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Take My Provost, Please

Rodney Dangerfield’s line (actually, he referred to his wife) [actually, it’s Henny Youngman’s line — mea culpa] still makes me smile, though a recent headline might put a crimp in a College outplacement strategy: the fake positive recommendation. Inside Higher Education reports:

IHE Recommednation Firing Comp.jpg

One of the many little corruptions in the academy is the failure to fire incompetent people. Rather than give the boot to unsuccessful administrators so they might face their own inadequacies — rather than peddling them down the road at another institution — senior people routinely shade their recommendations (lying is a better verb) in order to encourage other schools to take staffers off their hands. Is this behavior indicative of a lack of resolve? Or a failure to rigorously insist on quality? Or just self-interested solidarity, i.e. I won’t do to someone what I hope they won’t do to me?

I don’t know for sure, but such dishonesty does not help our colleges and universities serve their students better.

Former Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson is a salient example. We poached her from Colgate, and as soon as she arrived in Hanover, I started hearing from staffers in Hamilton about the big mistake that we had made. After three years in town here, Johnson was off to Scripps where she has continued her undistinguished career. Phil had given her a gentle warning that her contract would not be renewed, and she had plenty of time and support finding a new position where she could work her magic.

UNC’s Carol Folt, formerly our interim President, Provost and Dean of the Faculty, would have been hard-pressed to find a sincere supporter in Hanover, yet somehow (you know how) she was hired to run one of the country’s leading state schools.

So what are Phil & Co. saying these days about Provost Dever to other institutions of higher learning? Are they touting Carolyn’s behind-the-scenes achievements? Are there any? The only stage center actions that she has effected are her endless diversity and inclusion memos.

The fact that Carolyn has not landed a plum job somewhere by now (she has been hunting for months) at her $783,890/year salary, incites the occasional vain thought in yours truly. Perhaps hiring committees out there are reading this space, and are using back channel means to find out what is really going on in the Provost’s office in Parkhurst. The answer that would are receive from the faculty in Hanover: not much of anything.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in to say that the line, “Take my wife, please,” belongs to Henny Youngman, not Rodney Dangerfield. Ooops!


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