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Our previous coverage:

Three steps behind, and to the right

Three steps behind, and to the right, part 2 – a microcosm of our universe

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?

This morning I was contacted by KSHB-TV, the NBC affiliate in Kansas City, asking for an interview on the subject of the University of Central Missouri Board of Governors’ decision to not renew the contract of President Aaron Podolefsky. I agreed to the interview. We spoke for over twenty minutes. Only a few seconds of the interview were used for the station’s 6:00 p.m. broadcast of the story.

My transcript of our conversation:

KSHB-TV: …We’re, we’re kind of here to talk about what’s going on with the president. In a nutshell, people can’t find a bad word to say about him. Um, everything I read is glowing, and yet he’s not going to be here. They haven’t renewed his contract. Um, what’s going on?

Michael Bersin: I actually think that’s, that’s the problem. Um, we get word from the Board of Governors, uh, that they’re not renewing President Podolefsky’s contract. And yet they won’t tell us why.  Uh, he has a great deal of support among faculty. Uh, in my twenty years here Aaron Podolefsky has been the best president, in my opinion, for this institution.

KSHB-TV: Again, glowing reviews, so to speak, can’t find a bad word to say about him, yet there’s, there seems to be this mystery, and, and to be fair, I can’t remember someone’s contract not getting renewed other than in the instance of some sort of scandal or something where they actually didn’t talk about it. I understand it’s a personnel matter, but it certainly seems mystifying I guess.

Michael Bersin: I think that’s really the issue, is that people are mystified by this. And, uh, the other issue is that, uh, faculty are at universities, um, we’re here for a long time, uh, longer than most other stakeholders. Uh, students are here for a relatively short amount of time. Um, administrators do come and go, but faculty are here for the long term. So, the kinds of decisions that are made at institutions that, that affect the institution as a whole are felt very clearly by faculty. And so we do have an interest and we do assert our right to make our views known. What’s unfortunate is this Board of Governors doesn’t want to hear that. And I don’t think they want to, they don’t want to hear that. And I don’t think they care. What’s, uh, interesting to me is that, uh, the board…[]

KSHB-TV: Well, actually, can, can you help me out first? I, I don’t want to cover so much of the here was the petition, there was the answer, this was the meeting, but how did it first come to light? How did the petitioners, for example, become aware, I mean, obviously, the, President Podolefsky’s contract was coming up, uh, for renewal, but how did there become a concern, how did, how were you guys aware that there might be a chance he wouldn’t be renewed.

Michael Bersin: One of the problems is that, you know, there is, there is a definite end date to contracts. And one of the problems is that if you anticipate that the contract isn’t going to be renewed what you want to do is to, to do that with sufficient lead time so that a suitable search and a suitable, uh, replacement with all of the input, the, the university community, can be put into place. In this kind of short time frame, that’s going to be near impossibility. No matter what anybody tries to say about it. Uh, these, presidential searches are very expensive, if they’re done properly, they’re very expensive, very thorough processes because this effects the institution, um, obviously, in, in a manner that’s, uh, very profound.

KSHB-TV: So it’s definitely, in so many ways, gonna be a loss the university.

Michael Bersin: Oh, absolutely. And, uh, uh, that’s, again, that’s what’s mystifying. Um, the board just, I, I just don’t understand it. And, uh, there, there have been, I think this is, this is what it comes down to. I believe that the board doesn’t want to tell us their reasons because if they tell us the reasons that they’re doing this it, they’re either going to be embarrassed or they’re going to come under heavy criticism.

KSHB-TV: That seems a not unreasonable assumption. And again, we’re grasping here because we don’t know, because it’s such a mystery.

Michael Bersin: But, you know, people in the academic world, uh, we have to deal with what’s put in front of us and we have to examine it and look at it. Uh, the board could easily deal with this. Tell us what the problem is….

KSHB-TV: …Can you envision, and, I say this because I can think of many people who I know who are competent and charming, but are human and make a mistake. Can you envision a scenario where something happened that they do not, that might be a good reason for not renewing someone’s contract and that they don’t want to get out there? And they literally can’t talk about because it’s a personnel issue? I think there’s a question [crosstalk] in there, sorry.

Michael Bersin: This is, this is what’s important, uh, about this. The Missouri Sunshine Law allows you to close certain matters, it doesn’t require it. Uh, the board can, could easily explain this to us if they wanted to. What they’re doing is they’re hiding behind language that allows them to hide.

KSHB-TV: I, I have found that to be true. Whenever you give an entity a chance to hide they will always go that way until forced to do otherwise….I found something where they actually, they…the vote itself so they had each, each individual.

Michael Bersin: What, what’s interesting about that is they waited eleven days.

KSHB-TV: Eleven days to?

Michael Bersin: Release the, the, they told us about the vote and it took people making Sunshine requests to actually get the full information. [crosstalk]

KSHB-TV: …It came out, of course.

Michael Bersin: But, uh, you know, I guess people can speculate on the timing of that.

KSHB-TV: …Can you see a, a situation under which there would be, you know, I don’t know, I guess it is. It’s just a mystery. You can’t, I can’t really ask you to speculate about what the board did because we don’t know. And you’re not on the board, you’re not them so, without an answer, it remains a mystery I guess.

Michael Bersin: And, the,  the point is that it shouldn’t be a mystery. Because we’re the university community, the entire university community is owed an explanation by this board. And the problem with the board is they think they don’t need to communicate that. Uh, if I, if that isn’t a breach of their responsibility to this institution I don’t know what would be.

KSHB-TV: ….You can understand, if, if there were a good reason, that for whatever reason they, they couldn’t say, that there could be a situation where there’s some sort of reason that, that is good but they simply can’t put it out there, maybe [crosstalk]…

Michael Bersin: I, I actually, I actually categorically, uh, I , I think that that’s a, um, cop out.  Um, if it’s, if it’s, if there is a reason, and there’s a reason to do this then they need to give it because transparency is one, probably one of the most important things that we can do, um, when it comes to uh, a public institution like this. Uh, hiding behind, uh, hiding behind this kind of veil does the institution no good. It, it doesn’t instill confidence from anybody, the public, the faculty, the students, the staff.

KSHB-TV: Clearly not, it leaves everyone mystified and feeling, uh, well yeah, just, just uh, uncertain of why this was done and clearly a loss for, for the university….I do want to understand a little bit more of the time frame. W
hen did you, when did the petitioners first, um, understand that there might be a problem? Or did it just start out as, hey, we just want to, sort of, give a vote of confidence for a, a president we see as [crosstalk]….

Michael Bersin: Actually, this started, um, actually through the Faculty Senate, uh, I wasn’t on the Faculty Senate, but as a former Faculty Senate president I spoke to the issue, uh, this started, uh, um, in the spring where, where people wanted to express support for the president. And the Faculty Senate actually voted to support the president. Um, and then the continued inaction from the board, people started to get concerned. And it has to do with, again, the lead time and the time frame to do, you know, a proper search and go through the process if indeed a replacement would be needed.

KSHB-TV: Is that, in your experience, very unusual that the, the Faculty Senate might come out and say, we have a contract coming to an end, we’d just like to express our support for the, the guy who’s in? Is that [inaudible]?

Michael Bersin: Uh, I don’t know. You know, uh, faculty, especially tenured faculty, have the ability to speak out. And so they have the obligation to speak out. They don’t have to, but, you know, I, I believe we have an obligation to speak out. But, uh, the, uh, the staff, everybody, uh, the staff, administrators, generally if they don’t have tenure, uh, support staff, professional staff are employed at will. Uh, tenured faculty are not. And so it’s our obligation to speak out about the general welfare of the institution, and one of those things is the, the quality of leadership at the institution in the form of the president. And I sincerely believe that this president has met the mark as very, very, very highly, you know, as an excellent leader  for this institution.

KSHB-TV: That certainly seems to be the consensus. And it’s got to be frustrating to have expressed that and, and expressed it again, and seeing things just sort of go forward almost arbitrarily. And now the university has quite a loss to, to deal with I guess.  Um, is there anything we didn’t cover that you think is important that we, that we need to get across? Um, would you have a message to the, um, the students and the rest of the faculty at, at this time? I mean, really, it’s, I guess your message is [crosstalk] the Board of Governors need to speak.

Michael Bersin: I, I [crosstalk]…uh, I don’t, you know, I don’t speak for anybody else but me. Uh, and that’s important to note. Uh, I don’t speak for the students, I don’t speak for other faculty, and I don’t speak for any of the staff or administrators. Uh, all I can do is speak for myself and my twenty years at this institution.

KSHB-TV: Well it does have to be frustrating to, uh, see such an obvious situation where the support is there and it, then the actions just.

Michael Bersin: And, and that’s a question you need to ask the board. [crosstalk] If, if they’ll answer it.

KSHB-TV: And I’m going to assume, you know, it’s a matter of timing and, but I’m going to assume that even then they’re just going to reissue the, and you saw the statement from, uh, the president’s, uh, yeah, I assume that’s all they’re going to say. And even that, has nothing but good things to say.

Well, thank you. I appreciate your time….