Complaints the focus of UND ed dean
GRAND FORKS, N.D.--Lynne Chalmers acknowledges she can be direct, assertive and even admits she raised her voice once with the University of North Dakota's College of Education and Human Development Dean Robert Hill on one occasion, but when he t...
GRAND FORKS, N.D.-Lynne Chalmers acknowledges she can be direct, assertive and even admits she raised her voice once with the University of North Dakota's College of Education and Human Development Dean Robert Hill on one occasion, but when he tried to reprimand her in March after serving the college for 25 years, that was the last straw.
"As long as you agree with him you will have no problems with him," she said."If you disagree with him in any way he will go after you with a vengeance."
Chalmers is one of several voicing displeasure with Hill in a faculty survey and a 2014 complaint.
Hill has served as dean since July 1, 2013, after leaving the University of Utah. He makes $185,400 annually, not including benefits.
The results of a May survey of 359 faculty were not positive for Hill; 84 percent of respondents said his office was "not at all" or "not very" transparent, and 82 percent said the same about openness and having no confidence in his office. According to the survey, 59 percent of those respondents were from within Hill's college.
Hill acknowledges he's been the bad guy on occasion and has had to get used to the slower pace at which things move at UND.
"Am I viewed uniformly as a great person? Probably not uniformly," Hill said.
A June 10 Herald open records request for "all formal complaints" filed against Hill initially resulted in spokesman Peter Johnson saying no records matched the request when he inquired with Provost Thomas DiLorenzo, whose office would have received them.
On June 24, Johnson said DiLorenzo had remembered and submitted a 96-page complaint filed by six professors in the college's Kinesiology and Public Health Education Department. Another detailed complaint submitted by Chalmers May 15 has not been turned over as Johnson said DiLorenzo viewed it as a "salary dispute."
In his office Thursday, Hill's mood was bright as he outlined progress in awarded grants and fundraising, which have increased from around $1 million to close to $2 million since he came to UND, but he appeared sullen discussing harsh comments made anonymously by faculty in the survey.
"This caught me by surprise because I'd never seen such hard words from people," Hill said. "I had to kind of get a grip on myself and was like 'I don't think that's me,' but you know, it's useful information so i'm learning. It was difficult to read it but I did pick up some themes in there and some things I need to work on."
Education professor Kathy Gershman has been teaching at UND for 31 years and describes teaching as "pure joy." She has been in phased retirement, and her personal experience with Hill has been limited.
She was on the search committee that interviewed Hill and said at the time she found him impressive and qualified, though her perception has changed over time as the mood within the college turned sour.
"There was a time when there was a lot more sense of community and a a lot more sense of buy-in and sort of a coalescence around vision, and I've seen that go away," Gershman said.
Kinesiology and public health education professor Dennis Caine went so far as to step down from his position of department chair early after serving two three-year terms because he couldn't deal with Hill. He also served as interim dean before Hill's appointment.
"I prize honesty, integrity and respect in my work relationships, free from duplicity and constantly changing parameters," he wrote in his May 2014 resignation letter, obtained by the Herald. "Regrettably, I have found some of my experiences with Dean Hill to fall short in some of these qualities."
Caine also signed his name to the 96-page complaint filed against Hill last June, outlining issues with his appointment of department chairs rather than letting them be elected, shortfall of secretarial staff and lack of communication.
Many of the supporting documents from within the complaint come from professor Jim Whitehead, who was also a part of the group that created, distributed and analyzed the faculty satisfaction survey.
"In no way should this expression of concerns be seen as a personal attack," the complaint states. "The main reason for pointing out these problems is our concern about the present and future welfare of the KPHE department under Dean Hill's administrative leadership."
The complaint requests DiLorenzo "formally admonish" Hill and Hill to change his behavior to not interfere or micromanage, and communicate in a timely and transparent manner, treating faculty students and staff "as people."
"There must be an immediate and permanent end to the hostile, vindictive and intimidating style that has angered and frustrated KPHE faculty and staff," the complaint states.
Hill responded three months later in September 2014 with a letter stating he would fix the secretarial staff issue, use the department chair to communicate more thoroughly with faculty, keep promises and fund a faculty position.
In his office Thursday, Hill said his goal at the time was to just hold the chair position open for Caine, who is on leave.
"There was value (in the complaint) in the sense I've got to be careful in terms of change, but some of the stuff was hard, like 'You lack empathy,' and I've always felt I was an empathic person, or 'You're autocratic,'" Hill said.
A change in perspective
Hill decided to come to North Dakota after working in Utah for 23 years because he had become interested in rural areas of the country and he said UND did a "great job" recruiting him.
The University of Utah had a Carnegie classification as a "very high" research institution, something Hill hoped to help UND achieve as it is currently ranked one step lower as "high."
To that end, he restructured things to create a grants and contracts position and an alumni fundraising position with the UND Alumni Association and Foundation to raise more money. Hill said he has also has pushed for the creation of a scholarship banquet, new lecture series and put an emphasis on Web presence.
"We had a lot of building to do," he said.
Hill said research is one of many factors-age, salary, time, departmental problems--that could have caused 12 benefitted full-time staff and faculty from his college to retire or resign in his two years at UND. Two were let go.
"That pattern is normal because you don't really have any control over it," Hill said.
Seven faculty and staff either retired or resigned during the last two years of former Dean Daniel Rice's time at the education college and three were let go.
Marcus Weaver-Hightower has been chair of the Educational Foundations and Research Department for two years and said he saw Hill inherit a lot of issues, such as an ongoing legal case involving an employee accused of embezzling money and a substantial debt.
Soon after coming to the college Hill worked to eliminate a $500,000 loan taken out years earlier to pay for furniture in the Education Building using any unused pools of money he could find and help from UND's central office.
According to the complaint, some saw this as "meddling" that eliminated a secretarial position for a time, and some said in the faculty survey they were never clear on how Hill eliminated the college's debt.
Hill's response was he didn't see value in explaining every budgetary detail to everyone as an accountant would, though some, like Chalmers, still want a more transparent dean's office.
"Some of the biggest problems are his lack of communication, his inability to follow through on anything like request to recruit new faculty or put a new staff person in place," she said.
Chalmers said she hadn't heard anything negative about her job performance until she received a letter of reprimand from Hill March 10 and subsequent post-tenure review rating her "unsatisfactory" in two of three review areas.
Chalmers went to DiLorenzo, fought the reprimand and won, but her opinion of Hill was changed by the exchange.
"He never bothered to find out who I was as a faculty member or as a person," she said. "He never bothered to find out what my career was like."
Weaver-Hightower said he recognized and appreciated Hill's efforts to build research within the college, though he noted it should be done in a democratic way.
"His style is one where he wants to do his communicating through chairs," Weaver-Hightower said. "I think with previous deans the culture has not really been that way, so this is kind of a change for a lot of people I think."