Hey Faculty! Your Priorities Need Alignment!

In June I wrote a post about Alexander Kemos, who faked his resume, landed a highly remunerative job at Texas A&M, rose quickly to an even more remunerative position, cozied up to the university president, got caught in his lies and was sent packing.

Now comes word that another senior official at A&M has lost his lucrative perch on the administrative ladder, although this time the malfeasance seems to be institutional rather than personal. Or maybe it is personal, because Robert Hash was relieved of his duties as vice dean of the medical school—and demoted to an untenured faculty position—because “he had personality differences with other administrators,” according to A&M mouthpiece/general counsel Andrew Strong.

Of course, if you ask ex-Dean Hash you get another story, one of ethics violations, real estate chicanery, sweetheart deals, and institutional retaliation for whistle-blowing. You can read all about it in the Austin, Texas statesman.com, then decide for yourself if “personality differences” constitutes a demote-able offense. You might even be moved to ask yourself if, in academic workplaces, “personality differences” play a role in getting the brass ring, tenure, the job for life. Or you can simply enjoy the farce of a lawyer saying something supremely stupid.

Dr. Hash got demoted when he wondered if the cost per-square-foot was too high.

I am interested in this all-too-familiar tale because of its similarities to what happened recently at Washburn University. There is a key difference between the two sagas, however, one well worth a few moments’ contemplation. The Washburn whistleblowers, women, were fired outright; ex-Dean Hash, a man, was demoted. For those of you out there who like to think of colleges and universities as bastions of all things enlightened, wake up and smell the sexism. When something ugly happens on a campus, you can bet the farm that punishment will be meted out along gender lines reminiscent of those found in Sharia law.

A long-time colleague of mine, a woman I respect as highly for her professional expertise as I do for her warmth and compassion, was recently given her walking papers at a small liberal arts college located in Collegetown USA. Her “supervisor”—a faculty member put in charge of my colleague’s non-academic division—let her go after subjecting her to a year of petty humiliations.

Since this scenario—a new male boss enters the picture and it’s bye-bye women of a certain age—has been replayed ad nauseum in the last few years at Liberal Arts College USA, my former colleague was not surprised by her dismissal. She, like every other member of the staff and administration, served at the pleasure of the trustees, so unemployment lurks around every corner ready to getcha at a moment’s notice.

But what, you might wonder, had this particular administrator done to incur the trustees’ displeasure? According to her boss, she was “not in alignment” with her fellow administrators. Keep in mind that this is a liberal arts institution, not a school of chiropractic, so her “alignment,” or lack thereof, should not have been an issue at all. But, just like a personality difference, a difference of alignment can be fatal when the stakes are every man for himself.

And that’s pretty much how it is these days at LAC USA: every man for himself. Women are useful so long as their alignments conform to the patriarchy’s specifications, but female administrators are about as welcome on campus as full-need students with C- averages and no claims to victimhood. As a former administrator and a woman still, I scratch my head over how so sorry a situation has come to pass.

If we can’t adjust her alignment, she’ll be the next to go!

Actually, I don’t. I know exactly why it happened. When former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis ran for president, he evoked what he called an old Greek proverb to describe the Reagan-Bush administration. Fish, the governor said, rot from the head first. Not a pretty image, but a compelling one and applicable today at LCA USA.

The official presidential portrait

The college has been adrift for five years now, when a new president arrived and promptly announced that he had been hired to “clean up the mistakes of the past.” And to his credit, that is what he did. Noticing that the president had to use the same toilet as the rest of the male administrators on his floor, he acted decisively: the very first bricks-and-mortar project he “tasked” the buildings and grounds department with was the installation of a bathroom, complete with shower, for his personal use. After that, construction and renovation pretty much stalled on campus, but one terrible sin of the past had been redressed. The next wrong the president righted was to cut down on the amount of driving that he did. This was not so much a go-green gesture as it was long-overdue recognition that it was absurd to expect a college president would not have a car and driver at his disposal.

The Throne Room: A President’s Enduring Legacy

Having addressed his two most pressing priorities first, the president then turned to the meat-and-potatoes of college life, the mission and future of the campus. He penned a think-piece intended to stimulate the faculty and the board to begin strategic planning for the years ahead. The LCA USA, he wrote, needs to “reinvent liberal arts education,” “educate students for a global economy,” “find away to become sustainable.” Are you yawning yet? This tattered list of been-there, done-that shibboleths has floated around every college campus for decades—the only difference being some of those colleges years ago turned their rhetoric into action.

But the president’s approach to planning was two-pronged. For the board he wrote an annual retrospective chronicling his achievements of the past year and his goals for the coming academic year, thus guaranteeing that LCA USA would have an event horizon no further out than the president’s next evaluation and compensation review.

Such an iteration of incremental enhancements year-to-year can accrete to overall improvements in the college. The substitution of short-term projects for long-term aspirations and directions is worse than no planning at all, however, for it presents a convincing illusion that the long-term interests of the college are being served. Here we are five years later still waiting for a strategic planning process to begin.

In the interim, though, the president has continued his bold correction of the “mistakes of the past”: nary a woman in charge of, well, anything on campus five years ago is still present and accounted for on payday. My colleague is simply the most recent in a long line of female former LCA employees joining the queue at the unemployment office. Men who didn’t measure up were given different titles and new offices.

But let’s hold our noses and revisit Governor Dukakis’s decaying flounder. The president also worked his mojo on the LCA USA board of trustees, once a national model of diversity with a heady mix of men and women, blacks and whites, young and old. As a trustee retired (or resigned), chances are if he were a man he was replaced by a man and if she were a woman she was replaced by a man. The president convinced the board that it needed a shake-up, so a game of musical chairs began whereby the heads of various committees were replaced. When the music stopped and the chairs were filled, guess what? With one lone exception, all of the women who had led committees had been relieved of their duties so that a man could take their place. They don’t call them “chairmen” for nothing, after all, and with the men back where they belong—in charge—the president could finally say his board was in alignment with the as-yet unspecified and unplanned-for future goals of the college. Oh, happy day.

At last the president has assembled his dream team. No females need apply.

My colleague should wear her premature retirement as a badge of honor. She has joined the ranks of some impressive professionals. More than their ouster, these women share something else: all held non-faculty positions. Their commitment to the college, their contributions, their wisdom all counted for naught, and there was no safety net of tenure to protect them from the caprices of a misogynist president.

And all the while, the faculty stands by and enjoys the show. So sad. By their failure to act, the faculty will get the administrators they deserve. And then it really will be too late.

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7 thoughts on “Hey Faculty! Your Priorities Need Alignment!

  1. The fish head picture is absolutely the best illustrative material you have ever used. It creeped me out looking at it and I can still see it quite clearly in my mind. Thanks a lot.

  2. No comment just a question. In referring to the presidential commode you used the word “tasked”. Does the person who uttered this useless and somewhat loathsome word refer to “employees” or the dreaded “subordinates” as “reports”?

      • This is very interesting. “Your people” is so 80s and “tasked” is so 00s techno-phony. This is a terribly coflicted patios. The reason I axed my question is because it has been my experience that people who say, “tasked” are generally inclined to say “reports” instead of “employees”. I was asked (not that long ago) by a new board chairbeing, “How many reports do you have?”
        I was thrown off guard. I’d never been asked that question. My immediate thoughts were who cares? My mail box is usually stuffed with reports I neither wanted nor asked for. There are probably stacks of them in here, I certainly don’t keep a running count. I asked the chairbeing why that was important and was informed I really ought to know how many people (?!) reported to me. Oohhh

  3. Pingback: A Rogue’s Round-Up: College Presidents Plunge en masse into Hot Water « Call Me "Miss"!

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