By Mike Taint. Really.
By invitation of the editorial powers-that-be of this esteemed blog I’ve been invited to make a guest posting. I’m honored. I’m also very much dismayed at the current crisis, and the grief it’s caused my former colleagues and co-workers, good people and dedicated educators and staff who’ve dedicated their lives to Edison. Unfortunately, trouble at Edison caused by KY’s poor leadership is not a new thing. My first reaction when I heard of the mass non-renewals was the old Yogi Berra observation – “it’s like déjà’ vu all over again”.
Just to be clear - I haven’t kept in contact much with my former colleagues since I left 4 years ago …… having spent most of my life in the Air Force I’m used to moving away and moving on, I guess. I first heard of the current crisis a couple months ago from friends, and then followed the newspaper articles and found THE ILLUMINATOR blog, which I read daily (I think I’m the guy in Lower Elbonia they mentioned a few months ago). To put it mildly, I never thought much of KY’s leadership while on the faculty, but it’s really hard to believe what’s transpired in the last few months. This is deception, double talk and just plain foolishness taken to a whole new level; if the esteemed historian Barbara Tuchman was still alive this affair would make a worthy final chapter to one of her best books, THE MARCH OF FOLLY (about governments that deliberately pursue self-destructive agendas).
In my case, here’s how it went down (I’ve been told there are arguments about this still on campus). Late February 2005 I was told by my dean to meet with the VP for Education in a couple days – out of the blue. My intuition immediately went off that something was wrong ….. it just seemed funny. I seriously doubt if my dean had any idea of what was going to happen – the VP may not have, for that matter. Contrary to rumors, I was not under any “double secret probation” or anything of the sort (I can understand why people would think that, though). Of course, I HAD fought for over a year against the administration to change the “mid year hire pay policy”, a great deal they have going where you teach full time starting in January (50% of the academic year) but get paid less than 40% of a year’s salary. Unfortunately, the ESEA and I lost the arbitration on that one.
At the meeting I was told by the VP that my contract would not be renewed … naturally I asked “Why?” and the reply was “according to the contract, in the first 3 years of year employment we don’t have to give a cause”. But you had to be there – the body language from the VP, as I read it, said “I’m embarrassed beyond belief to be doing this” … ditto for the dean. I then asked each one another question: “do you think this is right?” ….. not much of a response from either. I believed then and now that both my dean and VP – good people - were compelled to do something they didn’t agree with at all. I have never doubted that the direction to do this came from KY himself, who doesn’t seem to like strong outspoken figures.
I immediately shot out an email to the entire college to let them know what happened. My goal in doing this was not to spark a rebellion but merely to get the facts – at least my version of them – out in the open to keep rumors at bay. I didn’t want people thinking I’d left because of some malfeasance on my part. What happened next was one of the most humbling moments of my life – my colleagues in the faculty cast an overwhelming no confidence vote in the president and requested my re-instatement. Of course, nothing happened but I did decide to speak to the Board at their end of year meeting. Alas, this was before the wonders of YouTube, but in a nutshell what I told them was:
- Things on the surface at Edison look fine, but they really aren’t. There is an unhealthy atmosphere where people are afraid to speak out, lest they end up like me. In fact, there was more “academic freedom” in the Air Force (based on 21 years experience) than at Edison
- I know good leaders from bad; I’ve been a leader myself. What you have here is bad leadership. And it’s been in place for far too long. Change is needed – now
As expected, they listened politely, said nothing, and that was that.
Interestingly – and most of you don’t know about this – about a year after I left Edison I got a call from B&I asking me if I wanted to teach a project management course for a local firm that needed training. Of course my reaction was – are you serious? They were, so I agreed (verbally) to do so. I made arrangements for texts, course times, etc, and then a week before the course was to start I was told it was cancelled – a little probing over the phone revealed that decision came from KY himself. No concern for a local company that needed training (I don’t know if they ever received it or not), just the need to take another shot at me. Think about this, Board members - this is the character of the leader of your college.
What happened to me wasn’t a big deal. Within a couple months I was back in industry, at double my Edison salary and with nights free again to pursue my opera and theater interests. But what KY is doing now is wrecking Edison as an institution, driving away its best people and attempting to create a environment of “KY-think” that is the complete antithesis of what higher education stands for.
Board of Trustees – I’m calling you out. You have the responsibility to oversee the college and provide strategic direction – do your job, and get Edison new leadership, the leadership it deserves.