Our Viewpoint: No way Walker could have survived this. But how can the university?

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, March 28th, 2018 at 6:17 PM
Our Viewpoint: No way Walker could have survived this. But how can the university? by The Spectator
Photo: Erica Burkholder

You’re a graduating senior. Eighteen years old. Debating life’s next stop. Give it a couple weeks before you search “Edinboro” on Google. 

The dismal results — calls for resignation and then, the actual resignation of university president H. Fred Walker — are strewn across the top, a university in turmoil shown as such. You’ll have to scroll past them to travel to the university homepage.

Of course, this all began with a Chronicle of Higher Education cover piece on March 18. Calls followed on all fronts — student, faculty and community alike —for his resignation. He would give in to those requests on Tuesday, at 6:06 p.m., official at close of week on Friday. And if you’ve read the article, which has been shared across the Edinboro social media sphere far and wide, you’d most likely say to yourself upon Walker’s departure, “Hmm...that makes sense.”

The article revelations — Walker comparing university strategy to a film that centers on lies and fabrication, preaching transparency yet not following it, him calling out individuals and making harmful accusations — are inexcusable. 

Inherently human mistakes? Perhaps. To think simply not giving the interview would have secured Walker’s position at Edinboro, perhaps for the long run, is an interesting “what-if.” But when those mistakes bring on 1) a wave of horrific publicity sure to influence the decisions of possible Scots; 2) the erosion of trust amongst faculty and leadership; and 3) the creation of a petition signed by over 1,000 members of the Edinboro community calling for a president’s resignation? Well, it’s clear that the naivety of these mistakes must be put aside. Instead the consequences of such must be dealt with. And Walker dealt with them by resigning. 

But now that we’re here, without a full-time president once more, we must wonder if this was the right choice for the university and community. 

Since 2008, this university has seen five presidents, both interim and full-time. Dr. Michael Hannan, current provost and vice president for academic and student affairs, and soon to be acting president, will make that six, while a new president (if they decided to go that route in a search) would make it seven. Seven presidents in less than 10 years.

Not ideal.

Elsewhere on campus, the communications and media team is going to be working overtime to generate positive headlines, hopefully pushing the Walker saga further and further down that search page. And can we talk about the communications team for a second?

Where were they during these disastrous interviews? Who should have been kicking Walker under the table when he was talking about faculty or individual students? If you look through the work of Jack Stripling — the journalist whose writing drove the resignation — and especially his past headlines, you’ll find such gems as “How One Leader Set a Toxic Tone, Spurning Allies She Needed Most” and “Were Red Flags Missed in U. of Southern California Dean Hire?” Clearly, Stripling doesn’t traffic in fluff pieces. He has a history of reporting the juicy and dramatic details; he has a history of pulling no punches.

An email sent prior to publication to staff and faculty seemed to hint at potential trouble, stating, “It is a compelling story that, if accurately written, will serve the University well.” Overall, though, it was a hopeful tone, again seemingly unaware of how the more inflammatory portions of the interviews would clearly take lead. Then again, they can’t take the entire blame. You can’t possibly track anonymous sources and their contributions. 

Stripling’s recent headlines (at time of publication), “Edinboro President, Who Boasted of His Ability to Circumvent Faculty Resistance, Will Resign,” along with “A Tough-Talking President Tried to Fix a College. Then He Came Undone,” and “Edinboro U. Chief Has ‘Irretrievably Lost’ Ability to Lead, Faculty Say,” are the things that potential future Edinboro students and their parents will see when they look at Edinboro. And as enrollment is already lower than it has been in decades, this can’t be a good omen for the university. 

In the wake of Walker leaving, it’s doubtful that Edinboro’s reputation will immediately recover. Enrollment could continue to drop, at least for the next academic year. And can you blame those incoming freshmen and their families? They most definitely are thinking, “If Edinboro wants to better its attrition rate of students, they should work on bettering the attrition rate of presidents, too.” Unless we’re in for a surprise, we have to prepare for less than stellar numbers. 

Additionally, the process of finding a new president is a long and expensive one. The expensive part is not something that Edinboro can deal with right now. 

We have Hannan as acting president. An Edinboro veteran, he’s been at the university for 30 years in various positions: professor, department chair, associate dean, provost. The Edinboro faculty union has already praised him, saying faculty members are “enthusiastic about moving the focus back to our students and working together to ensure their future success.” And in the recent Chronicle article, APSCUF President Marc Sylvester said, “We are now able to move forward with a long time trusted member of our faculty and administration as our leader.” 

He’s not leaving ‘Boro. He’s not the careerist Walker complained about in that initial Chronicle article. He has the trust of the faculty. He clearly can do this job.  

So the question here is: do we really need a long, drawn-out search when the man for the job has possibly been in front of our eyes the whole time? Hannan has the potential to turn this university around and steer it back onto the path of success, even if it won’t be an easy task.

If this fallout had taken a different course and Walker would have stayed, nothing would have ever been the same. The faculty was never going to trust him again in the way that a boss must be trusted in order to achieve any level of true success. And with the fire that had been lit under the feet of students, if Walker had stayed, any move he made would have been met with huge opposition. His image, here on campus, has been destroyed personally and publicly. 

There was no way Walker could have survived this. But will the university? 

Our Viewpoint is a piece agreed upon and discussed by the staff of The Spectator. Responses can be sent as a letter to the editor, through voices.spectator@gmail.com.

 

Tags: voices, walker

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