A Developing Problem

Oct 1 2014

Development Comp.jpgDespite Phil's good hires and the housecleaning that has begun in many areas of the College's Augean Stables bureaucracy, he has made one serious error: the choice of Bob Lasher '88 (first picture on the right) to lead the Advancement division and manage the looming capital campaign.

From the first, Lasher's behavior has spawned stories of slammed doors, angry tirades, whining about the Upper Valley social scene, and, well, very close supervision of certain subordinates. In his new job, Lasher is in way over his head: he had never worked in higher education prior to coming to Dartmouth, nor had he overseen a staff of more than ten people in his previous positions as Deputy Museum Director of External Relations at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Director of Development and Strategy at the San Francisco Symphony. Over 150 people now work in Development at the College, and that number is set to rise as the College gears up for the capital campaign.

When his weaknesses became clear, the College brought in heavy-duty support for Lasher. Michael Kiefer (second picture on the right) was lured away from Haverford College to become Dartmouth's Vice President for Presidential Initiatives and Principal Gifts (he had previously worked in similar roles at Amherst and McGill). The College issued a press release regarding his arrival in Hanover, and The D dutifully rephrased it in a recent story. In an interesting turn of phrase, the release notes that Kiefer will "work with Lasher as key adviser to the president, provost, and deans..." One would expect that an employee subordinate to Lasher would leave that role to his boss, no?

However, Kiefer's appointment is not the big personnel news from Development. In a move that all but shouts that Lasher is not up to the job, Patricia Jackson (third picture on the right) has been brought on board as Lasher's Chief of Staff. Funny enough, no press release was forthcoming from the Office of Public Relations, and not surprisingly, The D did not publish anything either. That silence is curious, or maybe it isn't, given that Jackson had previously been VP for Advancement at Smith from 2005-2013 -- a job that would certainly qualify her to do Lasher's job -- after having been Associate VP for Development at Dartmouth from 2001-2005. Her muscular CV also includes senior-level fundraising stints at Wheaton, Mount Holyoke, and Claremont McKenna.

Needless to say, executives with Kiefer's and Jackson's talent and decades of experience in higher education do not come cheap. The two have far stronger resumés than Bob Lasher. I expect that we are paying fulsomely for three head honchos in Development right now, instead of one.

The architect of this mess is none other than former Senior Vice President for Advancement Carrie Pelzel (fourth picture on the right), who refuses to go gently into the good night of retirement -- despite her official departure from the College on June 30, 2012. She sat on the search committee that picked Lasher, a choice that she had to know was inappropriate. Perhaps cunning Carrie did not want to be outshone by a successor, and in picking someone under-prepared she all but guaranteed herself a role as the éminence grise (not blonde) of Advancement. Carrie is a redoubtable bureaucratic in-fighter, ever jealous of her territory, to the point of taking credit herself for her subordinates' achievements. Bob Lasher might know Dartmouth's culture, but that attribute constitutes about 10% of what is needed to do his job well. I guess that Carrie still wants to provide the rest.

Phil loses marks for not admitting an error, fixing it, and moving on. I thought we were over the foolish reflex of hiring extra people in order to cover up the weakness of poor performers.

Addendum: Rumors are circulating that a good many Development officers have resumés out with other institutions. Not a good sign at the start of a capital campaign.


Personnel: Some Signs of Hope

Sep 30 2014

Thumbnail image for Carolyn Dever2.JPGThe senior ranks of the administration have been in tatters since I first ran a post in 2009 entitled The Dartmouth College of Acting, which noted the many positions held by Acting-Thises and Thats. However it is starting to look like Phil Hanlon is bringing some solid professionals to Hanover, people who plan to be here awhile (unlike the Jim Kim Karpetbagging Krew). While Phil may underwhelm in public fora, he is doing a pretty good job with his most important responsibility: putting together a first-class team of senior managers. (No, Charlotte, we didn't just hire him as a fundraiser.)

Before doing a quick review, it is worth noting that the overall moral climate in the top ranks of the administration has improved immeasurably. From the poisonous lying of Wright/Kim/Folt and the snakepit back-biting of a good deal of the bureaucracy, we've moved to administrators who have the self-confidence and forthrightness to explain what they are doing and why (or why not, as the case may be). Integrity is the foundation of everything in organizations large and small. Phil has made a quick, positive change in this area. Kudos.

We looked at star-ascendant Executive Vice-President Rick Mills the other day. He has all the skills needed to play a major role in the administration.

The jury is out on new Provost Carolyn Dever (picture above). Her remarks at Convocation (below) did not set the world on fire. She comes across as straightforward and thorough, but will she be imaginative in enlivening academics, energetic in recruiting faculty, and most importantly, will she be tough in sweating out the layers of waste in the areas of the College in her purview? I'd say that she needs to spend some time with some people from Econ.

Dean of the Faculty Mike Mastanduno is still in place; he has a year left in his term. Appointed by Jim Kim -- really by Carol Folt -- we aren't going to see much of anything from him. As I've written, the sooner Phil can replace Mastanduno with an organized, determined Dean, the more likely it is that we will see progress and initiative in the academic program.

Lisa Hogarty, Phil's new Vice President for Campus Planning and Facilities, is starting off well. She is no-nonsense and has worked in the real world. We can safely expect that there will be no $50 million Hanover Inn renovations on her watch. Like Rick Mills, she has bought a house in the Upper Valley, and she should be here to stay. Word is that she can make decisions, and it is likely that her responsibilities will expand. Let's hope that she can tighten up work practices and cut costs within the staff of the College's go-slow union.

Cornell's gift to the College, Tommy Bruce, now our Senior Vice President for Public Affairs, is silky smooth and he has a broad background. He landed in Hanover in the middle of an ongoing PR disaster. Not much has changed since. I can't see that he is directing the College's media efforts as much trying to react to Phil's endless series of own-goals. Up soon will be some kind of daily paper, something that will be more complete than the hapless D.

After three and a half years as the College's Chief Investment Officer (CIO) and highest paid employee at $1,023,288 in 2013, Pam Peedin is coming into her own. It's hard to argue with the endowment's recently announced 19.2% return, though we are waiting to see how that figure compares with the other Ivies.

Mary Childers.jpgPhil and his team have also caused several employees to leave the College, people who should have hit the road long ago. Removing negatives is as important as adding positives, particularly in the wake of administrations that took pride in never firing anyone whose politics were correct. A notorious executive in Campus Planning and Facilities has been asked to leave, to the relief of the building trades in the Upper Valley; a senior manager in the Real Estate office is gone; and most importantly, the College's Ombudsman, Mary Childers, has, well, retired, and she has not been replaced.

Childers was responsible more than anyone for the sclerotic nature of the Dartmouth bureaucracy. Incompetent employees abound, supported by an army of "coaches" who work with them to overcome their inadequacies. No more caring, supportive work environemnt is to be found in the land -- translation: if you are not up to doing your job at the College, we will get assistance for you in the form of additional co-workers and ever more training. Childers was always there to argue the rights of the incompetent. The end result is a sprawling sea of slack under-performers and their acolytes. Childers' departure signals an ongoing change in Dartmouth's workplace culture towards efficiency and rigor. Of course, it's early days still, but signs of hope are there.

All that said, there is one area where Phil has made a serious misstep -- the Development Office -- as we'll see tomorrow.


Will They Enforce It?

Sep 29 2014

Tighter grading has always been a Government department policy, but this past spring the department decided to make sure that all professors follow these rules. Good for the profs there. How will students react to this rigor?

Govy Grading Comp.jpg