Behind a Quiet Retreat

A provost who left a new job after six months to return to his old one was cast as a deserter. He and colleagues say the situation was more complicated.
January 13, 2011

When the president of Black Hills State University announced in a November e-mail to faculty and staff that David Haney, the provost of six months, was leaving, she highlighted the fact that Haney had begun the position while on a one-year leave from his previous institution, Appalachian State University.

“Despite our best efforts,” President Kay Schallenkamp wrote, “I regret to say that Dr. Haney has decided to return to ASU.” Subsequent local media reports largely echoed the perspective of the e-mail, casting Haney’s time at Black Hills State as a sort of trial period. The articles also focused on the wisdom of policies like the one that allowed Haney to return to Appalachian State, suggesting that they provide an escape hatch that might keep senior-level employees from fully committing to their new jobs. In interviews with Inside Higher Ed, some administrators did say Haney gave up too soon.

But Haney, who left Appalachian State as vice provost for undergraduate education and will return as a tenured English professor, disputes that representation. He and several of his colleagues at Black Hills State tell a different story: one in which Haney cared deeply about his new institution, but was not granted the professional freedom he had been promised, and had little day-to-day control.

They say the university misled the public about what really happened, that Haney’s job was unworkable, that he was -- essentially -- dismissed, and that the result has been a culture of demoralization affecting everyone.

“They lied about why this happened and what it means … they just lied about it,” David Cremean, an English professor at Black Hills State, said of the university. “The whole thing has been handled clumsily. It’s so transparent that it’s embarrassing. I’ve always been proud to be a faculty member at Black Hills, and I don’t know if I can say that right now.”

Policies of 'Retreat'

Many colleges have “retreat rights,” which typically allow an administrator -- after stepping down from his position -- to take a period of paid leave while preparing to return to a tenured faculty role. The policy that allowed Haney to return to Appalachian State is something of an extension of that.

David Haney

Black Hills State administrators say the policy allowed Haney to pack up shop prematurely, shocking his colleagues. "I think that he really didn't give us a chance in a lot of ways, after really not being here very long.... I honestly do not know why or how he came to the decision," said Kristi Pearce, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. Pearce worked with Haney as associate vice president of academic affairs before succeeding him as provost. "I'm trying to keep us afloat and I trust that our president is trying to keep us afloat."

Haney worked at Appalachian State from fall 2001 until June 30, 2010, his last day as vice provost for undergraduate education. Though he applied for a half-dozen provost positions at different institutions, he was particularly interested in Black Hills State once he “learned what a good school it was and what a good fit with my experience it was.”

Schallenkamp offered Haney the job almost immediately after he interviewed for it, and he accepted a few days later, on Feb. 3, 2010. Haney and officials at Appalachian State (who already knew Haney was interviewing at other colleges) proceeded to work out a one-year leave of absence, dated Feb. 23, which gave Haney until Nov. 17, 2010 to notify Appalachian State if he planned to return to his awaiting tenured faculty position.

Haney says he didn’t take the leave intending to return to Appalachian State, but that’s what he did. Now, Haney has a house to sell in South Dakota (currently on the market and priced at $249,900), and Black Hills State will have to spend the time and money on a second national search (exactly how much money, however, remains unclear; Schallenkamp said the university has a pool of money for such expenses and “we don’t sort” the individual costs).

“I resigned because I discovered that the president and I had incompatible leadership and management styles, that I had less autonomy, budgetary and otherwise, than I thought I needed in order to be an effective provost, and that I could not give my full support to all of the president’s decisions,” Haney said. “When I discussed these issues with her in several conversations beginning in mid- to late October, she told me that a provost’s main duty was to support the president, and that if I could not fully do that I would be looking at a ‘career change.’ ” (Haney declined to provide specific examples of conflicts, and Schallenkamp said she can’t discuss “personnel issues.”)

On Nov. 17, Haney said, he submitted his resignation to the president, triggering a series of somewhat unusual events.

Announcing his departure at an academic council meeting of deans and some other upper-level staff on Nov. 30, Haney said his last day would be June 30, the date his one-year contract was set to expire. The next day, Faculty Senate President Kathleen A. Parrow said, she heard a rumor Haney would leave on Dec. 3 -- in three days. Then, “all of a sudden,” she and the rest of the faculty and staff received an e-mail from Schallenkamp confirming the rumor.

“Apparently something blew up,” Parrow said. “And now we’re just kind of stuck here for a little while. It’s kind of hard to move forward with an interim [provost]. You’re moving forward with what you’ve got, but….”

On Dec. 1, the day Schallenkamp sent the e-mail announcing that Haney would leave at week’s end, Schallenkamp had given him two options, he and his colleagues said: an immediate contract termination, or spending the remainder of his contract working in the South Dakota Board of Regents office in Pierre, 200 miles east of the Spearfish campus. Haney chose the latter. He works mostly from home but makes the occasional trip to Pierre, and he starts teaching at Appalachian State in August.

Kay Schallenkamp, Black Hills State's president

“The timing of my decision to resign was affected by my deadline to respond to Appalachian, but the decision to resign from the provost position at Black Hills State is one I would have felt obliged to make whether I had been granted leave or not,” Haney said.

Haney’s colleagues said they’re upset to lose a provost who cared about the faculty and listened to what they had to say. But for some, this goes beyond one individual: Cremean said the entire campus has changed. “Everyone on campus knows [something is wrong], unless they’ve willfully blinded themselves,” he said. “And I don’t think there’s too much of that.” Cremean recalled one student from Wyoming who stopped him on the sidewalk, asking, “What’s going on here? We can feel it.”

Pearce, however, said she hasn't heard inquiries from any students, let alone concerns.

Cremean and others say a longstanding administrative culture ruled by antagonism, secrecy and meddling drove Haney out. Anna Coyle, a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee who wrote press releases at Black Hills State for a year before she graduated in 2008, said many other staff and students struggled to maintain control of their own responsibilities because of presidential micromanaging.

Coyle, whose family members traditionally attend Black Hills State, and who is still in close contact with people who work there, added that there's an extremely tight lid on what information flows out of the university. "I know a lot of people who worked in the office that I worked in who have a lot of things to say. They know what doesn't go into the press releases," she said. "But if they talk about it they're going to lose their jobs. Without a doubt."

“You have a faculty of people who are primarily critical thinkers…. They’re muted by this and afraid to speak out,” Cremean said. “I think that that speaks for itself.”

On Monday, Schallenkamp announced that, "given the late date of the search," the university has hired a consultant familiar with the state system and institutions to lead a provost search-and-screen process that "will proceed in the same manner as any search." The consultant, Elaine Hairston of Academic Search, Inc., met with faculty and staff for the first time on campus Tuesday.

In multiple interviews, Schallenkamp had little to say about Haney’s time at the university. “Dave Haney decided to exercise his retreat rights,” she said. “That has very little to do with me. That was his decision. He decided to go back to North Carolina. And that is about all that I’m at liberty to say.”

Warren Wilson, chief information officer at Black Hills State, reports directly to the president on technology. He said that although he hasn’t talked to a lot of people about Haney, he thinks they’re all “obviously somewhat surprised” -- and disappointed. But Wilson said he hadn’t heard of a tense working relationship between Haney and Schallenkamp. And Kathy Johnson, vice president of finance and administration, praised the president's work, saying she "can't imagine" that Schallenkamp played a role in Haney's decision to leave.

Parrow, who is also on the new provost search committee, said that while she heard after the fact that Haney and Schallenkamp didn't get along, she never witnessed that in meetings with the two of them. "You can look at this one of two ways," Parrow said. Either Schallenkamp should have given Haney the control he expected as provost, or Haney should have adjusted to meet the needs of his boss, the president. "Any kind of leadership style can cause trouble among administrators," she said; if that style is incompatible with an employee, that doesn't mean the leader is in the wrong.

Haney's dissatisfaction was news to Pearce, who said it's unreasonable for Haney to have expected immediate authority, freedom and results. "You need to learn the lay of the land. You need to develop trust with colleagues, especially the president," she said. "How could he possibly have accomplished very much when he was here such a short time?"

Haney raised the question of whether Schallenkamp's disclosure of his leave of absence to the public violates the South Dakota Board of Regents policy regarding confidential personnel information. That policy reads, "Unless required for grievance or litigated matters, all exempt personnel records of the Board of Regents and its institutions pertaining to applications for employment ... and to other personnel-related materials shall be held confidential.... Additional information may only be released upon written permission signed by the employee or if traditionally released or required by management needs of the state higher education system." The board of regents declined to comment on the matter.

Both Schallenkamp and Haney agree that all parties had knowledge of Haney’s leave situation. During his on-campus interview in late January 2010, Haney said, he told the Black Hills State president about his options and Schallenkamp responded with something to the effect of, “‘That’s fine; we just hope you don’t exercise it.’”

Schallenkamp said she had no experience with policies of this kind in the past, but the leave didn’t bother her at the time. “It wasn’t a red flag,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s an interesting policy that they would have. But that’s up to them.’ ” Knowing what she knows now, though, should she find herself in that situation a second time, she “would definitely be more cautious.”

Jamie Ferrare, a managing principal at AGB Search, a Washington firm that specializes in higher education executive hiring, said he has heard of people taking leaves of absence to go to different institutions, then returning as tenured faculty members. But, he said, “that’s more rare than common.” The important thing is that Black Hills State knew Haney’s options, Ferrare said.

“They made the decision understanding that risk…. It’s a lot of money and a lot of time invested in a search, and a risky proposition. And I guess that would concern me,” he said. “As long as the hiring institution is fully aware of that and it’s transparent, then buyer, beware.”

With the provost’s approval, Appalachian State will grant unpaid leave to employees when the circumstance calls for it -- say, if a professor wants to pursue a doctorate, or an administrator is having a baby (or, according to the faculty handbook, for “compassionate reasons of health, requirements of childbirth or child care, or similar compelling reasons”). Though it may seem strange that it applies to someone requesting leave to pursue another job opportunity, this isn’t the first time the policy has served that purpose, said Tim Burwell, vice provost for resource management at Appalachian State. In fact, another employee just this year accepted another job and took the leave as a backup -- only that person didn’t use it.

Andy Brantley, president and chief executive officer of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, said such actions are “not unusual.”

“Many colleges and universities do have relatively liberal leave of absence policies for tenured faculty that give them the option, with certain parameters,” he said, “to express their interest in returning to the institution.”

Burwell “wouldn’t say there are a multitude” of people at Appalachian State lining up to depart while taking unpaid leave as a security mechanism. When they do, they’re more likely to leave for good than to take Haney’s route. Or they depart Appalachian State without taking leave; when an employee decides to go, that’s usually what happens, Burwell said.

Haney took the leave “just as a sort of safety thing,” he said. “You certainly don’t expect to return to your previous institution,” Haney said. “It’s kind of just an option to have to make sure you’re not unemployed for a year."

Neither the South Dakota Board of Regents nor Black Hills State has a policy regarding administrative retreat rights when another institution is involved. The University of North Carolina System, of which Appalachian State is a part, considers requests for unpaid leave “in the context of specific facts,” said Joni Worthington, a UNC system spokeswoman.

In early 2010, the system’s Board of Governors tightened its retreat rights regulations in the wake of multiple reports of administrators abusing the paid leave system, which was “more generous than it needed to be,” Worthington said. But those regulations are aimed at presidents, chancellors or administrators who want to become faculty at the UNC institution where they already work. Once the board issued its directive, all 17 UNC campuses were responsible for adjusting their own policies accordingly. As long as each institution’s policies fall within the parameters the board sets, there may be room for variation by campus.

Regardless of how Haney left Black Hills State, one thing is certain: everybody just wants to move on, including Jack Warner, executive director of the South Dakota Board of Regents. "I don't think it was a bad decision to hire him. In retrospect -- and, you know, hindsight is always 20/20 -- it certainly doesn't look like the best decision, but I think everybody had the expectation that he would succeed and want to stay," Warner said. "We'll get the position filled and we'll move on."


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