Since her appointment in January 2017, Dr. Laurie Joyner has been a controversial leader. For the first year or so of her presidency, I had access to an unusual amount of detailed information about her performance and approach to leadership—the consequence of various university positions I held (associate chair of FAC, department chair, member of several committees). What I experienced in that time led me to question whether the university was on the right path—specifically, whether Dr. Joyner’s leadership posed a greater threat to the viability of the institution than the challenges she was brought in to address.
Thus, at a union meeting in April 2018 (fifteen months into Dr. Joyner’s administration), I voted with over 60 other faculty to ask our Senate to engage in a research project—one intended to extend, if necessary, the course of the full academic year, 2018-2019. The goal of this project was to investigate, with fairness, rigor, and thoroughness, the question of whether a vote of no confidence should be taken on Dr. Joyner. Even though by that time, I had concluded that there were serious deficiencies in Dr. Joyner’s approach to faculty, fairness, curriculum, and vision for the university, I realized that my colleagues, for the most part, lacked specific information that would justify such a strong move. But I believed that a dispassionate and thorough look at the facts would build towards a clear conclusion that would be accepted by objective onlookers.
For a variety of reasons—some political, some strategic, some the result of unfortunate divisions in our community, and some the result of the hopeful, generous, and forgiving nature of SXU faculty—the yearlong investigation of the president’s leadership did not take place.
In the intervening months and years, faculty and others have had a chance to see more public evidence of Dr. Joyner’s leadership that has raised questions about her ability to lead us going forward. The turnover of provosts, deans, and important staff leaders, and the reliance on interim appointments, are two indicators of instability and untenable circumstances within her own leadership team. The transformation of the Board of Trustees from a broadly representative group of 20-plus members to a group of less than 10 individuals who show strong and uncritical (and uninformed) support of the president is another troubling indicator. The recent aggressive behavior of the interim provost and deans on a variety of matters—including bylaws changes, proposed program closures, course caps, to name the more contentious issues—has raised awareness and concern among faculty in all three colleges, across disciplines, tenure status, and years of service.
The union busting of this administration is the single most significant breach of trust, and the attempt to change the bylaws is perhaps the most brazen action of the Administration to weaken faculty voice in governance. The rationale repeated often by the Administration and their supporters in the faculty—that the proposed bylaws change was merely editorial clean-up to have our documents align more accurately with our “new reality”—was premised on a falsehood or error (namely, that the discontinuation of collective bargaining with the union was the same thing as the shifting of faculty representation from the Faculty Affairs Committee to Faculty Senate). This matter has yet to be discussed and judged by the full faculty—an omission abetted, unfortunately, by some of our own Faculty Senate leaders. It is not too late for the faculty to conduct this discussion, one that, one hopes, a new leadership team in the university would find both valuable and necessary for the building of a new trust for the future.
The Pro Argument for Dr. Joyner
President Joyner has succeeded in consolidating her power and cutting costs—both of which outcomes are not dangerous or wrong per se. But the consolidation of power has been characterized by dividing stake holders—faculty and faculty, faculty and staff, faculty and administrators, faculty and the Board of Trustees. The consolidation has created winners and losers. Many disaffected faculty and staff—often key individuals who have built programs and have devoted long and distinguished careers to this institution—have opted to end their association with SXU either through early retirement, a move to another institution of higher learning, or a move out of academia altogether. The consolidation of power has been, in the eyes of many, ruthless (and as prime evidence of this claim, I would point to the pattern of behavior in the university’s march to May 28, 2020, the day the University withdrew its recognition of the faculty union). Many have commented on the president’s micromanaging across the board; some have critiqued her use of “good cop-bad cop” techniques in creating appearances that the source of unpopular changes were underlings and not her. Many have commented on being given directives in private that never were destined to be part of the public record but nevertheless served well to advance the Administration’s agenda.
As for the cutting of costs, Dr. Joyner’s leadership deserves some credit. Under her watch, many expensive professor salaries were cut through various means. First of all, though I’m not sure I would put this in the “credit” column, the emergency cuts of 2015-2016 were made permanent, despite the assurances of the prior administration that the pay cuts were to be temporary. Second, many professors who were nearing retirement were encouraged to retire early under generous buyout provisions, which though defined in the CBA, were completely voluntary on the part of the administration to offer.
Lack of Balance
But how much cutting is too much? With each buyout and reduction in a tenure line, the university both saves money and loses a resource. The most cost saving approach would be to fire all faculty and staff and reduce expenses to zero, but of course, that is not a sustainable financial plan. There is a mid-point, or sweet spot, in the balancing of costs and investments in resources. In the area of faculty resources, the evidence shows a lack of balance in Dr. Joyner’s approach. Or at least the formula is skewed.
A disturbing example of the lack of balance can be seen in the approach the administration took to teacher preparation programs. Clearly, in 2015, there was compelling justification for cuts in faculty and staff and programs. The School of Education was converted to a Department of Education, a move that was arguably correct—or at least defensible. But a closer look shows that the problem solving here lacked proper balance, as the administration moved as quickly and thoroughly as possible to reduce costs, cut programs, buy-out faculty, eliminate lines—all with minimal or no consideration of a stopping point or planning for future investment. The diminishment both prevented not only needed growth/reallocation, but also prevented minimal maintenance of basic operations. Under the watch of Dr. Joyner, the university decided to forego compliance with CAEP, a prestigious accreditation and a mark of excellence for the university that many faculty and programs had already devoted significant resources to secure.
Given the reduction in tenure lines (from 21 to 3), staff, and programs in the Department of Education, it is hard to avoid the characterization that the teacher preparation programs have been gutted. Whether or not this outcome was pursued with some faculty involvement is not the issue. The main issue is the administration’s lack of balance and wisdom in allowing, much less promoting, such an outcome. As under-resourced as our Department of Education now finds itself, how capable will we be to meet the demand for teachers that has been widely documented and predicted to worsen in the near future?
Another example of Dr. Joyner’s lack of balance comes from a faculty meeting in which she presented positive financial data in November 2017, just some months after the signing of our final Memo of Understanding in which faculty agreed to austere cuts and workload increases for the final two years of our most recent CBA. In a remarkable exchange between FAC Chair Arunas Dagys and President Joyner, the president noted that a $5 million surplus had been discovered once the FY17 books were closed in June. While the source of the error has not been clearly identified, the implication was that the prior CFO (who had not been hired by Dr. Joyner) had some responsibility for the irregularities or errors in bookkeeping. (It should be noted that the MOU which was signed just before the discovery of the $5 million variance was based on a projected loss for the year in the neighborhood of $250,000.) In discussing the surplus, Dr. Joyner made the comment that “we could give the whole $5 million to faculty as FAC wants…” But FAC had never requested such a thing. FAC was arguing for a more balanced approach. Faculty cumulatively had given back tens of millions of dollars over many years of give backs and cuts. In the current situation where there was an unexpected positive outcome, FAC argued then, as they had (and were to do) in many other negotiations, could we not come up with a formula whereby faculty could partake of the benefit, in some kind of partial or proportionate way?
Mercy Values, Academic Norms, Contractual and Bylaws Obligations to Faculty
Evidence of a lack of balance (in the sense of wise stewardship one expects from a president) can be seen in many other areas of the president’s record. The president’s move into the chapel displacing a Sister of Mercy and student organization, along with the expansion of administrative offices in the Chapel, shows questionable judgment in regards to the best support for our mission.
Throughout her presidency, Dr. Joyner has used task forces, special committees, university fellows, appointees, and favored groups to achieve ends that, while efficient in some cases, often circumvent established governance structures.
As for the breaches in contractual and bylaws obligations to the faculty, those matters, and the larger story behind the breakdowns in negotiation require a thorough, separate treatment all their own. They necessitate a review of many documents, events, and timelines. Much of the story has been preserved and shared in FAC’s OneNote archive and in faculty listserv emails and other documents. The Administration’s cancellation of meetings, its statements in emails and meetings (some of which FAC considered to be slanderous, misleading, or erroneous); its delays or non-compliance in information sharing, and, more recently, its discontinuation of information sharing—all were part of the process that led to the May 28 action by the Board of Trustees.
Limited Tools/Missing Tools
Saint Xavier needs a president who understands how the university has excelled in the past, how the university can draw on its growing potential (for example, as an Hispanic Serving Institution), how the university could unite all community members to face known and unknown challenges, how the university might recruit and retain talented faculty, staff, and administrators, and—most pertinent, after the experience of the past several years—how the university might act with respect for its workers. Saint Xavier needs a president who is effective, talented, and involved in fund raising. Saint Xavier needs a president who can motivate and inspire faculty, staff, students, and donors. Saint Xavier needs a president who fosters hope and belief that things will get better—not as a result of saying such things, but as a result of genuine displays and actions of respect for academic norms and the people throughout the institution, including faculty.
Dr. Joyner has not shown skills or a capacity for growth in these areas. Her primary skills are the ability to demand budget cuts and to consolidate her power, often by pitting groups against one another in a highly-charged, stressful environment, always under a cloud of impending doom.
While I have argued elsewhere my belief that Dr. Joyner may have good intentions and that she may have helped cut some costs, I believe she has put us on a path of diminishing returns. Our academic mission is no longer—in the view of many of us—on a sustainable trajectory. New, more balanced and collaborative leadership may provide us the adjustments we need at this time.