August 16, 2022
Chancellor’s Fall Welcome Message
Dear Faculty, Students, and Staff that share a silly mascot with me,
My staff told me that you are all back on campus for the start of the semester. I know that at least some of you are back on campus because I have made appearances in several places where you (and your parents if you are a student) might have met me. If so, I tried really hard to have you see me as an engaged and caring leader. I also spoke at convocation and hope you recognized that I am a fantastic leader even though I used a lot of words to say very little. Chancellors have to do that; it is part of the job. In fact, the leadership books all say to appear transparent and thoughtful while saying nothing- saying anything with substance might make someone mad.
I can now see many of you through my window walking outside between classes, or I see you when you get in my way when I am driving on or around campus, doing my best to smile while I hide my road rage. I know that many of you are shy and introverted, and maybe even neurodiverse. So, I am happy to tell you that the odds are extremely high that I will never actively engage in a conversation with you, at least one where I will be sincerely curious about your thoughts or show sincere empathy. Honestly, working at the level of chancellor of such a large university, my executive team and I talk about faculty, staff and students as numbers on a spreadsheet, unless you did something that made me notice you-usually that is not a good thing for you. And, for those of you who are faculty, my executive team really enjoys our conversation about how little you work and how resistant you are to change. It bonds my team together.
You may have noticed that in my conversations and speeches I strategically left out that a chancellor has to be a narcissist to survive in the current political environment of public higher education. I gave you a strong hint of this when I said in my remarks at convocation “your success is our success”. Many of you have lived in the South for a while and should have learned not to take people’s words at face value. As a chancellor, when I say “our” success as a university you should know that “our success” is a synonym with “my success” because the people I truly care about- wealthy and powerful friends, donors, community leaders, business leaders and political leaders associate the university with me. I would have it no other way.
If you as a student do not succeed, and drop out, the university’s budget will be hurt, and our retention and graduation numbers will drop, and that is not good for my career trajectory, and thus not good for the university. Even worse, if the President or Board get upset with me because I am not meeting metrics based on your success, I might have to move out of my $2,000,000 house, sell all of my customized suits, and trade in my top-of-the line sports car and SUV, It is hard for me to imagine driving a Subaru like common folk and not being a celebrated big wig in the community.
And, what is not good for me, is not good for you. As budgets are reduced, we we will have to fire faculty, leading to larger courses, and larger teaching loads for those that remain. So, for students that generously choose to stay enrolled because of how much they want to help me surpass my student success metrics, the increased class size and workload of faculty will make it more difficult for you to be cared about by a professor. I know that goes against the conclusion, based on a large data set, that being cared about by a professor is the strongest predictor of whether you will stay and graduate and ultimately will be more engaged in your work after graduation. But, you do not need to worry because we will compensate for firing faculty by hiring a great marketing team for the university who will blanket social media with celebrations of our efforts in student success and our athletic prowess,. You should also be inspired by our social media posts describing a few anecdotes of superhuman students. These stories will convince you and your parents that your experience here is the best you could have anywhere. So, eventually, you will come to realize that your experience here is truly like no other. And, if you are still not convinced that this is the best university, ever, please remember that you will have me and my team telling you how much we care about you with form letters, speeches, and email messages designed by my public relations team. The sheer volume of these messages should convince you of how great the university is and create a desire to shower me with praise..
We often tell you we believe in using data to be effective managers, which is why we are hiring data report specialists instead of faculty- it is important for my team to have lots of pretty charts and tables to show the board, even if my team does not don't how to ask the right questions of the data or interpret the results. Like most people. the executive team creates narratives from a few anecdotes and things we read on twitter or The Wall Street Journal. If the data doesn't agree with that narrative, we just assume the data are wrong. There is always a least a few pieces of data that support our narrative.
I hope you found time this summer to rest, reflect, and re-energize. Of course, I know that you didn’t. If you are a student, you were probably working 40 hours a week to pay tuition- with two weeks being dedicated to just paying the athletics fee. I think it is ironic and sad, that you have to work 2 weeks to pay the fee, and will also not be able to attend any athletic events because you are working 40 or more hours a week while taking a full load of classes and commuting from distant cities or rural areas and don’t have the time But, because of your dedication to work or take out loans to pay the athletic fee, I get to say things like the university will become a permanent national powerhouse in sports. Those wealthy donors and community leaders shower me with praise when I promise them winning athletic teams. If I can’t deliver powerhouse teams, I can summarily fire the athletic director over Labor Day weekend to show my dedication to winning.
For faculty and staff, I can’t thank you enough for donating thousands of hours to the university over the summer to prepare your classes, do your research, keep your departments running and stay in touch with your students-instead of relaxing. Your efforts made it possible for me to have a lovely vacation. Your work in the summer is truly a generous donation to the campus and I am trying to figure out how to count your time towards our campaign goal, but you cannot deduct that work from your taxes or use comp time towards earning a sabbatical.
As we kick off the Fall 2022 Semester, I have three challenges I want to extend to all of you.
Live your purpose.
Each of us is here for a reason. I am here to be celebrated as a leader and to be engaged with wealthy, powerful, and politically connected individuals. I also really like the salary, living in a mansion, and other perks like getting to invited to beautiful beach houses or Manhattan apartments because of my friendships with the rich and powerful. This helps me get through the stress that many competing stakeholders put on me each day because of their different priorities for the university. At work, I live between a rock and a hard place, because everyone has competing demands of me. I want you to think that my purpose is equity and inclusion, so please don’t let the fact that I belong to two exclusive country clubs and spend most of time engaged with people from wealthy and exclusive communities to get in the way of seeing my passion for those values.
I also know that you work at the university because you are passionate about the transformation of our students and the power of our research. We appreciate that you forgo mundane things such as being paid well, or feeling valued by me and my executive team, because you have such a strong life’s purpose to transform lives at a university.
Focus on wellness.
As a university, we have tried focusing on academics, research, and community engagement, but our enrollments are shrinking. So, we have decided that we would be more competitive as a health care organization. Therefore, your health and wellness are now our top priority, not your academic success or transforming the world through research. We will focus our energy on talking a lot about how much we care about your personal health and the overall wellness of the university community. We will reallocate funds from the academic mission to make sure everyone has a health coach and a wellness plan. We won’t have enough funds to hire mental health professionals, but we will make sure to keep telling you how much we care about your mental health and will require that faculty act to triage mental health issues. We also want you to rest when you can (but we know you are all working too hard to do so), and extend care and compassion to others We will tell you that a lot, but our actions in how me, the provost and the VCFA treat people will demonstrate for you that, although our narrative will be that we are caring community, our actions will show that we really don’t give the hoot about anybody, unless their situation, if not handled with something looking like compassion, will make the university look bad (i.e., make me look bad). Do what we say, not what we do.
Make sure to engage with all of the messages that the Provost, VCFA and I send out. We will obfuscate most of the truth so you can feel better about the state of the university, and we believe, that if we say it over and over again, you will feel like you are part of a caring community and think we are fully transparent.
We were pleased that many of you wrote probing and thoughtful questions for the Faculty Forum last Spring, but I have no idea why you thought we would answer them. Remember, the leadership books all say to appear transparent and thoughtful while saying nothing- saying anything with substance might make someone mad. And, trying to answer a hard, thought-provoking, question might make it appear that I respect you. I work hard at being genuine, so I do not want to give anyone a false impression. But, we enjoyed the questions. They generated lots of laughter at my executive team retreat and I joke about them with my chief of staff when we have our afternoon popcorn breaks.
Faculty, you are free to engage with your colleagues and your students with curiosity, empathy and compassion. Your students and colleagues will appreciate it. But, please know you will not be rewarded for that effort- it’s all about credit hours and wellness plans
However, if you engage me and the provost with praise and adoration, you might get promoted to a leadership role in the university, in faculty governance, in student government, or staff senate. If placed in those roles I know that you will support everything I want to do, and make sure I look good to the people I care about. You will be handsomely rewarded with my gratitude, and maybe a course release.
If you don’t feel like you want to shower praise and adoration on me and my leadership team, and would rather just do your jobs well, I have good news. I have implemented something new and really important- we created a bullpen of scapegoats and pariahs. A university can’t function without having people other than me to blame. Being placed into the bullpen so you can absorb blame and ridicule is a great service to the university. Placing you there without discussion, due process, or investigation is one way that I demonstrate the trait of decisiveness so important in a leadership role. And, when I am perceived as decisive, I win praise which means the university wins praise.
I look forward to spending time with you this year—well, not really- faculty and staff are a cranky and whiny bunch. But, the leadership manual says I have to tell you I want to spend time with you. I hope you will celebrate my victories and grow to support me even as things get worse.
I truly appreciate you for being an incredibly valuable member of this community even though it is almost certain that I don’t have any idea who you are and what you actually do each day. But, don’t distress, I have a well-developed narrative about what you do and who you are and share it often. I don't really care that much about you but the leadership book also tells me I have to thank you for your efforts and tell you that I hope you have a great semester. So, there you have it.
With a wave from my luxurious echo chamber,
A. Chancellor, Ph.D.