Update (3/30/10): Late yesterday afternoon, Ohio University President Roderick McDavis said he will accept the recommendation of the ad hoc committee of the faculty senate and recommended that Bill Reader be granted tenure and promotion at Ohio University.
Here is the latest from Inside Higher Ed
If you’re among the PR professionals drawn to Grunig’s symmetrical model, you tend to shy from conflict. You’d prefer that organizations and key publics adapt to one another, that they live in accord.
But real life doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes you gotta fight.
At the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University (my alma mater), they’re waging an ugly war over the denial of tenure to Professor Bill Reader. I wrote about it on Groundhog Day, and just like in the movie, the story has returned for another unsettling visit.
The story has gone far beyond simple university politics, and this post goes a bit beyond my typical 700 words.
This time, I’m taking sides. And I’m urging the students of Scripps and its recent alumni — those who know Bill Reader — to do the same. Whether you support Reader’s tenure or oppose it, now it the time to put it in writing and send it to: Dr. Roderick J. McDavis, President, Ohio University, 108 Cutler Hall, Athens, OH 45701.
Here’s why you must speak up now:
Yesterday, an ad hoc committee of OU’s Faculty Senate issued its report to President McDavis recommending that Bill Reader be awarded tenure and promotion. The committee’s investigation follows the denial of tenure by Scripps Director Tom Hodson and Dean Greg Shepard.
The final decision rests with McDavis, who has 30 days to act. The Faculty Senate report represents Reader’s last avenue of appeal. If you’d like to review the full letter from the committee, download it at the end of this post. Here’s the paragraph that stands out to me:
After carefully reading through all the documents provided by both sides, and listening to arguments presented by them at the hearing, the committee unanimously finds that Professor Reader’s tenure and promotion denial was tainted by procedural problems that both deprived him of due process and significantly compromised the ability of the administration to provide adequate consideration. Furthermore, the committee found convincing evidence that Professor Reader satisfied the requirements for tenure and promotion in his school and college. We unanimously recommend that he be granted tenure and promotion.
The report was prepared by a team of five full-time faculty members, all from outside Scripps. Some may say it’s just faculty supporting a collegue, but I’m not that cynical. It appears the committee has done its work with due diligence.
The report to McDavis presents a strong case that Reader was treated unjustly. But since OU doesn’t have the benefit of collective bargaining, Reader has no union muscle to support his position.
Most folks who work outside academe don’t understand the tenure thing. Hell, I’ve been working here 19 years, and I don’t get it. Who the hell awards lifetime job security other than the Supreme Court?
Tenure is an anachronistic system, but it’s all we have right now. And without tenure, Bill Reader will soon be unemployed, and because of the controversy surrounding his case, probably unemployable as well. So before my alma mater throws a popular educator under the bus, I hope President McDavis considers the consequences for students and alumni, and the impact his decision may have on the Scripps brand, long-term and short.
If you take time to read the ad hoc committee’s report, you’ll find that Professor Reader earned consecutive years of excellent performance ratings since he joined the tenure track. This means he met the high standards for teaching, research and university service set by his administration. Based on those annual reviews, Reader had every reason to believe he was destined for tenure and possibly promotion.
I’m no HR expert, but I do know that if you want to avoid messy lawsuits for wrongful dismissal, you build a “file” that documents a candidate’s poor performance and/or inappropriate behavior. You share that information with the employee in those come-to-Jesus meetings with the boss, and you outline recommendations for improvement.
According to OU’s Faculty Senate committee, no evidence of weak performance or bad behavior appears in Reader’s dossier. In fact, the report says that Scripps Director Tom Hodson was prepared to recommend Reader for tenure after the 7-5 vote by the school’s tenure review committee but reversed course after three faculty members filed harassment complaints.
It’s pretty clear that Reader isn’t the Casper Milquetoast type. He can be outspoken and at times intimidating. Those who filed complaints call his behavior bullying. But in the comments to my last post on this topic, Reader shared precise language from the report of the Office of Institutional Equity saying it turned up no credible evidence to support the complaints against him.
From where I sit, Bill Reader deserves tenure. He’s met the criteria laid out by his employer, and by all accounts he’s one of those great teachers that make the E. W. Scripps School the fine program it is. The fact that he doesn’t play well with others on occasion shouldn’t trump a 6-year track record of solid performance.
Did Reader piss a few people off? It appears so. Did they feel intimidated? That’s what they claim, even though the OIE report finds otherwise. So is this all just politics and internal fueding? Or did something happen in the 11th hour that turned Reader into a pariah?
Sorry, the evidence isn’t there, or at least no one has bothered to present it. But I trust President McDavis will get those answers before he renders a decision in the case.
Disclosure: I’ve been corresponding with Professor Reader over the past two weeks and found him a reasonable and serious guy. And having jumped through the tenure hoops myself, I understand the stresses of the process, maybe even to the point of feeling a kinship with Reader.
I’ve also heard from students, not one of whom has a bad thing to say about the man. One called Reader “the best teacher at Scripps,” but was unwilling to lend a name to her comment for fear of reprisals from Reader’s opponents on the faculty. The place is really politically charged, she said.
I’m not blaming the students for their silence. Courage isn’t easy to muster when you’re 21 or 22 and your instructors hold the keys to your professional future.
Students are a critical stakeholder here — as are alumni. If you feel as I do, you must speak up. Whether you support Reader’s tenure or you oppose it, you owe that much to your school — and to Reader.
Coverage of the Faculty Senate ad hoc committee report from the OU Post student newspaper.
Coverage by Inside Higher Ed.
Initial story from the Post.
To download reports:
Ad Hoc Committee of Faculty Senate: ReaderReport
Performance Review: 2009 Performance Review
Office of Institutional Equity Investigation: OIE Report