As the University of Akron nears the end of its presidential search, the school's current leaders on Friday acknowledged a lack of trust between administrators and faculty and overall low morale.
Neither is new, Interim President John Green said, but he cited recent tough-but-necessary decisions for the most recent flare-up of emotions and accusations from the faculty union, the Akron chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
"We've made some really, really tough decisions in the last year," Green said. "So I’m not surprised people are unhappy about it."
He said the "divergence of opinion" is "troubling."
"It's very, very difficult to manage an organization and get everybody working together when there are these kinds of divisions," Green said.
Green and Chief Administrative Officer Rex Ramsier spoke out Friday in an interview with the Akron Beacon Journal a week after the union released a March survey showing a deep lack of trust in the administration. The survey and summary from the union particularly called out Ramsier and said faculty members felt harassed and were working in a culture of fear.
Green reiterated his support for Ramsier, but acknowledged even the perception of poor leadership is problematic because of its effect on trust and morale. He said the university has not received formal grievances or complaints about Ramsier.
"If people are leaving, considering leaving because they perceive they are not being treated fairly, that worries me," Green said. "It concerns me a lot. But also what concerns me is, we haven't had grievances and complaints to deal with specific issues."
He rejected survey comments that described Ramsier as "vindictive" and "unfair" and called the accusations "grandly overstated."
"Fair, tough-minded, principled — those are the words I’d use," Green said of Ramsier. "But to somebody who doesn’t agree with the principle, that might look like something else."
Because he was put in charge of making tough decisions, Ramsier has become "a bit of a lightning rod" to the faculty, Green said.
Ramsier, who said he is "the advocate for being fair and consistent," agreed he is a popular target.
"The standing answer around the campus has been 'blame Rex' because I’ve been involved in so many things that were serious and that got taken care of — issues that got resolved in many ways," he said.
Those decisions could have ranged from who receives tenure to a sabbatical request or the phasing out of an entire program. The university completed a review of all programs under Green, a process that began when Green was still a dean.
Faculty were involved in that process, but felt they were left out when it was time to make decisions, Akron AAUP President Pamela Schulze said.
"You have to involve the faculty in a meaningful way," Schulze said. "Not just talk at us and have us go through the motions."
Green said he believed a point of contention with the union had been resolved when some of Ramsier's responsibilities were reassigned in April, after the union brought the results of the survey to the board of trustees. An interim chief of academics was hired, separating that role from Ramsier's responsibilities as chief administrative officer and reducing his workload. But Ramsier remains the liaison with union. Schulze said he maintains high involvement in academics, notions that Ramsier denies.
The faculty — about 40% of full-time members responded to the survey — are not "just mad," Schulze said.
"I think that we’re all willing to do hard things for the sake of the university," Schulze said.
In the survey, faculty expressed concern about an interim president putting drastic changes into motion. Green said they were needed immediately.
"I was not going to sit around and wait," Green said. "And that was partly because a lot of these things really need to be addressed for the survival of the institution."
He also said faculty tend to lean toward the status quo. "They like their little niche," he said.
Green said his quick, temporary tenure — he has been in the job about 15 months — meant he had to make decisions quickly to position the university for its next leader. Neither he nor Ramsier is a candidate for the job, they both confirmed.
In a statement responding to the union's survey last week, Board Chairman Joseph Gingo said the search process was "nearing completion." The board had committee meetings Friday morning and will convene for a business meeting Wednesday.
Contact reporter Jennifer Pignolet at email@example.com, at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.