Tag Archives: college presidents

Open Season on College Presidents As Faculty ‘Mobs’ Wield Power

The no-confidence season for college presidents got off to an early start this spring with a nay vote from the Michigan State faculty for the university’s interim president and the entire Board of Trustees in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. Starting with the angry rebellion against Harvard president Lawrence Summers in 2005, faculties have been increasingly willing to mobilize to bring down senior-level administrators. Summers was targeted after he suggested at an academic conference that innate male-female differences might possibly provide a partial explanation why mathematics and engineering faculties remain so heavily male.

While there was no evidence of discrimination in hiring, Harvard’s hastily formed Caucus for Gender Equality charged Summers with failing to hire enough female professors, and Summers retracted his suggestion and issued what The Atlantic’s Stuart Taylor, Jr. called a “groveling Soviet show trial style apology.” A short time later Summers resigned.

Sometimes faculty-led protests, what social scientists call “mobbings,” can have deadly consequences. In 2006, UC Santa Cruz chancellor Denise Denton leaped to her death from a 42-story San Francisco high rise in the wake of a well-orchestrated attack by the Santa Cruz faculty that included death threats, harassment, vandalism and a hostile media campaign. At the height of the protests, someone threw a large metal pole through a window in Denton’s home, shattering glass throughout her living room. The San Francisco Chronicle noted that Denton, who had received a doctorate in electrical engineering from MIT and won a prestigious national award for encouraging women and girls in science had “very high standards…she expected people to perform.”

Before it was applied to academia, the term “mobbing” was used almost exclusively in zoology, characterizing the behavior of small birds ganging up aggressively on a larger predator bird.” Emboldened by the Summers success, faculty at the New School mobilized in 2008 to remove their President, Bob Kerrey, a Vietnam war hero, winner of the Medal of Honor, and 2-term Senator (D-NE). Faculty complaints focused—as they nearly always do—on faculty perceptions of Kerry’s lack of commitment to shared governance. Professor Jim Miller, the public face of what New York Magazine called “the New School faculty’s discontents,” complained that Kerry never understood “what was special” about the New School. Miller believed that Kerrey “doesn’t get its special anarchy and founding moments. He just sees it as an economic puzzle to be solved.”

The faculty had a special contempt for Kerrey’s war service—leading the interviewer to write: it was hard not to look around and think: “These are the kinds of people who’ve given Kerrey grief from the moment he came home from Vietnam.” Although Kerrey survived for a short while after the faculty no-confidence vote, he told a New York Magazine interviewer: “I was sitting with my 7-year old with a bunch of screaming maniacs outside my building, thinking, who needs this?”

No-confidence votes are almost always about shared governance—usually focusing on how university funds are allocated to faculty-favored programs. Similar complaints emerged at Mount St. Mary’s in 2016 when the faculty voted “overwhelmingly” to ask President Simon Newman to resign. That vote drew national media attention when angry faculty members forwarded confidential emails to the campus newspaper. Newman, a Los Angeles private equity manager and strategic planner, was hired in 2014 amid serious budget concerns at Mount St. Mary’s. In 2013, Forbes ranked it one of the “least financially fit schools in America.” In the Forbes financial rankings of 927 colleges, Mount St. Mary’s was one of 107 colleges to receive the D grade—ranking 888th out of 927 in terms of the balance sheets and operational strength.

Newman was hired to help turn the ailing University around. A year later he found himself at the center of a faculty-led firestorm over some intemperate remarks he made about retention. According to media sources, Newman was talking privately with some faculty members about retention strategies when he jokingly said: “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but sometimes you just have to drown the bunnies…put a Glock to their heads.” The faculty did not appreciate the joke.

But, the truth is that the intemperate remark was not the real cause of faculty anger. Rather, Newman was suggesting curricular changes to reduce the number of required philosophy and humanities courses in the Core. The Core is often “sacred ground” for humanities professors on Liberal Arts campuses like Mount St. Mary’s—a kind of “third rail” that administrators know can never be touched. It is not a coincidence that most “no-confidence votes” emerge from Arts and Sciences faculty.

Newman paid a high price for even suggesting that it would benefit students to have the flexibility to take more science and math courses by reducing—slightly—the required humanities courses. In an 87 to 3 vote on February 12, 2016, the faculty released an open letter saying, “we appeal to your generosity of spirit and ask that you resign your position for the good of our community by 9 am on February 15, 2016.”  The Board eventually demanded that Newman step down.

There is often a critical incident—like Newman’s bunny joke—that provide a rationale for the overt mobbing to begin. Researchers know that these incidents are just the “struck match…the kindling’s been stacking up for years, dry and brittle and some of it drenched in gasoline.” This is the real cause of the conflagration.Issues surrounding shared governance almost always precede the incident—and then, the rumors begin. At Mount St. Mary’s there were rumors that President Newman, a former private equity chief executive, was going to “dilute” the college’s Catholic identity.

Jesuit Universities have been especially hard hit as Fordham University, Creighton, and the University of St. Louis have all experienced “no-confidence” votes in their Presidents in the past few years. On April 7, 2017, faculty members at Fordham voted no confidence in the University’s President, the Rev. Joseph M. McShane in response to a recent salary and benefits package offered by university administrators.  The Jesuit Creighton University faculty issued a no-confidence vote in 2015 against the strategic plan that had been crafted under the former Creighton President, the Rev. Timothy R. Lannon, S. J.—claiming that it was drafted and enacted without allowing for thoughtful criticism and feedback from students, faculty and staff and tended to “import aims, goals, reward systems, and methods of social engineering suited more to corporate America than to an institution of higher education.”

According to media reports, St. Louis University’s Fr. Lawrence Biondi devoted 26 years to leading the Jesuit university to prominence—increasing both the number and the quality of the students, doubling the acreage of the school, and stabilizing a huge swath of the city, making the Grand Center arts district, and extending SLU’s influence throughout the city and the world.” St. Louis’s mayor Francis Slay called him “one of America’s greatest college presidents.” But it could not save him from a faculty mobbing action apparently focused on a tenure dispute and an unpopular academic vice president.

Of course, some of these no-confidence votes are the result of self-inflicted wounds. Last month, Beverlee J. McClure, the beleaguered former president of Adams State University drew national media attention because of allegations that she bullied faculty and retaliated against her critics—and wore an unfortunate “overweight plumber” costume to a faculty Halloween party.

In yet another offensive choice in a Halloween costume appears to have contributed to derailing the career of University of Louisville President James Ramsey when a 2015 photo surfaced showing Ramsey and his staff dressed as Mexican stereotypes with fake mustaches, sombreros, and maracas. While the costume was offensive to some, the critical incident brought attention to serious financial concerns. A 2017 audit revealed that the university suffered more than $100 million losses from mismanagement and excessive spending during his tenure. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported on July 14, 2017, that “the university is poised to go after (his) personal assets.”

An increasing number of college presidents are becoming swept up in the fallout from the #metoo movement. Bates Technical College President Ron Langrell was placed on paid administrative leave last month over allegations that he has been intimidating and demeaning employees, and that he engages in “unwanted hugging.” And, last March, University of Texas, San Antonio’s longtime President, Ricardo Romo, announced that he would retire after he was placed on administrative leave during an investigation of his “improper hugging” of faculty and staff members.

Last year, Briar Cliff University President Hamid Shirvani announced his resignation after only 14 months on the job. Citing a “combination of family, personal and professional considerations,” Briar Cliff’s Board dismissed local media reports that he was investigated for sexual harassment claiming that it “inaccurately and inappropriately cast a cloud over his leadership.” The Sioux City Journal reported that Shirvani lasted just 11 months as chancellor of the North Dakota University System and received a buyout of $925,000 over concerns about his management style and treatment of staff. In a prior presidency at California State University, Stanislaus received a “no confidence” vote in his leadership by 91 percent of the 264 professors on campus.

In October 2017, a total of 56 faculty members out of 120 full-time faculty at Assumption College voted “no confidence” in Assumption’s President Francesco Cesareo because of declining enrollments and layoffs since 2016. Last year, the Catholic University of St. Thomas in Houston voted “no confidence” in President Robert Ivany’s leadership after he sent an email to faculty members in philosophy and English advising them that their contracts had been delayed because the departments were “under review for potential reorganization and/or program elimination.”

Jeanine Stewart, professor of psychology at Washington and Lee University, thinks that the very design of academia fosters these kinds of counterproductive behaviors. She suggests that when large numbers of faculty members report to a single dean or provost, informal pecking orders emerge. She calls these virtual power structures “soft hierarchies” in contrast to the kind of hard hierarchies that you see on an organizational chart. It is within the highest tiers of the soft hierarchies that power is concentrated—often in the humanities. Summers, Newman, Kerrey and other victims of mobbing behavior likely never understood the power of a soft hierarchy. Their lack of understanding of the soft hierarchical power dynamic undermined their ability to work cooperatively with faculty leaders.

Faculty have been empowered by their successes, but their victories may have come at a cost higher than most schools can afford to bear as financial pressures have already begun to take a toll. An article published in Insidehighered.com titled, “The Culling of Higher Education Begins,” reveals that the number of colleges and universities eligible to award federal financial aid fell by 5.6% from 2016 to 2017—the fourth straight year of declines. No-confidence votes create instability and uncertainty for everyone, leading potential students and their parents to lose confidence also. Perhaps it is time to re-think what is becoming a self-defeating strategy.

Exclusive: New Harvard Prez Nearly Won “Sheldon” Award

We note that Lawrence Bacow has been named the president of Harvard, succeeding Drew Gilpin Faust, who held the office for 11 years.

Mysteriously missing from the news coverage was the fact that Bacow was a 2007 finalist for the “Sheldon,” our coveted award for worst college president of the year. The award is a statuette that looks something like the Oscar, except the Oscar features a man with no face looking straight ahead, whereas the Sheldon shows a man with no spine looking the other way.

The award is named for the late Sheldon Hackney, the former president of the University of Pennsylvania and the Babe Ruth of modern Sheldonism.

As president of Tufts University, Lawrence Bacow looked the other way when a student-faculty committee put a conservative Tufts publication on trial and found it guilty for publishing two parodies. One was a mock Christmas carol making fun of affirmative action and the other was a satire of Tuft’s Islamic Awareness Week.

The committee accused the journal of causing “embarrassment, which we had thought was the entire purpose of satire. The committee ordered the publication not to run any unsigned articles in the future, a rule not applied to other campus publications. The committee also hinted that funding would be cut if other controversial articles were published.

The spineless Sheldon award. (Photo-Wikipedia)

FIRE wrote Tufts University President Lawrence Bacow to ask why a verdict declaring The Primary Source (TPSguilty of “harassment” and “creating a hostile environment” still stands―despite the fact that Bacow himself has openly admitted that such a punishment could not stand under the First Amendment.

“We explained to President Bacow (again) that the only way for Tufts University to shed the dishonor of being one of three schools named to FIRE’s Red Alert list―reserved for schools FIRE deems ‘the worst of the worst’ when it comes to protecting rights on campus―was by immediately dropping the guilty finding against TPS. As we wrote:

“As long as the harassment finding against The Primary Source remains, students at Tufts are in danger of being censored and sanctioned merely for expressing unpopular opinions on campus.”

Eventually, Bacow acknowledged freedom of speech by eliminating punishment for the student journalists and praised free expression but refused to overrule the guilty verdict, leading the Sheldon committee to conclude that Bacow’s commitment to free speech ‘’shuttles between tepid and imaginary.”.

A mutual friend invited Bacow and me to lunch, where Bacow once again reiterated his innocent but guilty position, a stance opposed by the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and several newspapers. It was, however, the only time a Sheldon candidate argued his case before the whole Sheldon committee (me).

Bacow lost the worst-president title that year to a superlative effort by Richard Brodhead, president of Duke.

Here is what Brodhead did to win: On hearing the first reports, he abruptly canceled the lacrosse season, suspended the players named in the case, and fired the lacrosse coach of 16 years, giving him less than a day to get out. All with no hearings.

This helped create the impression that the players were guilty. His long letter to the campus did the same thing. He didn’t say the boys were guilty, but he talked passionately about the coercion and assault of women, the legacy of racism, and privilege and inequality – all of which fed the anger aimed at the lacrosse team.

Brodhead did nothing to deter the tsunami whipped up against the players by some students and the Group of 88, an alliance of mostly radical race and gender professors. One of the 88, Houston Baker, answered a polite and worried letter from one of the lacrosse moms by calling her “the mother of a farm animal.” Again with no comment from Brodhead.

Without any comment from Brodhead, the protesters issued death threats, carried banners that said “castrate,” featured photos of lacrosse players on “Wanted” fliers, and banged pots outside the boys’ residences in the early morning hours to disturb their sleep. A word from the president about leaving the boys alone and guaranteeing them a fair trial would have been nice. An engineering professor at Duke said, “There never was a clear sense that the students were innocent until proven guilty.” The whole “scandal,”was, of course, a scam.

Despite their perpetrations, Brodhead won a glittering contract, and Bacow is president of Harvard.

De Paul Fails Free Speech Again

Black protesters and their allies shut down a speech by a conservative gay activist at DePaul University in Chicago last night. That’s not news, of course– it’s just what the campus left does.

The news is that the security guards hired for $1000 to protect the speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos (after, he says, they threatened to let demonstrators cancel the talk if he didn’t pay), just stood around and made no effort to ward off the protesters.

This is an interesting breakthrough in college treatment of speakers: two separate levels of incompetence in protecting free speech. Neither the campus guards nor the hired Hessians did anything. We look to the president of DePaul–the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider–to get the money returned, reprimand the campus guards for also doing nothing, apologize for the neglect, and make sure the speaker is re-invited as part of the required apology.

No—just kidding. President Holtschneider is, by reputation, one of the shakiest defenders of free speech at large on America’s censorship-minded campuses.

In 2006, Holtschneoder was co-winner of the annual Sheldon given for worst college president of the year. Holtschneider scored a rare triple in the campus censorship sweepstakes:

1) Cracking down on a satiric affirmative action bake sale like the ones routinely sponsored on many other campuses.

2) Suspending an instructor without a hearing or even notification of charges after a testy out-of-class argument with pro-Palestinian and Muslim activists.

3) Making an unusually strange move after pro-choice students ripped up an administration-approved anti-abortion exhibit, he penalized the pro-lifers for posting the names of the 13 pro-choicers who admitted destroying the display.

Penalizing the wrong party is a familiar move in the Sheldon competition and is deeply admired by judges. Sheldon Hackney, for whom the Sheldon is named, set the standard there: when an entire press run of the school paper was stolen at Penn because it contained a column opposing affirmative action, Hackney penalized not the thieves, but the campus guard who caught them.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) said Holtschneider talks a good game on free speech but doesn’t deliver on the promises.

Holtschneider is now in position to contend for his second Sheldon, which is like getting into the Hall of Fame twice. But he will have to keep failing at his regular rate. Competition is so keen.

Sheldon Award Fans Hail 2015 Winner

Jack Fowler, on National Review Online’s “The Corner,” wrote, “Congratulations to the 2015 Sheldon winner. And condolences to the students.” Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) said naming Peter Salovey of Yale the winner was “a good call, though it was a rich field this year.”

Perhaps with a touch of regional pride, Charlie Sykes, a well-known Milwaukee blogger, hailed the achievement of Michael Lovell, president of Marquette (Milwaukee) in finishing so high among the five worst presidents. “Okay, so Marquette President Mike Lovell didn’t win gold, but taking home a Third Runner-Up medal as the fourth worst college president in America is no mean feat, especially given the stiff competition. Think of it as the Super Bowl of academic awfulness, cowardice, and unprincipled appeasement. And 2015 was a banner year.  We suspect that if Lovell – who seems quite clueless about the actual issues involved here – goes ahead and actually fires McAdams that he will start the year as a front runner for winning the 2016 Sheldon.”

The Heartland Institute put out this statement: “The governing boards of UC-Berkeley, Marquette, Missouri, Virginia, and Yale should follow the lead of the University of Chicago, Purdue, and the University of Wisconsin system and pass the ‘Chicago standard’ resolution that reaffirms free speech rights on their campuses.”

One of the most common reader reactions to the Sheldon was regret that Tim Wolfe of the University of Missouri didn’t win it. An NRO reader wrote, “I’d have given the award to Tim “Fold Like a Cheap Suit” Wolfe of Missouri. Quitting your job because a handful of students are unhappy with you has to be one of the most pathetic performances out there.” Another said, “I’m disappointed it wasn’t Wolfe. His will be the most damaging precedent for higher education, long term.”

In California, the Orange County Breeze was disappointed that local Sheldon candidate Janet Napolitano didn’t win, asking, “Who managed to be even worse? Last year, competition was extraordinary. Many college administrators trampled one another in their zeal to oversee campus ruin and collapse…. Go read the entire article and ask yourself  how we got to the point that college administrators can be so easily bullied and the tender feelings of college students became the Law of the Quad.”

Worst College President of 2015—Who Wins the Sheldon?

We are reviving the Sheldon award for worst college president of the year. It is named for the late Sheldon Hackney, who presided over many college disasters, including Penn’s water buffalo controversy and the theft of a complete edition of the University of Pennsylvania student newspaper that included a column criticizing affirmative action. The thieves were not reprimanded or otherwise punished but the campus cop who caught them was—a nice touch.

Here are the four finalists for 2015:

Tim Wolfe, University of Missouri, 4th runner up: Wolfe couldn’t seem to cope with racial protests based on three reported racist remarks and a swastika drawn on a campus wall in feces. Wolfe fumbled the issue for months without taking any action. Then a black graduate student went on a hunger strike, the football team refused to play, and politicians demanded action. At an emergency meeting, on the brink of tears, he quit, saying he hoped his departure would alleviate the pain on campus. “This university is in pain right now … and it needs healing,” President Tim Wolfe said in the university-approved language of feelings. Then he quit, saying his departure might help alleviate the pain.

Related: Campus Turmoil Begins In High School

Michael Lovell, Marquette, 3th runner up: A student who opposed gay marriage attempted to discuss the issue in a philosophy class, but the graduate student who taught the class refused to allow it. She said that the gay marriage issue had been settled and that class discussion of it would hurt the feelings of gays. John McAdams, a Marquette professor and conservative gadfly, wrote about the incident on his blog, which resulted in hostile mail and reported death threats to the graduate student. McAdams was suspended (though Marquette quibbles about the word), forbidden to set foot on campus, and still remains suspended more than a year later. In discussing the case, President Lovell has talked generally about disrespect and harassment. What he hasn’t said is why the Catholic position on gay marriage can’t be discussed in class on a Catholic campus.

Teresa Sullivan, University of Virginia, 2rd runner up: When Rolling Stone broke the story of the brutal (and bogus) rape at the university, Sullivan misjudged the impact and boarded a plane to Amsterdam for a conference three hours after the rape story lit up the Internet. Then, with no investigation or hearing, she suspended the allegedly offending fraternity and all other campus fraternities and sororities as well, extending the suspensions well past the time when the hoax started to unravel. She has issued no apology for the suspensions and offered no reimbursement for fraternity members forced to move into motels and hotels because of the suspensions. The activists and their allies who vandalized the accused frat drew no criticism from her or her administration. She imposed credible new rules for frats, but otherwise every move she made on this issue was wrong.

Janet Napolitano, Chancellor, University of California (Runner Up—If for any reason our winner can’t fulfill his duties as winner of the Sheldon, Ms. Napolitano, would wear the crown: Janet Napolitano, chancellor of the University of California, approved and issued a long list of statements that could no longer be uttered by university faculty because they are considered hurtful microaggressions. The list included, “America is the land of opportunity,” “America is a melting pot,” “There is only one race—the human race” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

Related: Too Many Hollow Men on Campus

Like most campus controversies these days, this one pitted free speech versus hurt feelings, a struggle that colleges typically resolve in favor of feelings (as long as those doing the feeling are non-Asian minorities, gays or women).

Napolitano’s effort to quell positive remarks about America was so strikingly risible that in a normal year she would have won the Sheldon award hands-down. But she had to settle for a silver medal because of what happened at Yale.

Peter Salovey, Yale: In the biggest collapse of the year, Yale President Salovey committed millions of dollars to appease racial protesters with a basket of goodies likely to enlarge the stature of the “diversity” movement on campus and its drive for mandatory courses in race and ethnicity. Those goodies included five years of conferences on race and diversity, four new minority professorships and a doubling of budgets of the four student minority centers that Yale probably shouldn’t have at all unless it wants to keep furthering separatism—one each for Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian- Americans.

Salovey managed to produce a major victory for protesters complaining about strikingly weak and vague issues (a teacher’s opinion that Yale shouldn’t have told students what Halloween costumes to avoid, a feeling of racial discomfort among some blacks on campus, and a false report that a black student had been turned away from a fraternity party).

Related: North Korea Has Taken Over the Modern Campus

When a group of protesters confronted Professor Nicholas Christakis, husband of Erika Christakis who wrote the controversial costume memo, one student is heard saying, “Walk away. He doesn’t deserve to be listened to.” When Nicholas started to explain himself, a student yells, “Be quiet!” and then proceeds to lecture him. When Nicholas calmly and politely says, “I disagree,” the protestor explodes, screaming, “Why the fuck did you accept the position?! Who the fuck hired you?! You should step down!” Then, finally, “You’re disgusting!” Had the protester been a white male, he likely would have been expelled or suspended. But the perp was a black female. So no action.

The trigger for the protests was also peculiar. For a large number of students to go berserk over a mild and non-racist email dissenting from a Yale instruction on Halloween costumes was remarkable and Salovey might have politely said so.

As Peter Schuck said on this site, “University officials like us bear some responsibility for the aggressive, obsessive ethnic emphasis practiced on our campus. Through some mixture of cowardice, complaisance, and genuine conviction, we cater to the sensibilities of the most outspoken, politicized students by donning a kind of “kick me” sign. In this atmosphere of identity politics, students have strong incentives to dramatize their wounds as proof of the authenticity of a larger, more heroic social agenda….”

Missing from Salovey’s performance was any sense of authority. When the protestors demonized Erika Christakis for her costume memo, and when protesters cursed and threatened her husband, Nicholas (“We know where you live”), Salovey didn’t seem to notice or care. He declined to fire the husband-wife pair, as protesters demanded, but made no effort to keep them when Nicholas went on leave and Erika quit teaching at Yale because, she said, the university lacks civil dialogue.

Worst of all, the transformation of universities from actual places of learning to institutions primarily obsessed with race and identity has advanced mightily through Yale’s defeat. For demonstrating weak leadership and incomprehension at an elite university, the Sheldon goes to Peter Salovey.


John Leo is the Editor of Minding the Campus