Monday, November 14, 2011

Dirty Laundry Gets Spin Cycle

The University of Minnesota Administration's Reaction 

to Criticism has Been Too Focused on Public Relations Spin

From the University of Minnesota Daily:

The Minnesota Daily Editorial Board has been extremely disappointed with the response from administrators to criticism of the School of Dentistry’s arrogance, autocratic management and questionable ethics.

The guest column “Dentistry dean took school forward” that ran Tuesday, Nov. 1, was signed by several members of the dentistry school. The authors signed the column with their faculty titles, but neglected to inform readers that every one of them is also a member of the dentistry school administration, most being department chairs and associate deans.

Furthermore, the authors of the guest column wrote it before the news story was finished. Its purpose was clearly an effort by the dentistry school administration to drown out criticism by talking past the point.

The column’s failure to acknowledge any real criticisms of the dentistry school is characteristic of the arrogance we criticized them of last week. The relentlessly positive perspective of the column shows either a great deal of hubris or a cynical commitment to projecting a certain image of the dentistry school regardless of the reality.

Provost Tom Sullivan and Vice President for Health Sciences Aaron Friedman also wrote a letter last week called “Interim dean selected fairly,” which ran Nov. 2. This letter also missed the point and failed to address criticisms of the dentistry school.

The letter argued that faculty were consulted before a decision to hire an interim dean was made. The criticism, however, was that those faculty were simply given lip service and ignored. At one point in the letter, Sullivan and Friedman write, “We … [received a] list of nominees from a segment of the faculty. [Interim dentistry school dean Judith] Buchanan was on that list.” She was indeed; she was last.

The combination of these pieces shows an administration not only unwilling to address its problems, but one so arrogant that it will not even acknowledge it has any. Instead, it resorts to attempts to change the discussion and confuse the public with lies of omission.

The administration of the dentistry school clearly places a higher priority on managing its public perception than on seriously addressing its problems.
It is important to note that this attitude is not specific to the dentistry school. Many areas of the University of Minnesota and its administration have been more committed to improving the perception of the University than its actual quality.
Undoubtedly this attitude has trickled down from former President Bob Bruininks’ administration’s strategic positioning agenda which sought to improve key statistics that factored into national rankings more than it did on improving real quality.

A new president has now taken office, giving the administration a chance to change course and renew its focus on matters of substance instead of superficiality. Karen Hanson will also replace Tom Sullivan as Provost at the beginning of 2012, and the dentistry school will be hiring a permanent replacement for former dean Patrick Lloyd, who was responsible for many of its problems.

We hope this new set of leaders brings more humble leadership that is more willing to analyze itself critically in a genuine attempt to improve.
Our current administrative leaders have shown they would rather deny a problem’s existence than solve it. We are profoundly disappointed in them for their cynical spin campaign and for placing their own reputations above the good of the school they serve.

We look to the future for administrators who aren’t afraid to engage with criticism seriously, admit faults and work sincerely to fix them. Our current leaders in the dentistry school, including Sullivan, have failed on all these counts.

No comments: