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Toledo Chief Raked Over Coals

Toledo Chief Raked Over Coals
June 14, 2010

In a scathing review of his controversial presidency at the University of Toledo, faculty are calling Lloyd Jacobs a tyrannical micromanager who “obviously thinks we are idiots.”

The faculty’s evaluation of Jacobs is yet another black mark for a president who has drawn fire in the past three years for attempts to partner with a for-profit company, inserting himself in the tenure review process through brief interviews with all candidates and contemplating in an e-mail whether throwing a dean “under the bus” would be the most convenient way to move forward with his agenda.

With few exceptions, the Faculty Senate’s performance review, which was posted on an anonymous blog critical of Jacobs, reads like a treatise on a failed presidency. But Jacobs doesn’t see it that way. In a Friday interview, Jacobs called the review part of a “very constructive dialogue.”

“To some extent this noise has to be considered constructive noise,” he said.

Jacobs was a surgeon and president of the Medical University of Ohio before it merged with the University of Toledo, and a frequent complaint from faculty – echoed in the evaluation – is that he knows plenty about hospitals and precious little about academe. For Jacobs, the review suggests “growing pains” at an institution that he is trying to help move into the 21st century, introducing controversial but necessary policies to measure faculty workload, among other accountability measures.

“What they’re confusing is a level of accountability with paternalism,” he said, “and they think I’m being paternalistic when I’m only asking for the level of accountability that everyone is asking for across the whole world of higher education.”

Jacobs noted that the response rate to the survey was “pretty small.” Indeed, of the approximately 1,600 faculty at Toledo, only 128 responded. But boy did they ever respond. In 10 separate categories, faculty routinely gave Jacobs miserable marks. Asked about Jacobs’s “leadership,” for instance, 68 percent said he was “unsuccessful” or “needs improvement.” The response was similar under “ethics and integrity,” where 61 percent of respondents called Jacobs unsuccessful or in need of improvement.

The most damning material in the survey, however, is a string of comments from faculty who describe Jacobs as an embarrassing “authoritarian” gaffe machine.

“He is ‘the Decider.’ That’s his decision-making skill,” one typical respondent wrote. “His solution to all crises is to blame the faculty, blame the union, and attempt to destroy both.”

Another boiled it down to “His way or the highway !!!!!”

Faculty consistently described Jacobs as a micromanager, who has stripped lower level administrators of any real authority and moved his agenda forward with “brute force and bullying.”

“The dean of our college seems to have no power at all,” one professor wrote. “She probably has to get the president’s signature for paper clips.”

Within the comments, there are occasional smatterings of praise. But these comments are decidedly in the minority.

“Genuinely appreciate Dr. Jacob’s [sic] courage to take on tough tasks,” one respondent wrote.

Mary Powers, president of the Faculty Senate, said the sample size makes it difficult to discern whether the responses are representative of the faculty’s views.

“I don’t know if we got the whole spectrum of responses that would be inclusive of all the faculty,” said Powers, an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy.

The string of comments, however, do represent individual faculty members -- not just a few professors critiquing the president over and over again, Powers said. The survey, administered by an independent company, limited faculty comments to one response in each category, she said.

Bill Fall, vice president of the university’s Board of Trustees, agreed that the limited nature of the survey made it difficult to evaluate. Conversely, the board’s own recent assessment of Jacobs included responses of about 36 percent of faculty. While praise wasn’t universal in the responses, Fall said the board's survey found more tempered criticism from faculty.

“On balance, Dr. Jacobs’s evaluations by the faculty component within the board surveys were higher and frankly acceptable considering the kinds of things we’re trying to do right now,” said Fall, who is slated to become the board’s next chair.

Fall said he had no qualms about sharing the board’s evaluation, but university officials did not respond to a public records request for the document prior to publication.

Moving forward, Fall said the board is comfortable with Jacobs’s leadership. While the faculty’s evaluation is something the board will consider and learn from, Fall gave no indication that the trustees shared the concerns faculty expressed.

“Let me put it this way: if listening to people means agreeing with them, I don’t accept that as proper. We believe we do listen. We believe we’re weighing the totality of the institution.”

Asked how such a vitriolic assessment of his leadership affected him personally, Jacobs said he was reluctant to “dramatize” his reaction. On the other hand, 69-year-old Jacobs said his life’s experiences – particularly in the U.S. Marine Corps – help put this rough patch into perspective. “This is silly kid stuff. This doesn’t shake me,” he said. “My wife’s a different story. She gets upset and cries at some of this stuff, but if I believe I’m doing the right thing, this doesn’t touch me.”

 

 

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