I usually don’t poke fun at the academic world. I have to live here, you know. But this week I found a case study that’s amusing, and instructional from a PR perspective. The setting is the University of Akron, just 14 miles from home, so there’s a local angle, too.
Update #1: I’ve added the spoof ad above. It’s been making the rounds among UA faculty for the past few weeks, I’m told. Also, here is the local coverage from ABJ 3/22/08.
Update #2: A popular local columnist weighed in this morning in an essay that — get this — he wrote from home. It won’t tell you anything you don’t know, except that Dr. Darchame’s nickname is “Dewey.” It will confirm that he is an outstanding performer, respected by students and faculty — everyone, it seems, but his dean. One of Dewey’s colleagues sent me a copy of his last performance review (at state institutions, these documents are public record). Number of philosophy majors doubled on his watch, number of minors quadrupled. This led UA to add two tenure track faculty lines to serve the demand. Meantime, UA remains unwilling to discuss reasons for his dismissal as chair. I’d chalk it up to “CD Syndrome” (Clueless Dean). 3/27/08.
If you accept the facts as reported in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, the chair of Akron’s philosophy department was fired from his administrative post for being away from his desk without the dean’s blessing. (Story available only to subscribers. Email and I’ll send a copy.)
According to the story, Dean Ron Levant expects department heads to be physically in their offices from 8 to 5, unless he gives them written permission. I’m not sure if this applies to lunch hour and potty breaks. The story doesn’t say.
Professor Howard Ducharme says he didn’t learn of the attendance policy for department chairs until it was too late. But as it turns out, no such policy exists.
From the Chronicle story:
Paul A. Herold, a spokesman for the university, said Akron did not have a written policy on how much time department heads must spend at their offices. But he said the dean “expects chairs to be on campus during normal business hours” or to be reachable during those hours if they are teaching or doing research off the campus.
“Nobody expects them to punch a clock,” he said.
Really? It sure looks that way.
Don’t cry for Professor Ducharme. He still has a job, and can focus entirely on teaching and research. And as long as he does that job, no one will care if he’s in the office from 8 to 5.
I do feel for UA’s chief spokesman Paul Herold. It’s never fun to play the role of apologist for inept management. I’ve been there, and it’s embarrassing.
Internal damage from Levant’s decision could be immediate. For example, Paul Herold is retiring in a few months. Do you want his job? Will anyone? And let’s not forget that UA’s philosophy department needs a new chair. Any takers?
Now let’s look externally. The Chronicle is higher ed’s leading trade pub and is studied carefully by those planning career moves. Will candidates reconsider applying at Akron when they learn that administrators are chained to their desks?
If you like a little irony with your blog posts (who doesn’t?), check out this story in Monitor on Psychology. It include quotes by Levant regarding unions in higher education. This one is my favorite:
“There are far too many rules,” he says, noting that’s especially true when it comes to faculty members’ time. “There are all these hoops to jump through.”
Yep. More hoops than March Madness. Dude, get back to your desk!
Update (3/22/08): ABJ education writer Carol Biliczky did her usual thorough job reporting it this story — at least as thorough as UA administrators would permit. The story tells us little about the Levant’s reasons for dismissing Decharme, since the dean contributed only a terse email. From that story:
”I do not see chairs as hourly employees and I would never expect them to ‘punch a clock,’ ” he (Levant) wrote. ”I have encouraged an ongoing conversation . . . about how best to balance the need to be available to their departments as administrators while at the same time be flexible to pursue their scholarly duties.”
Levant declined to disclose why he relieved Ducharme of his duties, but said the issue of office hours ”was not the driver of that decision.”
The story tells plenty about unrest among the faculty in UA’s College of Arts & Sciences. College administrators — like the rest of the world — are gonna have to get a handle on this transparency thing. The story will be told, and you need to be a part of it. Levant is learning how tough it is to manage faculty, and UA is learning the difficulty of doing one’s business in a glass house.