The public continues to get an education about the personnel matters of a university president as the media continues to report on the ongoing saga at the University of Virginia. The latest—reported in the March 1 Washington Post—is that President Teresa Sullivan submitted an annual list of goals to the university’s Board of Visitors in November 2012. Two months later, the Board of Visitors Rector Helen Dragas replied with an expanded list of goals—65 goals to be exact—with a less-than-a-week due date to respond before the goals would be considered current. The full list is not public, but some of the correspondence is as well as responses from the major players are.
Surely this exchange would not have become public if the University of Virginia had not been in national news by asking for Sullivan’s resignation in June 2012 and quickly backing off of that demand after public uproar.
In case you are reading this thinking that 65 goals might be par for the course, The Washington Post asked around. “Three current or former public university presidents said in interviews that the number of goals assigned to Sullivan indicates a probable overstepping of authority.” The article indicates that the list of goals have since been negotiated down to a smaller number.
This glimpse into the goal-setting (the prelude to evaluation) of a university administrator makes me wonder if these types of conflicts happen all the time—at the university president level as well as throughout any institution. A telling quote in the Washington Post article from one board member criticizes the Freedom of Information Act and state laws requiring public meetings. Perhaps the more circumspect statement would have been Dragas’ own about not disclosing full information about what is essentially a personnel matter.
But what happens at the lower levels of a university when a conflict arises between a supervisor and an employee about job performance? The press isn’t typically reporting on it and most of the co-workers often don’t even know. The supervisors of the supervisor and human resources are called in. If I’m ever handed a list of 65 goals on which my job depended, I hope that I have the grace and eloquence of Sullivan during the ensuing meetings. About this conflict, she responds: “I am not averse to stretch goals, but I also do not care to be set up to fail.”
Incidentally, what happens when a president and the board have a conflict? The public and the press weigh in, but so does the accrediting agency. Read the one-year warning that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) issued in December 2012.