CURRENT CRISIS IN DEMOCRACY
One further failing which we shall hope our more social education will help to remedy is the all too common tendency among administrators to disparage democracy. Success in managing easily selects those who like to control and may strengthen the tendency. The current business model is of course anti-democratic. ...In fact, the whole of our management tradition, including (in spite of lip-service) our political democracy, has never yet given serious trial to the principle of sharing decisions.
Not much has changed in the last 60 years.
I was on the Board of Trustees as the off-campus student representative (1995-96) during these tumultuous years. As a result I was in a position to witness the behavior of Jane Sanders and the rest of the board in dealing with the difficult issues of the time: Richard
The tenor of those times contrasts greatly with the present relatively quiet climate and some might believe that Goddard's past troubles are over. But it is my belief that Jane, as the consummate politician that she is, recognizes that in her interim position as provost it would not be prudent to offend people by displaying the controversial autocratic style of decision making that she exhibited during her tenure as board president. Once she becomes president there will be nothing preventing her from reverting to her previous style of leadership.
It would be ironic if the Goddard community were to hand its most powerful administrative position to the individual in whom decision making power was most clearly concentrated during the Greene presidency and who bears the greatest responsibility for the misdeeds of that era. Indeed it would be suicide, democratically speaking.
Jane chooses to ignore her role in the Greene fiasco and does not accept the responsibility for the decisions and actions that the Board of Trustees took at that time. The current board president makes this point for her:
There is no issue of blame and regret, Blanc said. This is a time of transition, and we're building on a solid base that Dr. Greene built. Otherwise, I never would have taken this position. Sanders agreed. (Times Argus - August 18th, 1996)Jane advocates a collaborative non-confrontational approach which, under the circumstances, is self-serving. She knows that her past actions cannot pass public scrutiny.
One of the greatest ironies of Jane's candidacy for college president is in fact that she has personally benefited from all of the problems that she and Greene visited on the community. It must be remembered that Jane was the chair of the presidential search committee that chose Greene. It is her name that you will find on the contract with Greene, a contract that contained a corporate style "golden" parachute which required the school to pay him big bucks in order to buy out his contract after he resigned. Sanders was the president of the board during Greene's entire tenure and was the power behind Greene during that period. Had she been democratically oriented the problem with Greene would have been solved the day he walked in the door. Without her support he could not have acted autocratically, unilaterally, and in a retaliatory manner. Jane, as board president, was directly involved in:
The executive committee unanimously agreed that a statement that the Board does not support the call for the President's resignation should be drafted, approved, and issued by the Board of Trustees...Note that the remaining members of the board (approx. 15 persons) had not been consulted at this point. Jane refused to open the matter to a full assembly of the board for debate, choosing instead to hand over this significant decision to a select handful of trustees. A week later the executive committee had another conference call in which, according to the minutes (April 30th, 1996):
The group discussed the best timing for the release of the statement from the Board regarding Richard [Greene]... Specific language for the statement was discussed .... The executive committee agreed that Jane will create a new draft of the statement from the Board based on input from other committee members before asking for a decision from the full Board about the statement.
Peter Lazus, one of the trustees who disagreed with the statement as published, asserted that it "did not adequately recognize the validity of the concerns which have led some of the faculty and students to direct several letters and petitions to the Board" (Amended Statement to the Community, May 6th, 1996). But Peter's dissenting opinion wasn't reflected in any way in the document released to the press. In an open letter (Nudepaper -- May 13th, 1996) to Jane Sanders I identified the undemocratic nature of the processes that she used to railroad her position on the matter through the board:
...an emergency meeting of the full board should have been called, which would have provided board members with an opportunity to debate the relevant issues with each other, to hear out faculty, staff, and students, and to publicly present their own views regarding the situation in a responsible, reciprocal, and accountable fashion. In short, it would have provided an opportunity to honor a large number of important stakeholders, entertain divergent points of view, and work toward forging a real consensus and future plan for Goddard. It is unrealistic to expect board members to rationally and intelligently respond to a telephone poll seeking support for issuing a board statement drafted by the executive committee, especially when board members have received little "official" or unofficial information about the crisis on campus. A polling of board members is not an adequate substitute for an open public meeting. It limits debate and dissent (especially when members are selectively cut out of the process), prejudges the outcome (by offering one prefabricated 'statement' on which to vote), gives the appearance of unwillingness on the part of the board to directly face the community, and concentrates power in the hands of Jane Sanders (Board Chair) and the executive committee.
On May 29th, again in executive committee, Jane and others reviewed Greene's "action plan", which outlined "the details of the personnel cuts... and the details of the personnel reorganization" (executive committee minutes). The minutes from this meeting also reflect that the executive committee considered "whether to delay personnel changes until they could be discussed with the full board of trustees", but again, under Jane's leadership, they elected not to do so. With the executive committee's consent Greene acted on his "reorganization" plan -- terminating the 16 just one week prior to the next meeting of the full board. The layoffs were an accomplished fact by the time the board convened. By once again narrowing participation in decision making Jane undermined democratic process and the capacity of the remaining board members to exercise their fiduciary responsibility as trustees.
In contemporary mean-spirited corporate fashion three of the sixteen that were terminated were asked to clean out their desks the day they were dismissed and banned from setting foot back on campus. In his attempt to justify this treatment Greene cited his "fears that they might be disruptive" (Times Argus -- June 13th, 1996), but others suspected that it was a deliberate attempt to quash further debate and dissent and was a very real demonstration of scapegoating. Community members had suffered Greene's retaliatory management style on a number of occasions in the past and feared that something like this might happen. I, for instance, in a public document seven months prior to the terminations had asked if the new personnel policies that Greene proposed was a "signal that he intends to 'clean house"' (Off-Campus Newsletter -- December, 1995). But after the terminations, in an interview with the Burlington Free Press (June 16th, 1996), Jane denied that they were politically motivated. However, in the board's response to the faculty's demand for Greene's resignation, dissident employees were reminded of their "contracts":
Despite areas of disagreement, we expect faculty, staff and administration to maintain the orderly operation of the college for the benefit of the students and in full compliance with their contractual responsibilities. (Board Statement, May 6th 1996)As I pointed out at the time, one month before the terminations were announced, "this is nothing more than a veiled threat, challenging faculty (and staff) with the possibility of dismissal on the basis of 'failure to meet contractual obligations' if speaking out leads to a disruption of 'orderliness' on campus" (An Open Letter to Jane Sanders and the Executive Committee -- May 13th, 1996). By this time, it did not take a genius to see the ominous direction in which Greene, supported by Sanders, intended to go.
One item she (Jane] is putting at the top of her agenda is finding funds to rehire some of the 16 employees who were fired by Greene last spring. Sanders spent most of Saturday reviewing the school's budget, attempting to determine what is feasible.If, as board president, Jane had spent as much time reviewing the budget as she later did when she was provost, 16 employees might not have had to suffer termination in the first place.
In addition to the terminations a number of good people were forced to resigned under Greene and Sanders. It is so much easier to destroy something good than to build it. A lot of energy that could have been better applied toward the realization of progressive new goals was exhausted on rear-guard actions that were nonetheless necessary in order to protect and save the heart and soul of Goddard.
What we're [the board] trying to do is not just do what previous boards have done which is back down from the decisions...It is important to recall that it was widely known at the time that Greene was circumventing the traditional process of having the College Executive Committee [CEC] draft a working budget. The acting interim deans at the time prepared several documents for the Board of Trustees detailing Greene's transgression of governance processes:
The plan proposed by the President was developed without our advice or consent... many of the cuts were not in accord with CEC recommendations. (Response to the President's Report -- June 14th, 1996)
The cuts will devastate the campus program academically, leave the off-campus individualized BA-MA program and perhaps the MFA program with absolutely no leadership or coordination... this will make the college vulnerable to suits from students and to the scrutiny of NEASC in regard to the breach of contract and failure to deliver the program for which they had enrolled. ...This is not a plan it is a purge. (Response to the President's Report)As a result, several board actions were suggested in these reports: "delay approval of this budget and the personnel cuts it calls for, pending full investigation, rehire people pending this investigation, put the college into a board 'receivership,' appointing a board committee to take over for the time being until a more responsible plan can be developed and new leadership put in place."
Instead of working in concert with others to seriously design an adequate solution Jane stonewalled dissent and politicked among board members in order to ensure the passage of Greene's budget as originally proposed. Ironically she would later, as provost, attempt to take credit for having single-handedly discovered the inadequacies in Greene's budget. Recently Jane has said in Clockworks (Spring 1997):
The existing budget plans simply weren't adequate to carry out the school's responsibilities. My first weekend here, I had to literally sit down and rewrite the budget, then work with the CEC to pass the revisions.But was not Jane Sanders board president at the time during which the inadequate budget that she complains about was ratified?? As board president was it not she that had ultimate responsibility for monitoring budget preparation and conducting budget evaluation?? By her own admission (above) she was not very effective in meeting either of these responsibilities. Speaking recently, in her role as provost, Jane prides herself in having been able to drastically slash a budget that she vigorously and obstinately supported as Board president:
In several instances now I've had the opportunity to trade highly paid administrative positions for a [sic] midlevel ones, and/or more support staff. You know, the last year, our Management Team was made up of seven individuals and cost $450,000. This year, there are five of us and the cost has been cut by more than a third. (Clockworks -- 1997)As board president, Jane Sanders should have set up an adequate evaluation process -- one that would have brought into relief the deficiencies that she prided herself in later identifying. This was her responsibility as board president. Jane can't have it both ways: if the budget had tremendous problems it was under her board leadership that this occurred.
At the time, these suggestions were completely ignored. Recently, as provost, Sanders has suggested strategic planning -- crediting herself with the idea. Although strategic planning is still a good idea it would have been more effective had it occurred before the search for a new college president, since a genuine planning process would have had to seriously consider proposals that were floating around at the time regarding important structural changes at the administrative and board level -- ones which suggested replacing the position of president with a more suitable governance design. But as things stand now, we will again be in the position of having to deal with an accomplished fact -- a new college president who is hired before the need for such a position is seriously and systematically evaluated.
The alternate proposals that I refer to -- ones that would have brought governance at Goddard into alignment with democratic principles -- were at the time articulated by faculty members and presented to the board, but to no avail (October Board Meeting, 1995). Jane, and the board under her leadership, would not hear these proposals out; as they proclaimed in the board statement followings the faculty's demand for Greene's resignation:
Goddard is, has always been, and will continue to be a college with a policy-making board of trustees, a president, and an administrative structure to implement that policy. That is non-negotiable. (Board Statement -- May 6th, 1996)
Greene's resignation became formally effective on January 1st, 1997 and Jane is commonly referred to by board members as "acting" president. This gives her a distinct leg up on other candidates for president as the INCUMBENT in the position. And again the community is faced with an ACCOMPLISHED FACT, and deprived of a role in the decision-making process. Notice a pattern here??
But Jane would have us think that it was the community-at-large that was clamoring for her leadership:
Right now, Goddard needs leadership and they seem to think I'm the kind of leadership they need. (Burlington Free Press -- August 31st, 1996)Jane's emphasis on leadership is misguided; what we need is not another leader, we need a transition team that would facilitate movement toward genuine democratic governance.
There is an additional danger in hiring a recent board president as president of the college. Many of the people on the board are there with her approval and the strong influence that she had over the board as board president persists to this day.
Jane is quietly consolidating her power in yet another way -- by filling a number of the administrative positions vacated under her watch as board president with political cronies. The job of college president, as it currently exists, has no provisions establishing accountability, and no method for recall, and will further consolidate her power in the community to an extent that should concern the community.
Jane lacks a genuine commitment to democracy and an understanding of the theory that underwrites it. She lacks the requisite experience in creating environments that are conducive to participatory democracy. She has characteristically chosen to see widespread dissatisfaction within the community as the work of a handful of agitators (ironically this tactic was a common one among administrators dealing with protesting college students during the sixties). In an interview Jane said:
"What we're seeing is the same old pattern of putting all the blame at the president's doorstep and no blame whatsoever at anyone else's." In Sanders' view, the blame resides mainly with "a distinct group of very organized and outspoken people who want no hierarchical structure at all and want to be accountable only to themselves." (Seven Days -- May 1st, 1996)It was untrue that it was a handful of people that had problems with the administration. There was a near unanimous faculty vote of no-confidence challenging the president's right to continue in his position, massive community support demonstrated at rallies, numerous letters to the editors from many individuals including past board members, administrators, faculty, and students, and finally a nationwide protest concerning the terminations.
The above passage is evidence of the fact that Jane fails to understand the critique of hierarchy that underwrites commitment to "power-with" as opposed to "power-over", and is a quintessential feature of the tradition of radical socio-political thought. The position that she ridicules is widely embraced by progressives with a commitment to participatory democracy and many a Goddard community member.
From the perspective of one who is committed to democratic process blame not only can but must be placed at the door step of the autocrat who insists on wielding power over others, making unilateral decisions, and avoiding accountability to the community at large.
Jane's conclusion that those in the community who critique hierarchy do so in order to usurp personal power and avoid accountability is absurd. No one in the community had ever suggested usurping from Greene the "power-over" that he exercised in the community. Rather, what was suggested was a dismantling of the hierarchies that permit individuals to avoid accountability, and the redistribution of decision-making powers to the governed. THIS, after all, is what democracy is.
There is tremendous irony in Sander's fear that others would attempt to usurp the "power-over" that was left behind when Greene resigned. If anybody is close to accomplishing this feat it is Jane herself. She is working her way into an autocratic administrative position that has experienced no significant structural changes since the time of Greene's departure.
Autocratic control is not what Jane fears; she fears democracy, as an interview in a national publication reveals:
But when Goddard's board hired Mr. Greene... the trustees talked about how much democracy was too much. "Goddard is extremely decentralized," says Jane O'Meara Sanders, ..."we talked about that at length, about the need to not make every decision by committee, the need to have leadership." (The Chronicle of Higher Education -- August 2nd, 1996)Unlike most progressives who are terribly concerned about the "systematic dismantling of democracy" in our country (see Nader, Chomsky, Slater, and others) Jane is worried about "too much" democracy. In entertaining this point of view she consorts with strange bedfellows. The "Trilateral Commission" that Rockefeller set up in the sixties came to the same conclusion. In Noam Chomsky's words:
... [the Trilateral Commission] warned of an impending "crisis of democracy" as segments of the public sought to enter the political arena. This "excess of democracy" was posing a threat to the unhampered rule of privileged elites -- what is called "democracy" in political theology. The problem was the usual one: the rabble [public] were trying to arrange their own affairs, gaining control over their communities and pressing their political demands. There were organizing efforts among young people, ethnic minorities, women, social activists, and others, encouraged by the struggles of benighted masses elsewhere for freedom and independence. More "moderation in democracy" would be required, the commission concluded... (Chomsky -- 1992)Having "too much democracy" is rather like having "too much integration", "too much equality", or "too many lesbians".
If we must proceed with selecting a new president at this time we have to make sure the candidates have experience in creating democratic environments, experience that Jane does not have. Candidates must have demonstrable knowledge, experience, and commitment to participatory democracy. This ought to be the primary consideration in filling the position.
To find an individual with adequate fiscal and administrative experience is not difficult, comparatively. People receive training in these areas in various ways that can be documented. And any deficiencies in these areas can be rectified by creative job redesign or addressed by the creation of an administrative team competent in areas in which the president is not. What one cannot afford to neglect, because it cannot be provided by others, is the cherishing of the democratic model of governance that should be the first consideration of a president. The president ought to be coordinating governmental processes without imposing his or her own personal decisions on the college. This requires a significant body of knowledge and experience that can not necessarily be inferred from traditional experience in management or administration, which typically assumes top-down administrative control and the legitimacy of hierarchy.
In addition to these qualities a president under the present circumstances would need to have experience in culture building (building one that is conducive to participatory democratic governmental processes) and organizational restructuring (a capacity to reconfigure the organization so as to rectify current key anomalies in governance at Goddard: i.e., non-democratic processes and procedures). In fact, the president should be someone who has experience in dealing with resistance to democratic process exhibited by persons in powerover positions that don't want to relinquish their power.
The best strategy at this point is not in hiring a traditional president but in the creation of a transitional governance team comprised of community members and consultant experts in the field of democratic governance, charged with a mandate to put in place a fully democratic governance structure at the college. Short of that, two things can happen: 1) the consolidation of power under a traditional autocratic president, which amounts to the demise of the socio-political experiment in democratic education that Goddard was conceived as, and 2) another prolonged struggle with such an autocratic leader, probably in the form of Jane Sanders. Neither of these options is something to look forward to.
During the last thirty years Goddard has seen ten different college presidents. When will we learn that replacing the person "at the top" is not going to resolve the tension at the college? That tension is the result of a contradiction between the deeply ingrained democratic ethos that has infused the community-at-large and the corporate assumptions that guide the governance of the college -- assumptions that would concentrate decision-making power in the hands of a president and a non-accountable governing elite.