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A Developing Problem

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.

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