7/7/96, Times Argus

President Greene Is Under Fire For His Style As He Tries to Keep School Afloat

By John Dillon - Sunday Staff Writer

PLAINFIELD - Word travels fast in academia. So when the admissions director at Goddard College resigned abruptly in April, assailing the "autocratic" leadership of school president Richard Greene, the harsh words in the resignation letter were quickly relayed over the Internet and read with interest in Miami.

Before coming to Goddard, Greene had run St. Thomas University, a small Catholic school overseen by the Archdiocese of Miami. In his five years as president, he increased enrollment, renovated campus buildings, stabilized the school's finances and raised faculty salaries by about 25 percent.

"He took a place that was floundering, brought in a group of talented people, and produced resuits;" said Jack Levinshuk, who worked as Greene's admissions director at St. Thomas. "I have tremendous respect for the man."

But the complaints from Goddard also had a familiar sound to others who worked for Greene in Florida. The Massachusetts-born college administrator has a blunt management style that demands compliance and doesn't tolerate dissent, said Seth Bramson, who teaches at St. Thomas.

Richard Greene says progressive institutions, such as Goddard, are hard to change.

"He's intimidating. He doesn't want to listen to or hear any other opinion from anyone other than his handpicked coterie of flunkies," said Seth Bramson, an assistant professor of tourism and hospitality management. "He made you feel that if you disagreed with him, your job was in absolute jeopardy."

If Richard Greene's management methods left mixed reviews at St. Thomas University - some loved him, others are glad he left - it has inflamed Goddard, a place where "question authority" could be the campus motto.

These are the two portraits of Richard Greene, the man at the center of a fierce debate at Goddard over budget cuts, a union drive, and faculty lay-offs. According to one version, Greene is a forceful decision-maker who is providing a dose of much needed fiscal and managerial discipline to the Plainfield campus. The other view holds that Greene is a brusque, imperious leader whose style clashes with Goddard's egalitarian and open traditions.

Both portraits likely have elements of truth. But if Greene's management methods left mixed reviews at conservative St. Thomas University - there are those who love him and those who are glad he left - it has inflamed Goddard, an institution almost synonymous with radical politics, a place where "question authority" could be the campus motto.

Students have protested against Greene. The faculty have demanded his resignation and sent him an overwhelming vote of no confidence. Trustees while vowing to investigate the impact of the faculty cutbacks on academic programs, have supported Greene's decisions.

Like many small liberal arts schools, Goddard has faced difficult years of red ink and shrinking enrollments. From a high of around 1,000 students in the 1970s, Goddard now has about 150 on campus students and another 350 or so enrolled in off campus programs. Although the school, founded in 1938, is known nationally as an historic leader in progressive higher education, this is a critical time for Goddard. How it weathers this latest controversy -- and the course Greene charts -- will determine what kind of institution survives into the 21st century.

Goddard's competitive situation, especially its financial constraints with a lack of capital funds and endowment, high tuition, community isolation, and morale issues, has created a sense of urgency for change and transformation," Greene wrote last year in his "vision statement" for the school. "There is also a window of opportunity for Goddard to return to the cutting edge of higher education.

Community Schools

Greene, who is 65, came to Goddard after a long and varied career in academia. He's taught history at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and psychology and education at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. He was an administrator at Westfield State College in Massachussetts before becoming vice president for academic affairs at St. Thomas University in 1987. A year later, he was tapped as the school's president and tackled the institution enrollment and financial crises.

He's also worked on education issues at the local level. While serving school boards in Worcester years ago, Greene said he introduced the idea of "community" schools for low income neighborhoods. The schools stayed open until 10 p.m. and served as places kids and parents to hang out and learn, he said.

Although he may be considered conservative by some at Goddard, Greene said his politics are rooted in Democratic liberalism. "A lot of us were influenced by John F. Kennedy," said Greene, who still broadens his vowels with a rich Massachusetts accent. "I helped end some of the segregation problems in Worcester ... by building schools that needed to be built."

In Florida, Greene took over a university with a $17 million debt. He helped arrange a refinancing plan that reduced the interest payments while assembling an advisory board of 34 prominent Floridians to raise money and tout the school around the state.

Even Bramson, a strong critic, acknowledged that Greene raised faculty salaries while grappling with the college's fiscal problems. The raises came in the midst of a union drive, Bramson recalled. "He got the pay raise through so the union lost," he said. "He (Greene) had all kinds of reasons why we shouldn't have a union. But the truth was we desperately needed one."

Paul Wieser, who taught at St. Thomas for 13 years and chaired the science department, said he quit because of clashes with Greene. "I left St. Thomas, even though I had a tenured position, because I chose not to work with Dick Greene in any capacity," he said. Wieser said he could not provide details, because of a nondisclosure agreement he signed with the archdiocese.

College presidents like Greene, who must balance budgets by cutting programs or staff, are rarely popular with everyone. And those who criticize Greene, whether at St. Thomas or at Goddard, cite similar criticism or his management methods. But Andrew Kreutzer, who taught at St. Thomas and now heads the sports management department at Ohio University in Athens, contradicted Bramson's portrait of Greene as an arrogant administrator who didn't take advice.

"I think he took counsel at St. Thomas. But good or bad, when the decision was made, it was his," Kreutzer said. "He didn't say the committee has decided."

Greene is a former Marine who demands top performance from his subordinates, said Levinshuk, the former St. Thomas admissions director. "He (Greene) has what I call an 'MBI' philosophy: management by inspiration or irritation, whatever it takes," he said. "Maybe that's his old Marine background. He wanted to hear how it was going to happen, not why it couldn't happen."

Governing Goddard

St. Thomas is a bigger school with larger budget problems than Goddard. But the Plainfield institution may be a harder place to administer.

Goddard has a tradition of democratic governance, built on the model of the Vermont town meeting. Issues are debated at community forums while a "college executive council" comprised of faculty, staff and students makes recommendations to the president on key budget and program questions.

The process is supposed to instill in students a strong sense of democratic principles. "Democracy is done at Goddard every day," is an oft-quoted campus saying.

But these democratic ideals can be problematic for those faced with the day-to-day challenge of running the place. Jackson Kytle, the Goddard president before Greene, said Goddard's problems stem in part from these structural issues of authority and governance. Students, faculty and staff have votes on the board of trustees, for example. So if a president wants to tackle an issue, such as faculty teaching load, he or she may be opposed by subordinates who are also serving on the board.

"If you have people you are trying to push who are supervising you, that's a heck of a confused boundary," Kytle said, who is now vice president at Vermont College.

While many small colleges face difficult times as the market for college-bound students shrinks, Kytle said the problems are particularly intense for progressive schools like Goddard or Antioch College in Ohio, where he worked for 15 years.

"One of the dilemmas is how much a progressive school can handle of an ideological agenda," he said. "I know Antioch has struggled with this. I'm fairly certain Bennington College has struggled with this. And I know Goddard struggles with this."

The other problems are more basic: roofs that leak, boilers that need fixing and chronic budget problems, he said.

"A college can handle some of this: the tensions between administration and staff; the lack of a governance plan, a physical plant that is badly deteriorated, the confusion between progressive political thought and progressive education philosophy. But all of them?" Kytle asked.

Kytle lasted at Goddard four years, one of a string of college presidents who have worked at the Plainfield campus over the last 30 years. Kytle said he and others advised Greene to assemble a strong board of trustees who would back him when things got rough.

"We said in effect: Pack the board or pack your bags. Dick Greene did that. He has a stronger board than I did. I could have used some of their maturity," Kytle said.

Trustee Support

The board that Greene recommended includes a bankruptcy judge, a physician, a college president, several academics and Goddard alumni. The board has stuck by Greene, despite the faculty's call for his resignation. The trustees have, however, appointed a committee to examine the impact of the cuts. They will also soon name a provost to handle more of Goddard's internal operations, leaving Greene to concentrate primarily on fundraising and development work.

"Goddard has gone through several presidents in a short time because the board hasn't stuck by them and said 'this is what is needed to be done,'" said Michael Galor, who heads the alumni association and serves on the board. What's going on at Goddard is a classic struggle between faculty and administration. Goddard faculty have ruled there for 20 years."

But some faculty question if Greene can effectively administer the place if he doesn't have the support of teachers. They say the departure of key people, like admissions director Peter Burns and academic dean Steve Schapiro, have further destabilized the campus.

"Other than a few lieutenants, I don't know anybody there who has respect for him," said Richard Schramm, who ran the Goddard Business Institute and taught in the school's off campus programs until he was laid off this spring.

"People don't work with Dick Greene they work for Dick Greene," said another faculty member who did not wish to be named. "It's said if you're loyal to me, I'll protect you. If not you won't be around for long."

Schramm said many modern businesses are evolving into less hierarchical workplaces where employees are involved in decisions. That is Goddard's heritage - but Greene seems to favor a more traditional, top down management system, he said.

"He seems compelled to let every body know on a fairly regular basis that he is the boss," said Schramm. "In my book, a good leader doesn't have to tell you that. ...I don't know what management book he was reading."

Schramm also said Greene's budgets have allocated too much money for administrative support and not enough for academic programs.

Greene strongly disagreed.

"Here's the reality of the numbers over the last five years: Goddard's budget has gone up approximately $2 million from 1991 to 1995. The commitment to the academic side of the program has gone up 159 percent in five years, while enrollment only increased 20 percent:" Greene said. "Are we putting money into academics? Definitely that's where our money has gone."

And Galor said that any administrator cutting staff positions would be criticized. "I really think nobody could do what Richard has done without taking a lot of hits. Then again, I think he could have been more sensitive."

Greene's Agenda

Goddard's pastoral campus has been the scene of some true academic innovations. The school started the first adult degree program in the country while an inovative program to help single mothers return to school gained widespread attention in the 1980s.

Greene said he wants to return Goddard to national prominence. He's pushing to establish a center for progressive research and plans to host a national symposium in Plainfield next year on alternative science and medical education.

These are Greene's big plans. But he is concentrating more these days on basic issues of governance and authority. "It's a difficult environment in which to be president," he said, with some understatement. "How do you democratically manage an institution that has a hiercrarchical system built into it, with a board of trustees, a president and an administration?"

Greene said he considers himself a "change agent." That was his history at St. Thomas, and he had hoped to bring structural changes to Goddard. He had expected innovation to be welcomed at Goddard. "The reality is progressive institutions are harder to bring about change in," he said. "Can you bring about change (at Goddard). The answer is: not easily. That was a surprise to me."

He's heard the criticism that he hasn't heeded faculty advice on budget issues. But he said he took the budget cuts recommended by the school's executive council and implemented most of them. "I stayed pretty much in their guidelines," he said. "...Decision making is very hard at Goddard. I do try to reach consensus. I do listen. I'm not dogmatic. But I'm also not willing to compromise on academic standards, and I'm not willing to copromise on the integrity of our academic programs."

Greene said he's been surprised by the furor, intense publicity and personal attacks that followed the faculty lay-offs. "I don't have a hidden agenda. The only agenda I have is to get Goddard back on a national level. I'm at a point in my career where I can do that and not worry about my future, not worry about where my next job is going to be."

Jane Sanders, who chairs the board of trustees, said layoffs could have been avoided if the school collectively had tackled the tough issues three years ago. "There's no way of getting around the fact we could not have the number of faculty we have with the number of on campus students we have. The college cannot sustain that. The trustees have been dealing with that for three years," she said.

The entire Goddard community now needs to work together, she said. "We also heard very clearly there are concerns about how decisions are being made and implemented Sanders said. "What we're trying to do is not just do what previous boards have done - which is back down from the decisions - but to clarify the facts and to asses the educational impact and move forward."