Walker center of extensive Chronicle article, APSCUF responds

Category:  News
Wednesday, March 21st, 2018 at 5:40 PM
Walker center of extensive Chronicle article, APSCUF responds by Dakota Palmer
Photo: Allison Duda

On March 8 at a town hall meeting discussing the newly branded “EU Experience,” university president Dr. H. Fred Walker would repeat, “This is a good day for Edinboro.” 

Eleven days later, a near opposite tone was required. Here, in a public statement, Walker was responding to an article within The Chronicle of Higher Education, telling students and faculty: “With my words, I let this community down. For my words, I apologize.”

The article, published on March 18 — titled “A Tough-Talking President Tried to Fix a College. Then He Came Undone” — would serve as cover story of The Chronicle’s print edition, and sat on the publication’s home page all day Monday.  

Written by Jack Stripling, it features a picture of Walker in Cole Auditorium, looking off into the distance. And at times, the narrative presented reflects the inspirational image. For example, towards the end of the article, Stripling describes how Walker flew to Washington in November 2017 to pitch a story about Edinboro that “he first described as the story of a university that was radically transforming under his leadership.” It continued, “It was the story of a man playing ‘three-dimensional chess,’ he said, in sharp contrast to the myopic careerists who had preceded him.”

The first few paragraphs of the piece describe various things Walker has said at university town hall meetings in the past regarding enrollment and retention. Then, on the third page (out of 15) of the story, Stripling describes Walker as a “tough-minded truth teller, while shaping the public narrative to support his agenda.” 

Stripling goes on to describe how three anonymous sources told him that Walker referred to his university strategy as similar to the one in the 1997 film “Wag the Dog,” a movie dealing with spin doctors, a fabricated war and manipulation of media.

Then, he claimed Walker’s presidency is driven by: “personal fear that the faculty will turn on him. Fear of negative publicity. Fear that he will lose control of the carefully constructed narrative of his turnaround presidency, derailing it just as it begins.”

Continuing, Stripling describes how he believes Walker built his entire presidency thus far. “To sell his curricular restructuring, which would eliminate some favorite programs and potentially threaten faculty jobs, Walker devised an aggressive information campaign to head off a possible insurgency by forces within his own university.” Then quoting Walker, the piece reads: “I had to break this place down to its lowest element before I could start to build it back up. We know this in the military as the boot-camp experience.”

The article claims Walker “described the university’s faculty both as necessary allies and as obstacles to be navigated around.”

Edinboro Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF) President Dr. Marc Sylvester responded in an interview with The Spectator on Wednesday morning, stating that the faculty were “disheartened to see some of the comments suggesting a lack of trust between the faculty and the president, [and] students and the president.”

Edinboro APSCUF leadership met Tuesday morning and Sylvester said the faculty will be meeting again Thursday afternoon to discuss what course of action they would like to take moving forward and how “if at all, we feel that we can get back to a position of respect and trust.”

Stripling claimed in his article that university administrators weighed the pros and cons of “laying off a few faculty members.” According to the piece, they debated between the resilience that could be shown by avoiding layoffs, and how “The savings from layoffs…might be offset by the enrollment declines that Edinboro could expect from all of the bad news coverage.”

Additionally, Stripling quoted Walker regarding his negotiations with the faculty during a period of time after the president issued a faculty retrenchment letter in April 2017. “Now we’ve got this retrenchment letter on the table. So either we need to fundamentally cut the shit and get moving forward, or I’m going to start laying people off. How would you like to proceed? I said ‘Look, I will not blink.’”

Sylvester talked about this relationship. “We don’t want to have a strained relationship with our president and we want to feel that we’re working in a mutually respectful and trusting environment.” 

He continued: “[A shocking statement] that stands out is a statement that Dr. Walker felt he could not reason with the faculty; that was certainly something that hits us at our core because for us to be able to have shared governance and to work well together, we have to be able to reason with one another, and at times maybe not agree, but you know, do so respectfully.”

The article claims that APSCUF leaders and Walker agreed to keep the “full scope of the (recent) program cuts” secret. Stripling writes that Walker’s plan about keeping the programs under wraps was successful until a “single student” started an online petition to save the music program.

“There might never have been a local news story about Edinboro ditching programs,” Walker is quoted as saying in the piece, referring once again to that single student. 

The president is further quoted as saying the student, music performance major Dylan Hollingsworth, “did not really care about the music program all that much” and was “grieving a death in his family and needed a way to distract himself.” 

Hollingsworth, in response to Walker’s comments, said in Stripling’s piece: “For him to say that I am trying to save a department as a distraction from my brother’s death is completely disrespectful. I’m kind of at a loss for words.” 

Later on Monday, Walker issued an apology to students via email and wrote: “In my enthusiasm to share Edinboro’s success story, my tone and my words in some parts of the story were disrespectful. For this I apologize to my faculty and staff colleagues and to you, our students, especially Dylan Hollingsworth, to whom I have reached out directly.”

The end of the story details how Walker questioned the course the narrative could take after he spoke about his “boot camp”-style campaign or his negotiations with APSCUF.

Stripling, in the story, included a part of an email Walker wrote to The Chronicle:

“I REALLY hope you do not choose to use incendiary language to present me as a chest-pounding boor as that was not my intent or desire when describing how I perceive a strategy and approach to engaging with the difficulties on my campus.”

The story ended with these words from Walker to The Chronicle: “I feel really vulnerable. I hope you try to preserve my future. I’m going to see whether I’ve cut my throat professionally for a whole career.”

Mere days before the article publication, on March 16, there was a positivity regarding the upcoming piece. In an email obtained by The Spectator, Walker wrote of the article excitedly, saying, “We have not seen the article, but are hopeful it will capture the picture of our university at this moment in time — a place where our faculty and staff are working together to build a strong future for Edinboro, built on our values and committed to ensuring a quality experience for our students.”

He added, “This is a compelling story that, if accurately written, will serve the university well.”

In his later apology, Walker stated: “Trust is at the very core of community and I want to assure you that I regret any harm I have done to jeopardize your trust in me. I ask that you understand the deep and genuine commitment I have to doing all that will move this University forward and I vow to continue to work with you to achieve the advancements of which we are capable.”

The Office of the President sent an email out on Tuesday afternoon announcing Walker will be holding open office hours for students to talk with him on Thursday, March 22 from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

And finally, in a statement from Council of Trustees Chairperson Dennis Frampton sent via email on Wednesday afternoon, Frampton said, “important aspects of the Edinboro University story were omitted from the article.” 

He went on to say that when Edinboro was faced with various financial and other challenges: “the entire Edinboro University community came together to both identify the scope of our issues and to develop a plan to address them. Our approach was one of working in partnership with all members of the academy and our stake holders to tackle the challenges head-on.”

Frampton mentioned how the council remains enthusiastic about Edinboro’s future.

Dakota Palmer is the executive editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com. 

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