Exceptional Leadership Under Pressure

Exceptional Leadership Under Pressure

California State University San Bernardino President Tómas Morales. Photo courtesy csusb.edu.

As a second-generation alumna of California State University, San Bernardino who started my teaching career and gained my early experiences in community leadership on that campus, I have been enthusiastic and supportive of President Tómas Morales’ leadership and stewardship of one of our region’s most important assets. He has proven to truly be the multidimensional leader needed to lead a 21st century university who is accountable to the myriad of stakeholders that make-up the complex constituencies of a modern institution of higher education: from students, faculty, staff and the board of trustees to alumni, donors, legislators, and community and business leaders. He has been an advocate for the predominately first generation ethnically diverse student population, a regional collaborator, and responsive to the surrounding community’s needs.

As a former tenure-track professor at another university, I have witnessed the adversarial world of shared governance and the fragile nature of the faculty-administration relationship. So when I learned of the CSUSB faculty senate’s decision to pursue a vote of no confidence in the leadership of its president, I understood the dynamic. We recently experienced similar issues at the University of California, Riverside, my other alma mater, with similar complaints: the administration has “abandoned long-standing shared governance practices” and is “failing to involve the university community in key decisions.” While that is how the senate resolution reads and what senate leadership is quoted as saying in local newspapers, I see a different motivation. None of the number of senate resolutions posted on the university’s website since 2013 show concern about campus climate and morale until June of 2015 when three resolutions are passed in a two week span after the firing of the senate-supported provost.

June 16, there is a call for the reinstatement and retention of Provost Andrew Bodman;

June 26, a rebuke of President Morales for firing the provost;

June 29, a request to Chancellor Tim White for assistance in assessing and addressing potential issues.

It seems to me the “campus climate and morale” problems are more about the firing of the provost and less about maintaining “an educational environment where student learning is central.”

I took a look at the results from a graduating class survey taken the same year and those students overwhelmingly felt they were leaving the university committed to life-long learning and wanted to pursue higher degrees. They felt they grew significantly both intellectually and personally, and 86 percent felt a sense of camaraderie and collegiality. That sounds far from the campus of toxicity outlined in the resolution.

Chancellor White agrees. “The campus is thriving: graduation rates, student retention rates, tenure-track faculty and fundraising are all moving in a positive direction. Achievement gaps have narrowed. Education colleagues and community leadership overwhelmingly view your campus, your work and the leadership of your president as an uplifting force,” he stated in a strongly worded open letter to the CSUSB campus community after the faculty senate’s 21-15 vote of no confidence.

In a letter sent to the campus community a day prior to Tuesday’s vote, President Morales addressed the inaccuracies in the senate resolution, many of the issues, he noted, were addressed in his message to the senate sent earlier this year outlining the meetings with faculty groups, department chairs, and staff and professional growth and development initiatives his administration has held since the release of the faculty’s campus climate study the year before.  “Shared governance is clearly embedded in our actions and decisions. Our achievements could not have been accomplished without the contributions of the faculty senate, ASI and other stakeholder groups,” he explained, “While I am sorry that the senate has chosen this path, I remain an unapologetic advocate of our students and the education they deserve.”

Chancellor White called President Morales an “energetic, engaged, and caring leader…providing thoughtful, strategic and clear leadership.” He is an uplifting force, I concur, not just on the CSUSB campus, but also in the entire Inland Region

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