A startling moment of clarity

Brad Reed Attended Wednesday's Board of Trustees Meeting. He Describes The Scene For Us, And In Doing So Presents Evidence Of A New Institutional Malady:

One difficulty of being an evidence-based rationalist is that evidence, especially in matters of human behavior, is rarely unambiguous. At the Edison Board of Trustees meeting May 20, at the end of a lo
ng and tortured "interpretation" of Employee Satisfaction survey data (ironically titled "Are we making progress?"), one such moment of clarity occurred.

In response to Trustee Thompson's question, "Why is there no 2009 survey?" (what was being interpreted by Jane Salisbury, Dean of Institutional Effectiveness, was the same April 2008 survey results that she had presented to the Board almost exactly one year ago), Salisbury replied:

"To be perfectly honest with you, I just couldn't get it done in time. My department is running a person short, and with everything else we had to do, I just couldn't get the survey ready in time."

(Awkward silence while some of us wondered how hard could it be to reset and republish a survey that had already been administered three years running, and while others wondered whether that would have been an acceptable excuse had they used it for any other failing of mission.)

Then President Ken Yowell broke the silence: "The real reason is because I told her not to do it."


Yowell: "Enough people were already telling me what they thought and I didn't need to hear any more of it."

These statements to the Board of Trustees, in open session with guests present, constitute an on-the-record confession of complicity. Such had been intimated, supposed, presumed or inferred before, but always without evidence - or at least without evidence that anyone was willing to bring forward on the record, for fear of reprisals. But here, in response to what should have been an anticipated and obvious question from the Board, the mirror cracked and the truth was laid bare.

First, either Salisbury demonstrated that she is willing to do or say anything - including lying to the Board of Trustees - to "protect" Yowell; or, Yowell was lying to the trustees in order to cover Salisbury's poor performance. Reading the look on Salisbury's face when Yowell came clean leads one to presume the former. Her look of shock and dismay, standing there isolated at the lectern when Yowell said "The real reason is I told her not to" was not a realization that she had been "thrown under the bus," as has been described elsewhere in this blog, but because she knew full well the implications of that ill-timed statement: all she had worked to prop up was about to come crashing down around her.

Second, if Yowell's statement was the true one, it removed all credibility from his claims that the vote of No Confidence was the work of a "small handful" of faculty (namely, and on the record according to Yowell - me). If he really believed that, then the survey would have been an opportunity to show whether the dissatisfaction in his job performance was narrowly or widely held. Further, there is more to the survey than confidence in leadership, and by not administering it, the college lost a chance to see whether we are in fact "making progress" in many areas.

Also, if as Salisbury had contended throughout her presentation that the poor results in the "Leadership" and "Strategic Planning" sections of the 2008 survey were not really about Yowell, but about, variously, the
President's Cabinet, the Deans, the Vice Presidents, all of faculty, some of faculty, Cabinet again, all the employees who didn't take the time to read the emails forwarded by the President or go to his breakfast klatches, faculty again, Cabinet again, and, finally, the world (really) - essentially everyone except the President - then why would they not administer the survey?

No, the truth is simple and direct. The Employee Satisfaction surveys from 2006 through 2008 show a trend of accelerating degradation of confidence in the President's office. Those data correlate with the Motivation/Demotivation survey administered by the Valuing People committee in February of 2009 and with the Illuminator survey administered here in April 2009, and with reports from the ground. All are consistent. Confidence in the president has failed.

Trustee Milligan raised a salient point early in the presentation, and it was reiterated later by other trustees, but never really answered by Salisbury. Milligan noted that the questions asked in the Employee Satisfaction survey are all designed to find out "what." But, he said, "What we really want to get to is why? What are you doing to get us to 'why'?"

Why do we have a crisis of leadership? Indeed, Salisbury's rehash of old data was intended solely to bolster her (and Yowell's) claim that we do not have such a crisis - that everything is fine, or would be, if it weren't for those (fill in the blank with the scapegoat du jour).

Trustee Milligan asks a fair and important question: Why are we where we are?

After the trustees meeting May 20, an explanation by analogy may be forthcoming. Is there such a thing as organizational Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy? I'll not go into detail about MSP; follow the link for a full discussion. But briefly, MSP is a situation in which a caregiver either fabricates or initiates illness in someone in her care (MSP agents are almost always female) with the purpose of gaining attention, feeling indispensible, or to associate with or feel superior to medical experts. It often begins with a slight - a doctor dismisses a mother's concern for her child's health, say, and advances through confabulation to outright poisoning in an attempt to prove herself right.

It could be argued that Edison is the victim of organizational Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. Some parallels: MSP agents often seem to be conversant in the language of medicine, but they apply the terms incorrectly. Salisbury may appear to be conversant in the language of Quality Management and statistical analysis, but she applies it incorrectly.

In last week's board presentation, she explained that the questions are answered on a five-point scale from -2 (strongly disagree) to +2 (strongly agree). Then, in an attempt to explain away a poor score, said, "In a perfect world, we'd throw out all the -2's and +2's - they are outliers and shouldn't be counted - but I can't do that with this program" that she uses to present the survey results (Crystal Xcelsius). Now, that sounds perfectly reasonable, and there is such a thing as an "outlier" in data analysis.

But it is not what she describes. An outlier is any data point that is distantly removed from the normal distribution of data points. It usually indicates a measurement error. Let's say you are tracking hourly temperatures of a patient, and those data points are 98.4, 98.9, 100.2, 104, 99.8, 98.6. The 104 is so far removed from the others that it probably indicates a measurement error and should not be a cause for concern.

But in other cases, outliers can indicate a "heavy tailed" distribution and therefore should caution the analyst against attempting to fit the data to a normal "bell" curve distribution. If the temperature measurements were 98.4, 98.9, 100.2, 104, 103.7, 103.5, 99.8, 98.6 then there is a cluster at the extreme, and the extreme values cannot so easily be dismissed. To suggest that respondents who answered "strongly disagree" on a five-point scale to the statement "My organization asks me what I think" are outliers and should be discounted is either woefully ignorant of data analysis or deliberately attempting to befuddle the audience.

In another context she referred to the five options "strongly disagree, agree, no opinion/no answer, agree, strongly agree" as "distractors." Distractors are deliberately false answers that are designed to test the subject's specific knowledge with a multiple choice question. A minor quarrel, but it is evidence of another misuse of terminology used to feign authority or to associate with those she deems authorities, but misapplied, consistent with the actions of an MSP agent.

In medical MSP, the patient's condition continues to worsen, even with the intervention of the agent and with those actual practitioners engaged to diagnose and cure. The reason, of course, is that cure is not the goal of the MSP agent. The goal is to appear to be the most caring person in the room, or the most knowledgeable, or to be proven right.

Despite years of the application of CQI, Edison has not measurably improved (according to the Employee Satisfaction survey data). There have been pockets of success here and there, but in general, CQI has yielded precious few positive results. That is a shame, because CQI (a variant of Total Quality Management championed by Deming) is a proven method for identifying root causes of problems, prioritizing efforts and measuring results. What CQI under Salisbury measures is largely measurement. The answer to "How are we doing?" or "Are we making progress?" (both far too vague to be of any real utility) is essentially "We are measuring it."

The college has devoted significant time and money to CQI. There should be some documented results. But if you look at, say, the CQIN initiatives, we are hard-pressed to point to any significant results.

CQIN 2001
Institute Topic: Enhancing the Workplace Environment
CQIN-sponsored project: Implement breakfast and social hour opportunities for all staff and faculty to meet together for sharing opportunities. Development of working core values for all staff and faculty.

OK, we HAVE working core values, breakfasts and social hours. What has changed? What was the measure before and what is it now? What were they intended to improve? Are they effective? How do we know?

CQIN 2002
Institute Topic: The Experience Economy and customer service
CQIN-sponsored project: Develop and implement off-campus retreats for all faculty and staff on the topic of “The Engineered Experience.”

Yes, we HAVE the engineered experience. What has changed? What was the measure before and what is it now? What was it intended to improve? Is it effective? How do we know?

CQIN 2003
Institute Topic: Innovation
CQIN-sponsored project: Develop and implement faculty professional development training for those teaching online or web-enhanced courses.

We HAVE the required online teaching certification. Do we have better online instructors now? Do we have more, fewer or the same number? What was the measure before and what is it now? What was it intended to improve? Is it effective? How do we know? What confounding factors may be involved (student online learning requirements, for instance, or just more people generally familiar with the internet than six years ago)?

CQIN 2004
Institute Topic: Preparing for our future—Developing a Student-Centered Learning System
CQIN-sponsored project: Develop a college-wide learning system model.

Would anyone like to fill us in on this? Do we have it? What is it?

CQIN 2005
Institute Topic: Building Organizational Learning Systems: Accomplishing Our Mission Through Internal Partnership and Collaboration
Project: Design, deploy, and monitor a multi-faceted web site that would promote a better understanding of campus initiatives and activities through a broadened communication network.

This is "the bus." Hoo boy! What has changed? What was the measure before and what is it now? What was it intended to improve? Is it effective? How do we know?

CQIN 2006
Institute Topic: Breakthrough Learning – Creating Dramatic Improvements through Innovation

Nothing here. No project.

CQIN 2007
Institute Topic:
Organizational Sustainability

To develop partnerships with community agencies that will support service programs for Edison’s students and staff and for community stakeholders, individually and through area agencies and organizations.

OK, we have a senior fitness exercise area. How has that improved our partnerships? How often is it used, and by whom?

CQIN 2008
Institute Topic:
Organizational Sustainability

To design and implement learning modules for leadership development throughout all employee categories.

How many people attended? What was it intended to improve? Is it effective? How do we know?

If the answers to these questions don't exist, or we don't have systems in place to measure the effectiveness of these initiatives, then that represents a wholesale failure of CQIN and CQI at Edison. And if we do have the measures, but few people know about them, then that is also a failure of CQI. It is not through the staff's willful ignorance, as Salisbury sometimes claims. Distributing minutes of meetings is not the same as documenting and communicating progress. It is not enough that we have these initiatives - what are the results? Are we changing what we intended to change? Did we, in fact, intend to change anything at all? In a real CQI environment, change is specific, intentional and documented. In an organizational Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy environment, lots of stuff happens but no real progress is made, and things often get worse.

In MSP, the agent will assign blame to everyone but herself. The doctors are uncaring. The nurses are incompetent. The teachers are picking on my child. Other kids bully my child. Other parents let their kids come to school sick. But the root of MSP is that the agent herself is the infection. There is one sure-fire way of confirming an MSP diagnosis: Separate the agent from the target and see whether the target improves.

We have reached that point at Edison. We must separate the suspected MSP agent from the target and see whether things improve. I predict they will, and quickly. We have a talented, dedicated and robust staff. We have strong enrollment. We are creating and refining real systems for measuring effectiveness.

The "problem" is not that faculty are rabble-rousers, or have "personal agendas," or that Cabinet members are not communicating to their constituencies, or that deans are not doing their jobs, or that staff are lazy and won't take the time to read (all claims made publicly by Salisbury or by Yowell). The problem is the president has chosen one close advisor who is intent upon keeping him dependent upon her (she has stated to other employees that she is "indispensable" to the college), who is intent upon generating enough churn and turmoil that she alone must intervene or we shall all certainly perish (do armed cops following her around at commencement make sense in any other context?) and who advises the president so poorly that he is constantly at odds with those who would serve the mission of the institution faithfully and well. In another context, this was described as "lying to the press, then believing what you read in the papers."

The health of Edison Community College - perhaps its very existence - is on the line, and time is of the essence.


Class of '04 said...

An excellent analysis of the Salisbury phenomenon. No question that elimnating her from the picture would improve things damatically, and quickly. Unfortunately, that would still leave Yowell where he is and we all know how many shortcomings of a professional and personal nature that would entail. Salisbury was chosen for a reason. "Birds of a feather..."

Chance said...

Thanks, Brad, for your observations and analysis.

So, we have Dr. Salisbury knowingly misleading the Board? Or let's be "perfectly honest," she was lying.

And we have Dr. Yowell "coming clean" by admitting he knew Dr. Salisbury was not forthcoming? And he had been complicit in this deception because of why?

Well, why doesn't matter.

What matters, and this sad little performance alone should make it undeniably clear, is that Yowell and Salisbury have used a smoke and mirror charade of massaged data, misinformation, and "perfectly honest" communications to control and manipulate every aspect of CQI and everything associated with CQI.

But CQI isn't the point, either.

The greater question is just how many other aspects of the college have been similarly "managed" by Dr. Yowell and his privileged inner circle? Big question. Important question. Undeniable question.

Is there anything from the southwest offices at Edison that can be accepted without those nagging little doubts? Of course not. Absolutely not.

That is why confidence in the President has failed. Utterly. Completely.

This unfortunate house of cards that is Yowell's legacy is coming down. It is time to shuffle the deck and deal Edison's dedicated faculty and staff a new hand.

You're right, Brad -- the health and, yes, perhaps the very existence of the college, are indeed on the line.

We have seen enough. Let's hope the Board has enough, too.


Still Taking Notes said...

Thank you, Brad, for that detailed account and analysis of what happened at the May 20th Board Meeting. All of that circular reasoning was causing my head to spin. I’m tired of being told that my symptoms were the cause of the problem--the school is in bad shape because my morale is poor? (“The beatings will continue until morale improves.”) Your MSP explanation is what we all have suspected for quite some time but were unable to label. I also appreciate the run-down on CQI initiatives and their outcomes. I suspect a similar outcome with AQIP, and know that in some areas we are worse off for having forced AQIP criteria onto student learning initiatives. (We did, however, fill the form out so very nicely that maybe we can be given extra credit?)

It’s important to understand and validate that the problems at Edison are long standing, not a temporary flare up due to economic pressures. Through the years, there have been letters in the Illuminator, letters from the union, letters from the Senate and from individuals, a censure from the Senate, and repeated expressions of concern, some of which resulted in grievances and other formal complaints. If our Board was not aware of these problems, that information was either kept from them, or was presented in such a way that it did not seem urgent.

Should we be angry with the Board for not seeing through this ruse? Trained professional people should know to ask for hard data and results. Our Board did not. But, it’s also hard to ask for what you do not know exists. I can’t be angry with the Board, but I can be impatient. While we tarry and deliberate, area schools are cherry picking our best faculty and staff. (Is there anyone at Edison who is not polishing his resume?) Programs are suffering and students are confused. Now that the ruse is up, please move quickly and give us new leadership. At this point, nothing else will do.

Voice of Sanity said...

Mucho Mucho thanks Mr. Reed.

At an earlier meeting, the BoT stated, in open session, that the time of year where they evaluate the President and he also does a self evaluation was due. This was said in open session.

This is what I am getting at: the stated time of evalations was said in public, open session. It would make sense that the evaluations were/would be submitted in open session.

Documents from public sessions are, well, open to the public.

I'd be curious to read what the BoT has to say about the President. Moreso, I'd like to see how Dr. Yowell evaluates his performance this year.

Class of '04 said...

The cry for help from Ken Yowell is loud and clear. His complete breakdown of respect-based authority is palpable to those both near and far. He wants to be relieved. He needs to be relieved. The college will be relieved when he is relieved.

His acknowledgment that "I didn't need to hear any more of it..." caps years of not listening to those of us who tried to help by offering wise counsel. He didn't want to hear any of it: that his non-engagement of the college community was odd at best, harmful to morale at worst. That personal entanglements were hurting the college mission and disrupting college management, not to mention being painfully difficult to navigate by his direct reportees. That his refusal to lead the financial processes would lead to fiscal difficulties as he ignored budgetary constaints imposed on others. That Edison did not need another physical expansion borne on the backs of employees and a non-engaged community. That community support needed to be a top priority and that he needed to engage the community directly, not through proxies.

No, Dr. Yowell chose to ignore these warnings and went instead to someone who would tell him only what he wanted to hear: that everyone was wrong about him. He wasn't broken, the college was broken. That all his top administrators and faculty were wrong in their counsel and seeking to hurt him. Those that counseled fiscal restraint were wrong, he could muscle his way through fundraising having forced it on the employees of Edison. That making nice with staff a couple times a month would help them understand what a great guy he really was despite what people perceived from his petty actions and lack of real leadership.

And now the time has come when it all falls down. Current and past administrators know it. Current and past faulty members know it. Classified staff knows it. Community members know it. Students have known it longer than most. The board is engaged in knowing it. Finally.

Steveskid said...

Regarding the last of Brad's analysis about how Ken and his supporters blame all but themselves, here's an example from the past.
Back when we were on the Quarter system and James Sietz was President of Edison, a committee he had established presented its findings in early Spring, and as was typical, he reacted negatively and personally because the memo did not confirm his own prejudices. After a failed attempt at intimidation, in which he tried to poll each member of the committee individually to find out what they thought—after all, it is cowardice to fall back on the anonymity that a committee allows—he told them that he knew that there was a “placard carrying English teacher behind it.” I knew nothing of it, and only learned of what happened when we were all back in the Fall, and we called the committee the Memo Five. I can’t even remember who was on it, nor what it was charged to do. But I had been outspoken, and therefore guilty of having this vast power to intimidate my colleagues.
He never enumerated the agency of this intimidation, of course. Organizationally, I had no power. Those on the committee and I were all equals. I wasn’t the leader of a gang of thugs who flattened tires in the parking lot, or broke legs at night. But somehow if the faculty disagreed with the President, it had to be intimidation.
The then board allowed this to happen for years, until the college was nearly dysfunctional. A change was made with drama and publicity--a board member resigned publicly, for instance. Sound familiar?

UpperEdmin said...

What's truly pathetic about the Salisbury phenomenon is the fact that she travels the country convincing people (via conference presentations) that Edison is avante garde, while under Edison's roof her 'colleagues' avoid her at all cost. Nobody gets on "The Bus". Nobody looks at the dashboard. Her relationship with KY is truly pathological, and easily diagnosed by the most casual of observers. Only the Board can rid us of this sick pair.

From the dark said...

Continuous Quality Improvement without Continuous Quality Integrity is impossible.

Class of '04 said...

UpperEdmin, I respect your comments and agree wholeheartedly with your position. However, though the board should rid the college of its cancer, it is not the only means nor authority for resolution of the problem. Let's hope that the board does full factfinding and acts accordingly, and with significant dispatch before still more loyal, hardworking employees are hurt.

Chance said...

Class of 04's second comment to Brad's post really hits the mark at every point.

What is the likelihood that all or some board members (or important others) are reading the posts and comments on The Illuminator?

I'll sleep better knowing those who can bring change are getting the word from those who care most about Edison.

tick tick tick


Class of '04 said...

Rumors abound that certain high-level administrator/s feel safe from being dropped because there is no money for buyouts. OK, board here's your chance - let them keep their salary and perks with all the humility they can fake, but get them out of the way. I feel reasonably certain that we can round up more qualified people who love Edison in a way the cadre does not and who will work for stipends in order to save the college. RSVP ESEA, and we will be in touch with resumes.

Chance said...

NO NO NO to any buyouts, especially for Yowell.

(I have to wonder what you are talking about, because I always understood that no administrator other than KY had anything other than a one-year contract. So why a need for buyout?)

KY has taken great care to fill his own pockets in every possible way, as well as the purses of those he has promoted and rewarded -- far beyond what their education, experience or capabilities would indicate.

All of this comes at the expense of the college, its students, and its hard-working, honest, caring, professional employees (i.e., the other 97% -- aka the 'valued' staff).

The price of those who would say or do whatever they are told to back the President and his grandiose (but failed) theories is power, position, overcompensation, and indispensability. (Yep, there is nothing better than being indispensable! Sweet.)

Surely, with all that has happened, and all that has come to light, and all that is yet to come to light (and I hear there is much), the Board can find genuine CAUSE for dismissing this president and his merry band.


Political Paladin said...

Why doesn't the meeting report that KY just sent to everybody match the report that Brad has made? Which one do you believe?