Last week I told you how the absence of trust has me leery of the folks who run my university. So I’ve decided to write about this case a bit more, and to focus on the PR lessons it presents.
To recap, I was suspicious last week of an offer from the KSU administration to extend the faculty contract for one year. In exchange for the postponement, we get a 3% raise, a freeze in healthcare costs and the long-waited “domestic partner benefits” provision. Despite early skepticism, I went to my AAUP Council meeting Friday ready to endorse the offer. While I don’t trust the source, the offer seems reasonable to me.
My colleagues on the union council weren’t so willing. In fact, most have become so distrustful of our boss and his lieutenants that the contract extension never got much of a hearing. We did vote to send the proposal to a membership vote, but only with a strong recommendation that members reject it.
I listened as the debate played out, and came to understand the widespread enmity for the current administration. It’s a textbook case of management’s failure to tend to the relationships that matter most in an organization — the relationships with employees. We teach that in PR 101.
Some other things I heard in the meeting:
Four times I heard colleagues cite the “rich get richer” argument. Executive salaries at Kent State are up significantly. Since 2000, according to an AAUP handout, the worker bees have been losing ground. Our bosses have not.
After factoring for inflation, the president’s salary is up 47% in seven years, up 43% for the provost, up 42% for the VP of Business… You get the idea. On the faculty side, associate professors lost 7% since 2000 (factoring inflation) and full professors lost 4%. Download the Bargaining Bulletin here if you care to see more (pdf): salarygaps.
Three times I heard colleagues mention Ed Mahon’s $88,000 doctoral degree, an unprecedented perk for an executive at any level of this or any other state-supported university.
Twice I caught mention of the president’s $40,000 European excursion last summer. And twice I heard the name Yank Heisler, a $150,000-a-year “special assistant” to the president, added to the payroll last fall. I’m sure Yank does an important job, but no one in the rank and file has any idea what that job is.
In the end, the contract-extension vote won’t hinge on economics but on the erosion of trust. That’s what happens when management stops listening. That’s what happens when management sends “mixed messages.” That’s what happens when management excludes PR from high-level policymaking.
But since you’re reading this blog, chances are you know all that. Maybe today’s lesson can provide a little reinforcement, and a lesson to the next generation of PR professionals — a lesson rooted in that all-important skilled called listening.
Despite all this doom and gloom, I plan to vote for contract extension. But I’ll lay 3-to-1 odds that it loses big. Trust me on that one!