Friday, August 29, 2008

Update of Update: UCA President Resigns

Update of update: University of Central Arkansas president Lu Hardin did resign yesterday (, hardin_resigns_harding_correct.aspx#comments).

As one might have predicted, the UCA board of trustees presented the resignation as something other than a forced resignation of a president who had demonstrated patent lack of integrity: the board chair’s announcement speaks of Mr. Hardin’s health needs, and thanks him for the fine work he’s done for the university. The chair also announced initially that Mr. Hardin would be on sabbatical for a year, then retracted that term, and has now noted that the term does apply.

The buy-out is, as expected, exceedingly generous. Details are in the articles to which I link above. From an educator’s perspective: one cannot help wondering what underpaid, hard-working faculty feel about the plums thrown the way of this values-challenged president, as he resigns.

And about the board’s malfeasance . . . . The board’s lack of courage and immediate sensitivity to the lapse of in value-judgment is evident in the length of time it took the board to respond to this issue, and to the growing public hue and cry for action. The board’s lack of professional acumen (a lack often evident among trustees of universities in many places) seems to me to be evident in the back and forth about whether Mr. Hardin had received a sabbatical.

A UCA insider posting on the Arkansas Times blog reports that that a new board of trustees is now a “done deal,” and that soundings for new board members have been underway for weeks—though “it will all be done and leaked slowly and ‘conservatively’ so as not to give the impression of panicky desperation -- which is what it is.”

And, see, again, this is what I don’t get (though I know full well most university boards act this way). These are values issues. These are leadership issues.

What do board members think they are saying to students about values and leadership when they move “slowly” and “conservatively” to address shocking breaches in values-oriented leadership? Do they think they can continue to speak of their institutions to students and the public as values-laden and interested in producing ethical leaders, when they appear to demonstrate so little sensitivity to values, as trustees?

Well, if nothing else, this little story demonstrates that university presidents and university boards can occasionally be held accountable, when the public demands such accountability. Maybe this will provide hope to those watching other universities where similar questions about the integrity of key leaders are being asked. And—wild hope—maybe this story will provide some lessons for board members of such institutions to ponder, as they sit by in silence, doing the “conservative” thing.

As the current president of Bethune-Cookman University, Dr. Trudie Kibbe Reed, who is an expert in the field of transformative leadership, notes, it is imperative for those leading institutions of higher learning to have in place mechanisms to critique and evaluate failures of the institution to fulfill its mission and to abide by its core values:

Change for the sake of change is never the objective of effective leadership. On the other hand, the lack of a mechanism to critique and evaluate an agency’s mission could be a barrier to that organization’s future. Clarity on philosophy and mission are essential to address our leadership crisis. As our world continues to be more complex, diverse, and divided, the role of education has to concern itself with confronting values that conflict with humanistic goals (“Leadership to Match a New Era: Democratizing Society through Emancipatory Learning,” Journal of Leadership Studies 4,1 [1997], p. 62).

If Dr. Trudie Kibbe Reed is correct in this assessment of the role of academic leaders (and I believe she is), boards of trustees have a strong responsibility to assure that the institutions they govern have in place “a mechanism to critique and evaluate an agency’s mission”—particularly when questions are raised about the commitment of key leaders in the institution to the core humanistic values that must drive the mission of any institution of higher learning. As an aside (which is not an aside), if Barack Obama was correct when he noted in his acceptance speech last night that the time is past when American citizens can allow their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to be discriminated against, it seems incumbent on all U.S. colleges and universities today to have policies in place forbidding discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation—and mechanisms to expose and correct such discrimination, when it occurs.

If boards of trustees are not looking at these issues, mandating such policies, and setting in place mechanisms to hold even the top leaders of institutions accountable for lack of integrity, they are failing the institutions they serve—and the public at large.

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