Sunday, October 08, 2006

Why Wendler is failing and what his replacement might do better.

Someone implied that I think Wendler is a villain in the comments and it isn't so. I think he is well meaning, but not capable of doing the job.

It seems that Uncle Walt has a clear mental division with the administrators on one side and the faculty and staff on the other. Right now he had clear control over the administrators and very little over faculty (beyond screwing people over on promotions and getting the best people to put their resumes on the street). Staff is somewhere in the middle. It is kind of funny that he doesn't demand results from the administrators, just that they are loyal.

A little story for you. My first 10 years after college I was involved in a number of layoffs. There was an important lesson to be learned from big layoffs. If the right people (the deadwood) were laid off, it was a good thing for the firm. If the good people were let go, say 100% of an organization with a failing product (including some superstars), the firm was going out of business. The survivers got the message pretty quick, good people going is bad, bad people going is good.

Let's assume you are the faculty, USG, A/P Staff or any other organization on campus where Wendler is trying to do a hostile takeover, before you just gave in and decided Uncle Walt should be your supreme commander, wouldn't it be wise to analyze how he is running the one organization he has real control over? The administration. If we view a snapshot of the administration at SIUC today and try to decide if the university is on the way up or down, like we do after a layoff what do we find? I think we can get virtually everyone (including people who think professors are working in the shower) to agree the administration was bad when Wendler came and is worse now. Feel free to write in if you feel differently.

Here is a quick list of the good people who have "left" SIUC since Wendler arrived. We lost the guy who was the key to turning around the whole athletic program, the good AD, the senior lawyer, the US Congressman who ran facilities (granted he is back), the US Senator who ran the highest visibility organization (granted he died) and almost every Dean in just 5 years! Don't forget that Wendler and Dunn have their CV's on the street and are actively interviewing for jobs. These are just the people I can name as I type, I mostly don't pay attention. Look who stayed and who mans the key positions in the administration? I'm certain that they aren't getting into the MLB playoffs with this talent.

Like Italy before WW2, when they embraced Mussolini because he could "make the trains run on time." The vested groups would likely give up control of SIUC to a dictator, if there was a good chance of success. An example of how the trains don't run on time, after 5 years there still isn't any literature in the high schools around the state for SIUC (the only school who can't execute this simple task), only university in Illinois that no advertising budget, only university that doesn't test incoming students for math, only university in Illinois with declining enrollment. The administration is so incompetent they have recently decided to shift the blame to the Deans by giving them "responsibility for recruiting" for their own colleges. The real problem is what Wendler has failed to fix the administration and clearly isn't up to the task of fixing the rest of the problems where he doesn't have control. If I was on campus, I wouldn't be signing up to be the next group Wendler "fixed."

The Wendler management experiment is over and we know the results. It is to bad when someone talks a reasonable game, but can't execute. It certainly isn't that he is a villain, as a matter of fact it could be that SIUC needs a villain. There are so many people who need to improve performance at SIUC, it could be that only a villain will be able to make the painful moves that will be required to turn things around (a tip on the first painful move? Public firings of the worst people in the administration).

As always, your comments are welcome.


Jonathan Bean said...

I'm not disagreeing but a bit of clarification:

If deans DON'T leave every five years, then they are considered "no good." Most administrators from dean up rotate out every five years. No one expects them to stay (unless they were promoted from within). THAT might be one of the problems with SIUC and higher ed in general: We don't develop talent that knows the university in question.

I often wonder: Branch Rickey pioneered the minor league system of "growing talent" during the Great Depression and St. Louis won pennant after pennant. Other teams called this unfair competition, but they caught on. Perhaps, if SIUC ever hopes to rise to the majors (or AAA), we might develop management from within. That has problems, too, but again I wonder. . .

Oh, Branch also broke the color bar and said merit, not skin color, will out. Perhaps SIUC in the midst of its diversity blather could imbibe a bit of Branch's philosophy (disclosure: his speech on "doing the right thing -- and doing well" are included in my new civil rights book).

Fraydog said...

The whole thing really pains me because I really like Dr. Wendler as a person. He came into an impossible situation (succeeding John Jackson who was a great professor but didn't exactly heal the wounds caused by Sanders v. Argersinger). Because of people in the faculty who attacked him because of him being the permanant successor to Argersinger, and his religious beliefs, he got shelled, and his plans got shelled. People in the faculty should have buried their beliefs but they did not, seeing him as a representative to former Board member Andy VanMeter and Molly D'Esposito.

Southern at 150 was a good idea, but without buy in from the faculty, was doomed. Mind you his thinking on tenure comes from the business world, but does it work here? The results are mixed.

Then again, in the beginning he was making the hard choices that made him the villain, but when he reached out for healing, he got his hand bit. Henceforth, the divide between administration and faculty/students/alumni/stakeholders.

In such a situation, it's only natural that he would shop resume. Who wouldn't? Wendler and Walker (who would have been the savior if not sick IMO) wanted to market the school, who vetoed that idea? Who cut the budget drastically? Not the administration? Acutally, if they didn't hike tuition, I'd shutter to think where we would be as a school. Problem is that we should still market ourselves as affordable, even if we charge as much as UIUC, we should still market ourselves as affordable.

What we need to do is bite the bullet hard.

1. Evaluate all administrators in accordance with "Rank and Yank" policies, do evaluations on substantive policies and the worst people go out the door. Fire 20 % of the staff that scores lowest.
2. Raise admission standards again.
3. Accelerate the faculty hiring initiative to hire 200 faculty in four years.
4. Keep fees in check, call for cuts in fee areas.
5. Demand higher standards in tenure, but make those standards clear.
6. If you don't build a new stadium, expect a rage from Alumni. How do you deal with that?

All in all, not an easy situation to deal with.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I always like Fraydog's comments, but I have to disagree about a few points. Wendler didn't come into an impossible situation, it is just very difficult. He always seems like a good guy when I talk to him, but good guys often finish last. The professors don't care what his personal beliefs are, what they get pissed off about is when he forces his beliefs on others and claims to know who is going to Hell (this is one of the most unethical things you can do at a university). When you cross that with his ideas that he should be king, instead of an equal on top of a org chart of equals, he is bound to fail.

Anonymous said...

Actually half of the 4-year public Institutions in Illinois have seen a decline in enrollment this fall.

Peter in Carbondale said...

> Actually half of the 4-year public Institutions in Illinois have seen a decline in enrollment this fall.

I just know what I read in the paper that all other universities are up, except the ones that don't want to be up.