Is it really a question of style more than substance in UA ruckus?

Provost Meredith Hay at a faculty forum last fall
Provost Meredith Hay at a faculty forum last fall

The more I talk to people at the UA (that pesky off-the-record stance making me wonder if accusations about ‘fear of retribution’ are actually true), the more I’m beginning to think that this brouhaha over the Transformation and calls for no-confidence votes of UA leadership are really due to Provost Meredith Hay’s lack of personal social skills more than anything else. In other words, it isn’t so much the message of “We’ve got to cut” as the way that message is delivered.

Over and over I hear from faculty, department heads and even deans, the same thing: “We know we have to change our model. We do have to adjust to new economic realities. We know we have to spin gold out of straw here but she’s just asking us to do it in the wrong way.” (Example: One dean says Hay called him into her office last fall and told him what he’d need to do and when he said, “I don’t have any more to cut,” she said, “Well, then, you can quit and I’ll find someone in the department who can do the job.” That’s teamwork for you.)

So, would UA Defender have launched; would department heads that had heretofore covered Hay’s backside now be calling for her head; and would graduate teaching assistants/students be trying to decide if they should have a massive walkout to protest rumors of further cuts IF Hay and/or Shelton had been a little more deferential to the academic masses during these transformative days?

As an observer of Hay since she arrived at UA, I can attest that she is uncomfortable in crowds, that she senses she isn’t the most popular kid in the Wildcat playground and that she is very much a matter-of-fact woman. She trusts few, if any, people, and trusts the press least of all. She’s more than happy to be your cheerleader if you pony up and get with her program, but if you don’t, she has no problem being the person to tell you to get out of her way. She takes her job seriously and when she was given her marching orders by Shelton in re: the Transformation, she said her version of “Yes, sir” and got to business.

Wilbur Wildcat - the most popular Wildcat in the UA playground
Wilbur Wildcat - the most popular Wildcat in the UA playground

That is, after all, how people get to be successful: They get things done and are willing to be unpopular to do it. As a woman of power, she probably had to be tough as nails to get where she is. Problem is, Hay’s at UA in laid-back Tucson and folks here don’t take too well to that kind of my-way-or-the-highway attitude. It isn’t just that academia moves at the speed of a glacier melting, talking things to death while Rome burns, it is that Tucson itself has a hard time making any decisions. (Exhibit A: Rio Nuevo. Exhibit B: No cross-town freeway. Sometimes I’m surprised that people even show up for work anywhere in this town.)

Whether no one informed her of what she’d be up against, or whether she just doesn’t understand how to let down her guard in order to get buy-in from academic types, Hay is now the center of a storm that I think both she and Shelton wrongly believe will blow over. The decision at the end of August to not hire six women, five of them minorities, who had been recruited – at the behest of Shelton – was the nail in the coffin for some department heads who’d been trying to go along to get along.

When you have heads and directors who, up until now, had been trying to keep UA’s internal arguments in-house now feeding the flames of discontent, you’ve got a major problem on your hands. Shelton and Hay need to take some serious steps at reconciliation with faculty, deans and department heads or there’s a really good chance they’ll regret it come the next Arizona Board of Regents meeting.

And, as one major UA grant-getter and lead faculty told me today, those make-nice attempts need to be authentic and well-thought-out. “They need to be more than just those campaign-speech memos he sends out,” the faculty said. “No one believes he means anything he’s saying.”

POSTSCRIPT: UA isn’t the only unversity dealing with some awkward decisions made by administration. Radford University in Virginia had two nasty firings that were handled so poorly the incident made Inside Higher Education blogs.

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5 thoughts on “Is it really a question of style more than substance in UA ruckus?

  1. At Sallygradstudent, we’re not so sure that Hay’s personality is the only source of the discontent on campus.  You have to keep in mind that people are really getting fired and their colleagues feel they can’t resist or they may go down, too.  As for graduate students, we’re already at the bottom of the barrel, so when we hear that the U might cut our health benefits or salaries, well, that’s just outrageous.  The administration of the U has yet to take a voluntary (even token) pay cut.

  2. Style is a big big problem, but be assured that this is not just about a “tough person” in the “laidback old Pueblo”.  Not even close.  It is about the by-passing of input on major decisions, having a preconceived ideas of what you want before doing any research, and then trying to ram it down peoples throats.  That is not leadership…that is not tough…it is unwise, leads to poor decisions, leads to distrust, and ultimately where we are now which is a place where we should be fighting the legislature, but instead have major internal problems that that keep us from uniting.  If you look at the differential cuts decision, whether intended or not, division was the result.  And it certainly may save the administration’s skin because those in Science, Law, and Eller who took low cuts, may be likely to ignore all the problems and not oppose them.  I could write for hours about just how many major decisions, some good ideas, with BIG consequences were just made without vetting them, without seeking guidance, without seeing support, and without caring when people got upset.  That IS leadership. It is called tyranny.  And, in a place like this, tyrrany doesn’t work.  You don’t have an army to enforce it.

  3. With all due respect to her official position vs her real role as a “hit person”,  she is not here to create consensus or buying in.  She has to make changes immediately and protect the president.  Her future career with another organization depends on her being able to make a claim to fame of  scorched earth at U of A. However, even she is not cutting enough or doing it fast enough to solve the real crisis and chaos at U of A.
    I would gladly work for her and help make change happen,  as long as she protected my back.

  4. Comment from the UA Defender blog:
    86% not supportive of Hay, and 80% not supportive of Shelton. And 69% not happy with their high-handed handling of the budget cuts. And 43% saying, wait a minute, stop saying “ALL the faculty support differential cuts” – 43% shy of 100 is pretty far from ALL.
    Where did those percentages come from ? The Defender did a tally. Here’s how:
    On the questions assessing “confidence” or “no confidence” where 1 = “no support” and 5 = “full support,” the range 1-3 defines the range going from “no support to neutral.” Everything shy of 3.0, the midpoint, is negative – the “unhappy range.” Or “no confidence,” if you prefer.

    The Defender posted this tally of percentages in the “unhappy range”:

    #1 … the way the President has carried out the Transformation process: 77% unhappy
    #2 … the way the President has handled the recent budget cuts: 69% unhappy
    #3 …the way the Provost has carried out the Transformation Process: 86% unhappy
    #4 … the way the provost has handled the recent budget cuts: 82% unhappy
    #5 … the principle of differential cuts: 43% not happy with it
    #10 How much confidence do you have in the ability of central administration to lead us through the tough challenges we face now and in the forseeable future? 80% in the no-confidence range.

    The tally is at http://UADefender.blogspot.com

  5. It’s interesting that anybody would cite the UA Defender blog – I attempted to post comments to it, and although the blog writer will defend to the death your right to say something she won’t agree with, she also won’t post it. Champion of truth and justice! LOL.
    I know that several previous colleagues of mine from UA agree that it is high time for change at UA – and I agree with above poster, Hay is NOT there to build consensus.  And I”m gonna go on a limb here, without too great a leap in logic, and say that faculty member X who was told to cut more people off his budget probably has at least one relative, one undergraduate lover, and several people he owns a business with working for him.  And maybe some of his wives friends.  And I can guarantee you, if he’s in medicine, as a faculty member, whether it’s pharmacy or college of Med, he’s making biiiiiiiiiig bucks and probably not even required to teach/mentor or anything else resembling education. Stroll in at 10am (“meetings”), leave at 2pm (“meetings”).
    We are in a recession folks. It’s time for do-nothings with cushy 100K plus (or 200K and 300K plus) a year salaries (public institution, remember?) to start asking hard questions.  Go ahead and dust off those conflict of interest forms that nobody’s audited in ten years and see what needs to be cut.  How about we first cut the contracts of faculty-owned businesses who are running their enterprises through fee-for-service entities at the University of Arizona – with taxpayer-subsidized infrastructure, hell yeah that’s a bargain, baby.
    Tyranny?  Yeah, well let’s just say there is a HUGE contingent of faculty at UA who are here for the lifestyle – I call them the get-sum-for-less crowd – lots of New Yorkers, Chicagoans and even a few NoCal residents for good measure.  They want to have more time for themselves, golf, travel and grad student skirts and hiring their buddies.  Toooooo many 4.5 FTEs at UA.  It’s high time Shelton and Hay clean house, repossess the education part of the land grant mandate, and return this public institution to both ethics and sanity. That’s right.  PUBLIC institution.  What you do on your own time as a faculty member here, yeah, it matters to taxpayers.  Wanna hottub with your students – do it somewhere else, please.
    UA folks wouldn’t last two minutes at ASU which is KILLING UA in its ability to attract and retain talent.  The old boy network and their infinity pools have RUINED the UA, entrenched the very very worst kind of people (and all the buddies they can hire)…personally I don’t give a rat’s a** whether faculty like it.  They will never like it when people come in and ask them to be more accountable. YOu want to keep your job?  Produce!  Yeah, I can see how that would piss off UA faculty. You want a raise? Teach. Mentor.  Publish. Chasing grad student tail should no longer be the unifying cause around which faculty congregate and commiserate.  I’ve never worked at a more unprofessional place in my life.  And if you try to fix it at the bottom life, you WILL be escorted out.  I hope HAY is able to make some headway and clean house.  Who cares about her social skills.  Get rid of the chaffe. And tell them take their viagra and condom machines with them.
    Go ahead and show some more numbers from UA Defender…..that is the old boy network right there…..Hay’s encroaching on her 4.5 FTE. LOL. Of course they aren’t happy.  Their lucrative get-sum-for-less lifestyle is being threatened.
    Think of all the money we could save if we start cutting the highest paying jobs….administrators with bachelor’s degree making 150K as Assistant VPR?  Seriously folks?  Give me a CPA certification or something. I guess an MBA or PhD is out of the question. What a joke.
    Tucson is no longer for Tucsonans, and neither is the UA.  YOu want a good undergrad education, go to NAU, you want a professional work environment and a grad school environment that doesn’t outright exploit you, go to ASU. They have rules there, and they actually follow them.
    UA is broken and faculty privilege and backscratching are to blame.  Who do these people think they are? SO many native Tucsonans have said no thanks after working there.  These are not the values I, for one, grew up with. The only people comfortable there now are the folks from cities where corruption, gladhanding and schmoozing/hiring friends and family are commonplace. Tucson used to be an okay place until this lot started strolling in their BMW’s.
    I think it’s telling that Bio5 is named after KEating of the Keating 5 fame. LOL. We don’t care where or who the money comes from….just as long as it comes. LOL.  What a joke.

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