Strategic planning report blames CMU communications for university discord

A year of bitter discord at Central Michigan University stemmed from a failure to communicate, according to a strategic planning report written by a third-party source.

CMU’s strategic planning process, launched by University President George Ross in 2011, slowed after breakdowns between the administration and faculty during contract negotiations and the Academic Senate passing a “No Confidence” resolution against Ross and Provost Gary Shapiro.

According to the report, “dysfunctions in campus constituent relationships” and “acriminous conditions” led Ross to ask John Moore, President of Penson Associates, Inc., to work as a facilitator in assessing campus relationships.


“I asked Dr. Moore, who has performed similar duties with a number of universities across the country, to offer a professional opinion based on his conversations and interactions with leadership and constituents across campus,” Ross said Tuesday. “I didn’t ask him to come to campus to agree with me or disagree with me. I wanted an honest, objective assessment. I believe he gave us that.”

Moore visited CMU from February 19 to 22, interviewing approximately 40 individuals representing multiple campus constituencies including deans, department heads, faculty, administrators and members of the Student Government Association. The report’s perceptions were included if they were mentioned more than once by more than one person, Moore wrote.

“This facilitator acknowledges that his review was not an in-depth analysis of campus dynamics and that it was limited by time and scope,” Moore wrote. “This report is intended to offer insights that might be helpful in facilitating the strategic planning process and the over-all effectiveness of campus relationships and leadership.”

Moore reported several contextual factors caused the “breakdown” in constituent relationships during the fall semester. A culture of nationally evolving educational standards and lack of economic funding created a context for conflict as CMU adjusted to the “new normal,” he wrote.

How the campus community responds to such challenges could either divide or unite, Moore wrote. In CMU’s case, it divided.

“Faced with the reality of diminishing resources, internal constituencies often adopt zero-sum mentalities and become particularly suspicious of the process by which resources are allocated to units that they perceive to be their competitors,” he wrote. “If a particular organizational entity receives funding, it is often perceived to be at some other unit’s expense. For example, at CMU, the establishment of the College of Medicine is perceived as a strong competitor for scarce resources by some academic departments.”

The fighting between the administration and the faculty during collective bargaining was “the most significant casual factor to deteriorating campus relations.”

Moore stressed the escalating problem lay in how communication between all parties occurred. The Board of Trustees, Academic Senate, administration and faculty were all perceived as being unprofessional, untransparent and ineffective with each other.

“(Effective communication) is fundamentally about building credible and trusting relationships within the academic community. In this sense, effective communications is everyone’s responsibility,” he wrote. “Of course, the administration has a responsibility for fostering an effective communications culture at CMU, but all constituencies must commit communicating credibly with one another.”

Central Michigan Life was perceived as being unobjective or unfair in reporting on internal university matters and might have been inappropriately influenced by faculty members, Moore wrote.

“The President should hold monthly meetings with the editorial staff and adviser of the student newspaper in order to enhance communications, relationships and support the efforts of the student newspaper,” he wrote.

Moore ended the report offering suggestions for the Board of Trustees, Ross, academic governance and constituent relationships. The majority of his advice involved fostering better communications, most of which was directed at Ross.

“There were observations that weren’t real flattering to the administration, and weren’t real flattering to a lot of folks, and things that were positive,” Ross said. “But that’s what he was told by the constituents he talked to.”

Ross received the report March 26. In April, he interviewed Sherry Knight, founder of Saline-based communications firm Knight Writers, to be interim associate vice president of communications, the title held, at the time, by Renee Walker.

Walker resigned May 25, almost exactly two months after the report blaming communications came out. She will receive more than $140,000 in severance pay and benefits and continued coverage CMU’s COBRA health plan for 18 months.

“I will not and cannot comment on Walker’s resignation, other than we came to a mutual decision,” Ross said Tuesday.


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