Faculty Revolt in Indiana

Amid aborted chancellor search, president faces growing criticism of his leadership -- or what some professors call a lack of it.
November 4, 2005

Faculty members at Indiana University’s flagship campus say they need a chancellor. Adam Herbert is finding out how little patience they have left as he approaches a third straight year without selecting a permanent Bloomington campus chancellor -- a powerful position that carries with it the responsibilities of senior vice president of academic affairs for all Indiana University campuses. "Incompetent," "overwhelmed” and “indecisive” were all words used by various professors and students to describe Herbert in interviews Thursday.

After dozens of faculty members signed various critical letters addressed to Herbert, expressing concern with his decision this week not to select one of three possible candidates nominated by a 23-member search committee, several influential professors organized a meeting Thursday night to discuss Herbert’s leadership.

Out of 125 faculty members who participated in a straw poll at the meeting, 103 expressed “no confidence” in Herbert’s leadership, while 22 abstained. Some professors argued that the reputation of the institution has dramatically fallen under the watch of Herbert.

"There is a growing and undeniable realization among the faculty on the Bloomington campus that the university is floundering under the leadership of President Herbert,” according to a letter sent Wednesday to the university’s trustees, signed by many of the attendees. "Indiana University can no longer afford to be patient with President Herbert and his continued missteps and inaction in the academic arena."

"The question of how he’s doing his job ought to be investigated by the board,” said Fred Cate, a law professor who moderated the Thursday gathering. "Up until this point, trustees have responded to Herbert critics with 'no, he’s great.’"

Several faculty members said Thursday night that they would press the board for a review of Herbert's performance as soon as possible. Currently in his third year with the university, Herbert isn't scheduled for review until he reaches his fifth year in office.

The Board of Trustees convened Thursday in Richmond, Ind. with President Herbert for a previously scheduled meeting. None of the members responded to requests for interviews.  Spokesman Larry MacIntyre said that Herbert would not speak about the hiring process, indicating the president was confident that taking extra time to make a decision would lead to better outcomes for the institution.

With Herbert’s dismissal of the search committee’s selected candidates for chancellor, it’s expected to be another six months before someone permanently fills the position. It will take still more months for that person to become familiarized with the university, if he or she is an outside candidate.  

Ken Gros Louis remains the campus’s interim chancellor. A faculty member who wished to remain anonymous said that that Gros Louis is “much loved as chancellor,” but one who remains “fairly low-key.”  “I think the widely shared perception is that we need an aggressive, enthusiastic, innovative chancellor,” said Cate.

One known candidate selected by the search committee was Kumble (Swamy) Subbaswamy, dean of Indiana’s College of Arts and Sciences. Two other candidates from outside the university were also passed over by Herbert, said faculty members.

Having developed a strong relationship with the dean during his tenure, many professors were incredulous that Herbert could not support Subbaswamy as a final choice. "The president’s decision to re-open the search process is both troubling and difficult to fathom,” according to the letter sent to trustees. "There [was] a superb internal candidate with a proven track record of excellence. A large portion of the Bloomington faculty cannot understand how such a candidate could have been overlooked.”

Sources close to Subbaswamy said that they expect him to resign, leaving the university with yet another crucial post unfilled. Subbaswamy did not respond to requests for comment.

According to MacIntyre, Herbert has not been surprised by the backlash from some faculty members. "He was very aware that there was a campaign for a certain candidate and that some people would be disappointed if he didn’t pick that candidate," said the spokesman. "Still, he wants to do what he thinks is best for the university."

But concerns about Herbert appear to stem beyond affection for Subbaswamy. "Since taking office the only times I have seen President Adam Herbert, it has been at sporting events,” wrote W. Harvey Hegarty, a professor of business administration in a July letter to a local newspaper. "When President Herbert does not show up, cancels appointments, or sends one of several other university officers to represent him, he is sending this clear message, ‘You are not important to me.’ This is not a minor problem.”

"I am concerned with the president’s leadership of the university,” added Cate. “Indiana is facing lots of challenges -- financial issues, competition with other universities -- and many faculty feel that he just hasn’t shown much initiative in terms of identifying and attacking such issues.”

MacIntyre said he couldn’t characterize the president’s feelings regarding faculty members who have asked for his resignation. Faculty members interviewed for this article said it pained them to speak out against Herbert, since they realize this could make their institution look bad.

Students, too, have expressed concern with Herbert’s leadership, although not in nearly an organized fashion as have faculty members. One source affiliated with The Indiana Daily Student said that many students feel that Herbert isn’t doing enough to compete with Purdue University, both in terms of academics and athletics.

Even students who have worked closely with the president, like Alexander Shortle, the student body president and a member of the selection committee, note some leadership issues relating to Herbert. "He should have been more innovative -- I was very critical of his first years in office,” said Shortle. “But I think he’s turning things around now.”

When asked what he meant, Shortle said: “Clearly, President Herbert didn’t think the finalists we selected for the position were a perfect fit, and he’s looking for a perfect fit. I respect that he has a strong feeling of what is right for the school.”

Sharon Tanabe, a presidential search consultant at Korn/Ferry International -- which is playing no role in the Indiana search -- said Thursday that striving for perfection can be a downfall to a successful search process. “Sometimes the optimum is not embodied in one person,” she said. “And you’ve got to realize that an indecision could be worse for your institution than going with someone who’s been extensively vetted.”


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