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UI College of Education in 'crisis' after controversy surrounding dean

BY CASSIDY RILEY | DECEMBER 10, 2012 6:30 AM

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The University of Iowa College of Education is facing what some officials call a crisis.

“This is the most dramatic set of circumstances that I’ve ever been part of,” said Stewart Ehly, UI psychological and quantitative foundations professor.

On the evening of Nov. 7, unknown faculty members n the college placed ballots in faculty mailboxes asking for a vote of confidence or no confidence in Dean Margaret Crocco. The ballots were found the next day. There were 91 votes distributed and 65 returned. Of those returned, 44 voted no confidence, 16 voted confidence, and five abstained.

A few weeks after the vote took place, Crocco was made aware of some negative comments about her leadership that were left on a survey written by Mike Morony and Volker Thomas, the heads of the Staff Council and Faculty Advisory Committee of the college. Crocco said she turned the comments over to Vice President for Human Resources Sue Buckley out of concern that the comments should be treated as a personnel matter. Buckley then turned them over to the Provost’s Office.

In an email sent to all faculty and staff on Dec. 8, Provost P. Barry Butler emphasized that the survey was intended to assess the climate of the school, not Crocco’s performance, but because comments focused so explicitly on her, they had to be handled carefully.

“Earlier this fall, the faculty and staff leaders in the College of Education conducted — with the dean’s approval — a survey of the college environment,” he said in an email statement. “When I reviewed a summary of the comments, it was obvious that many of the responses were specific to the dean’s performance. It was the consensus opinion of the general counsel, the vice president for Human Resources, and myself that these comments were so directly related to performance that they must be considered personnel records and needed to be treated accordingly, with the same care for confidentiality we afford all faculty and staff personnel records.”

Butler also insisted that no documents were destroyed.

“As the dean’s supervisor, I requested that the open-ended comments be retained by me,” he said. “When I learned there was discussion about distributing the anonymous comments, I collected copies from the faculty and staff leaders and asked for confirmation that any electronic copies had been deleted. The comments are in the dean’s personnel file, and I will discuss them with her in an upcoming evaluation.”

Despite the vote of confidence/no confidence and the negative comments on the surveys, no one has come forward to publicly share grievances with Crocco, and she said that makes it difficult for her to move forward.

“Since [the vote] was done essentially in the dark of night without prior discussion and entirely anonymously, it makes it hard for me to know how to resolve the issues that face us,” Crocco told The Daily Iowan. “Those who were leading the vote saw the survey as an opportunity to critique my leadership.”

Crocco said she was also surprised to read in the Des Moines Register that one concern addressed salaries. Salaries and raises were set according to guidelines set by the state Board of Regents, she said.

“In the vast majority of cases for faculty, they got the equivalent to or more than the raise that was recommended by their immediate supervisor,” she said. “So I’m a little puzzled about why that should have been a bone of contention.”

On Dec. 7, all seven members of the Faculty Advisory Committee resigned from their positions on the committee because they felt they could no longer efficiently fulfill their duties as a liaison between the administration and faculty, according to an email sent to all College of Education faculty and staff.

“The lack of transparency in administrative decision-making processes have rendered [the committee] powerless in effectively and efficiently meeting its responsibilities,” Thomas, the committee head, wrote in the email.

Following these events, Crocco sent an email to faculty and staff in attempt to get those with concerns to talk with her about them.

“I would like to reach out via this email to each of you to ask that you help me repair our relationship,” she said in the email. “As I did at the outset of my time here, I am once again inviting anyone who wants to come in and talk with me one-on-one to do so at your convenience, now, if possible, or after the semester break. I promise to listen carefully to what you have to say.”

Crocco said there have since then been some faculty members who have come to speak with her, but those who have organized the vote have yet to come forward.

“I have in my judgment extended an olive branch,” she said. “If individuals choose not to respond, that leaves us in a stalemate position. I can’t resolve this on my own.”

Elizabeth Altmaier, UI professor of psychological and quantitative foundation, sent out the email with the results of the vote of confidence/no confidence on Nov. 16. She said while many have different reasons for being upset, it is clear that there has been a breach in trust.

“The whole fabric of education is trust-based,” she said. “You have a tear in that fabric, which is simply unheard of [and] you’ve got faculty who then are thinking, What’s next?”

Crocco said she agrees that they system is built on trust and needs to be repaired but that it is not only the trust of the faculty and staff that was wounded.

“When I learned on Nov. 7 that a vote of no confidence was to be held without discussion, without informing me, it certainly shook my trust in individuals who I thought of as colleagues,” she said. “So the way that some individuals are representing the problem is that I have broken faith, yet I have not been handled fairly by faculty and staff.”


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