his actions. He also insisted on paying for his own travel and kept receipts vigilantly. Sometimes I wish they would profile more successful administrative leaders, but that just doesn't keep us tuning in and logging on.

Ah, well. Tune in next week... same bat time, same bat channel.

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