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Throwing a Dean Under the Bus

July 2, 2008

A recent faculty no-confidence vote at the University of Toledo was designed to oust an unpopular dean, but a subsequent student-led investigation is shifting criticism all the way to the top of the administration.

On April 15, a group representing faculty in the Toledo’s College of Arts and Sciences issued a vote of no confidence in Yueh-Ting Lee, a first-year dean who was criticized for his management style. While Lee has taken much of the heat, his bosses are now sharing the hot seat.

A series of e-mails, obtained by students who submitted a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal a candid – some would argue offensive – exchange between the university’s president and provost. In an April 27 e-mail, for instance, President Lloyd Jacobs indicated that he would be open to getting rid of the embattled dean if he didn’t think that doing so would validate faculty critics.

“For several days I thought the best thing to do was to throw [Lee] under the bus and get on with our agenda,” Jacobs wrote to Rosemary Haggett, the university’s provost. “Maybe thats [sic] still the best thing – input please …

“However, we probably can’t do that because we can’t reward the bad behavior that the [Arts and Sciences] folk have displayed, I think.”

In response to Jacobs, Haggett suggested that even meeting with the Arts and Sciences Council – the faculty group that voted no confidence in Lee – would be a tactical blunder.

“It put [sic] us right where they want us, in a confrontational position,” she wrote. “I think it actually rewards bad behavior. It also aligns us more directly with YT [Lee] (when the bus may still be our best option) and makes it more difficult to facilitate the solution.”

David Davis, who headed the faculty council when the no confidence resolution was passed, said he was troubled – but unsurprised – by the e-mails.

“I think these e-mails just sort of confirm what we thought: that the president holds the faculty in contempt,” Davis said. “He treats us like children. He says in the e-mail that he didn’t want to reward bad behavior; that’s something you say to your 8-year-old.”

While the e-mails sometimes carry the tone of a turf war that’s grown personal, the friction on campus can actually be traced back to legitimate differences of opinion about the proper direction of the university. Jacobs, former president of Medical University of Ohio, became president of the University of Toledo in 2006 when the two institutions merged. A medical doctor, Jacobs has been vocal in his promotion of science-related fields.

Jacobs has further asserted that students should have freedom to customize their educational experience, just as Dell computer allows customers to pick the model that best suits them.

“Degree completion requirements for every student with an associate's degree will be custom-made; each student will understand the shortest, most frugal path from where he or she is to their desired goal,” Jacobs told faculty in his April 2 annual address.

Proposed Mergers Met Resistance

In keeping with Jacobs' vision, Lee pressed faculty leaders to streamline operations by merging several departments, including communications and theater. These moves were met with resistance from faculty, who argued that Jacobs’ promotion of science disciplines came at the expense of other areas like the humanities.

Brian Anse Patrick, an associate professor of communication, described Jacobs’ plans – as carried out by Lee – as “basically a mass market kind of hamburger university.”

Haggett, Toledo’s provost, said Tuesday that plans to merge departments have been tabled indefinitely.

“Indeed, there was some controversy around that, and all of that has really been put on hold now,” she said.

Even so, the fundamental vision of “mass customization” outlined in Jacobs’ address is still a guiding principle, Haggett said.

Provost defends e-mail

Haggett acknowledges that there are some fences to mend with faculty. Asked about her now-public e-mail exchange with Jacobs, Haggett said she did not intend to be dismissive of faculty by characterizing the no confidence vote as “bad behavior.”

“From the moment that [vote] happened, I stated that I thought the actions were premature and poorly timed, and there would have been better ways to handle the situation through dialogue,” she said. "It was not meant to be derogatory towards the faculty.”

As for the dean, Hagget said, “we continue to work with the dean. Since Dr. Lee arrived we have been evaluating him and assessing his strengths and weaknesses, and were’ continuing to do that.”

Lee was unavailable for comment Tuesday, according to university officials.

Evan Morrison, a junior at Toledo who helped bring the controversial e-mails to light, said the students plan to continue to protest Jacobs’ agenda. They are circulating a petition, and they promise to release further information culled from their investigation at a July 17 rally.

“Dr. Jacobs and Rosemary Haggett see [Lee] as expendable,” said Morrison, a 25-year-old history major. “He could be thrown to the wolves, as it were, and Dr. Jacobs and Rosemary Haggett could still do what they want to the university. So this is larger than the dean, but he’s an integral part of it.”

 

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