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This is the twentieth post in an ongoing series as we file Missouri Sunshine Law (RSMo 610) requests and investigate the non-renewal of the contract of University of Central Missouri President Aaron Podolefsky. Links to previous coverage are below the fold. BG and MB

At the end of 2007, with a few new members on the Board of Governors (appointed by then Governor Matt Blunt, a Republican), the President of the Faculty Senate was approached by a member of the board and asked what faculty reaction would be if the board bought out President Aaron Podolefsky’s contract.

What could have happened in 2007 to cause a board member to consider getting rid of the president of the university?:

U.S. News Ranks UCM Among the Best


WARRENSBURG – 08/17/2007 – President Aaron Podolefsky’s efforts to increase the university’s academic profile are paying off for UCM. The university was just named one of “America’s Best Colleges” by U.S. News & World Report….

No, that couldn’t be it.

We keep running into the evidence that something happened in 2007. Faculty Senate President Jack Rogers’ February 2008 letter to a different member of the board helps enlighten us a little more about what that might have been:

Governor Deleta Williams

Board of Governors

University of Central Missouri

February 4th, 2008

Dear Governor Williams,

As President of the Faculty Senate, I have chosen to write this letter on behalf of the faculty. It is unfortunate that this duty falls to me, but we feel that the gravity of the situation and the potential for irreparable harm to our university community compels us to speak out in support of our President, Dr. Aaron Podolefsky.

I have been contacted by a member of the UCM Board of Governors. The board member asked me what I thought the faculty’s response would be if an offer was tendered by the Board to “buy out President Podolefsky’s contract.” I immediately asked if such an offer was forthcoming from the Board; and if so, why I was being asked to comment.  The board member stated that ‘no official discussions or conclusions had been reached,’ but that several campus leaders were being asked what they thought the reaction of their respective constituents might be if such an action was proposed. I told the board member that I would need time to consider my response. Pursuant to that conversation, I have been contacted by other leaders of campus units to see if my opinion on the “Podolefsky buy-out” had been solicited.

To be frank, I was both disturbed by the tactic of the query and reluctant to speak for the faculty, as a whole, without first soliciting their input.  My tenure as President of the Faculty Senate has taught me that there is rarely a single response from the faculty on any issue, let alone one given to such potential for controversy. Rather than speak for the faculty, I elected to let them speak for themselves. I wish to make it clear that I make no claim that I speak for every single faculty member. However, given the sensitive nature of the local situation, I decided not to contribute to the climate of speculation by opening a general discussion of the topic. Instead, I posed the board member’s question to several key members of the faculty that experience has taught me reflect a fair representation of the faculty’s perspective on most issues. During that process, several other members of the faculty whom I had not soliciting input from approached me asking if the rumors of a potential “buy-out” were true. They have also shared their perspectives on the impacts of such an offer. To that end, five considerations have been articulated. No inferences should be made regarding their level of importance as a result of the order in which I have chosen to present them.

   * Vision vs. time –

     One of the concerns articulated by the board member was that Dr. Podolefsky’s recasting of the mission and vision of the University is taking much longer than anticipated. This, it was argued, has resulted in confusion and a loss of momentum.

     We do not agree with this analysis. We are of the opinion that we are moving as fast as is constructively possible. Our academic institution is unique and any comparison to a traditional business model would probably prove invalid. We are not a “top down” organization and change dictated from above would be met with significant resistance on the part of our faculty. We are committed to a collective process of identification. As a result, significant change within academe takes time. We have changed the name of the University. We have changed the mission statement; and thus, the core values underpinning our mission have been impacted. We believe in a positive way. However, vetting those changes through a process of shared governance takes time. We appreciate President Podolefsky’s commitment to the process of shared governance and his leadership throughout this much needed process.

   * Stability –

     One key factor identified as critical to our University’s future success, and directly tied to the discussion above, is stable leadership during the recasting of our vision and mission. Changing the senior leadership at this juncture would risk:

         o A loss of support for change from the faculty as they might see the work engaged in over the past two years as wasted effort.

         o A significant blow to faculty moral as they would see their efforts towards change unsupported by the Board since the senior leader responsible for the vision and leadership during the process was “bought out.”

         o A loss of momentum, which is ironically the concern expressed by the board member, as we go through both the hiring process and give the new president time to get adjusted, make his or her own appraisal of the situation, and perhaps map a different direction and vision. This could easily result in an eighteen month to two year delay before the process could begin anew.

         o An increase in confusion, again ironically a concern of the board member. This is directly linked to the argument above. What does the Board deem unacceptable enough to “buy out” the President? Is it his vision and contributions to the process? If the process of shared governance is not moving fast enough and the changes made to this point are unsatisfactory, then what does the Board deem acceptable?

         o This could potential lead to a lack of support for any future attempts to recast the vision and subsequent missions and direction of the university; thus creating stagnation.

         o Finally, we are concerned that this action would send the wrong message to our colleagues. How effective will we be in attracting the “best and the brightest” if we “buy out” our president? Since 2000, I have served under three department chairs, two deans, two interim deans, three provosts, one interim provost twice, and two presidents. My experience on campus is not unusual. I can say that during my tenure as Faculty Senate President, three issues have been central to the vast majority of discussions among the faculty. They are salaries, health care and stability.

   * Cost –

     Obviously there would be direct costs associated with a “buy out” and the subsequent hiring process. Additionally, the indirect costs of the peoplepower expended over the past two years on our recasting efforts would be wasted. There would also be costs associated with a new and improved recasting process.

   * Time on campus / accessibility / approachability –

     Another concern expressed by the board member
was the amount of time that Dr. Podolefsky spends in Jefferson City, Washington, D.C. and travelling to alumni events. It was argued that this isolated him from the faculty and distracted him from the day-to-day activities of the campus.

     We strongly disagree with this position. It is our analysis that Dr. Podolefsky is exactly where we need him to be. The day-to-day affairs of the university should fall to our vice-presidents and the provost. What we need is an advocate at the state and national level voicing our concerns, keeping our budget intact and soliciting additional funding through state and federal grants and set asides. We need a president who seeks out opportunities within our wider community to keep our alumni engaged and giving. With state allocations continually pressuring the viability of our mission, private donations are absolutely critical to our future success. We applaud Dr. Podolefsky for his leadership in these areas. In addition, my contact with the Missouri Association of Faculty Senates indicates that his leadership among the other university presidents has been extremely successful in defeating a number of legislative initiatives that had the potential to seriously impact our ability as a faculty to successfully achieve our mission, and, if passed, had the potential to make it difficult to attract out-of-state faculty colleagues and students.

     With regard to the concerns expressed over his accessibility and approachability, we find no fault with our president. He is committed to the process of shared governance and we have found him to be both engaged and concerned with his faculty.  

   * Issues of intellectual and administrative freedom –

     Several discussions around the local and campus communities have centered on the President’s commitment to both his intellectual and administrative freedom.  

         o Issue 1) His selection for the position of Vice-President for University Development.

           Dr. Podolefsky’s decision to offer the position to one of the candidates forwarded by the committee rather than another internal candidate who was not recommended was the correct decision. To do otherwise would have sent the message that committee work was unimportant and eroded his commitment to shared governance.

         o Issue 2) Mrs. Podolefsky’s decision to pursue legal action against the local school district.

           While the faculty members I discussed this issue with were divided in their opinions regarding the wisdom of Mrs. Podolefsky pursuing this action, they were strongly committed to the principle that to hold the President accountable for the professional choices of Mrs. Podolefsky would be incorrect.  

         o Issue 3) The loss of foundation contributions as a result of issues 1 & 2. The consensus of those involved in the discussion was that anyone who would withhold or threaten to withhold contributions was doing so for the wrong reasons. As a faculty, we are concerned that if the Board used the potential loss of contributions as a justification to “buy out” the President’s contract, it would send the wrong message to our students. In effect, any such action would have the potential to shift the focus of future discussions to questions of whether we can only afford to do the right thing so long as it doesn’t cost too much.

In summary, we are satisfied with both the leadership and the decision-making abilities demonstrated by President Podolefsky. We have found him to be a committed colleague, an effective advocate at the state and national levels, an engaged diplomat to our alumni, and an intelligent and insightful leader. As a result, we wish to express to the members of the Board of Governors that we strongly support his continued tenure as our President.

Further – and I take sole responsibility in making this recommendation – I suggest, given the controversial and locally divisive nature of this situation, that the Board express its public support of the President so that we, as a university community, can confidently refocus our attention on more important issues. I would welcome to opportunity to meet with the Board to discuss the contents of this letter or to answer any questions you may have.

Respectfully submitted,

Dr. Jack E. Rogers, President

University of Central Missouri Faculty Senate

Somebody was unhappy that they didn’t get an administrative job they wanted? Oh, really?

Yep, nothing succeeds like success. Or, maybe the motto of the current majority on the Board of Governors should be: “no good deed should go unpunished.”

Our previous coverage:

Three steps behind, and to the right (January 25, 2008)

Three steps behind, and to the right, part 2 – a microcosm of our universe (September 21, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”? (October 15, 2009) (transcript of a portion of the live radio broadcast)

It wasn’t just about a tree (October 21, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement?”: I heard it on the radio (October 21, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement?”: let’s not get cut out of the will (October 22, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement?”: $87.75 will get you one sheet of paper (October 23, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement?”: They’re not playing hardball, they’re playing cat and mouse
 (October 23, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement?”: a cola and some scoreboards (October 24, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement?”: a few more pieces of the puzzle? (October 28, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: your silence means consent (October 29, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: let’s not get cut out of the will, part 2 (October 30, 2009)

Old media irony impairment (October 30, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement?”: I heard it on the radio, part 2 (October 31, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: where everybody knows your name (October 31, 2009)

Methinks that someone is paying attention! (November 2, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: Bond, Stadium Bond (November 4, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: where everybody knows your name, part
(November 4, 2009)

“A Gentleman’s Agreement”?: I heard it on the radio, part 3 (November 5, 2009)