College of health shows little confidence in dean

By By Rochelle McConkie

By Rochelle McConkie

Many faculty members in the College of Health expressed dissatisfaction with their dean in a survey taken last spring — results that Dean James Graves attributes to anxieties caused by his efforts to reorganize the college and target external funding to make the college more research-oriented.

The survey was conducted by the College Council in April as part of “strategic planning exercises” led by the dean to improve the college overall. About 40 percent cast a vote of no confidence in the dean, about 30 percent voted in the dean’s favor and about 30 percent abstained.

“The results are non-conclusive,” said council chair Ed Ruddell , a professor in Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

But some professors disagree, saying the results represented discontent throughout the college.

“That’s huge,” said an associate professor who asked to remain anonymous. “I wouldn’t want that if I were getting student evaluations for my class.”

Faculty members listed distrust, lack of vision, poor communication and lack of inclusion in decision-making as reasons for disapproval.

“He’s imposing his own agenda, which is ‘get grants, get grants, get grants,'” the professor said.

Graves said the votes of disapproval represented “room for improvement,” and came from uneasiness caused by changes his administration is implementing in the college.

In the four years Graves has served as dean, he said his top goals have been to promote academic excellence, enhance research by increasing external funding, improve facilities and better organize the college.

At one point, Graves wanted to consolidate the departments of exercise and sports science with health promotion and education because of the “commonalities of their programs,” but the endeavor eventually failed. Faculty members did not discuss the issue for a year because it caused so much tension.

The survey was part of Graves’ strategic planning exercises, which started about two years ago with a survey asking College of Health faculty and staff to identify pros and cons of the college. When the survey was administered, Graves said there had not been an increase in compensation for two years and other organizational problems, causing strain and low morale.

In that survey, respondents said the quality of students and opportunities for collaboration were positive aspects of the college.

Low salaries, lack of infrastructure to support research, physical facilities and a lack of a cohesive set of values to drive excellence in the college were listed as negative aspects.

The Dean’s Advisory Committee, the College Council and Graves interpreted the survey results and formed focus groups to discuss themes from the survey. Council leaders presented information compiled from the focus groups to the dean at a faculty meeting.

The approval poll regarding college leadership was later conducted, which Ruddell said was not an actual “vote of no confidence” meant to oust the dean.

These results were also reported to the college, but one professor said the information was “fluffed over” at the meeting.

Since results were reported, Graves has urged departments to discuss ways to improve the college. Departments are recommended to bring complaints to the dean through his advisory committee.

Another professor, who also preferred to remain anonymous, said this method of “buffering” only makes communication with administration more difficult.

Graves said he has an “open-door policy” for all faculty members.

“I’m also very willing to meet with any faculty member or group of faculty members at any time to discuss any issue, but that doesn’t guarantee I’ll agree with or approve every request,” Graves said. “You have to think globally, for the entire organization as opposed to individual programs and agendas.”

Some faculty members said Graves’ leadership is a non-issue.

Daniel Dustin, department chair for Parks, Recreation and Tourism, said he has been at the U for one year and hasn’t had a problem with Graves.

“Maybe he had done a few things to raise hackles on somebody’s neck…but during my time he’s been a really supportive dean to my department and I couldn’t be happier,” Dustin said. “It’s not a great indictment of his leadership.”

In about a year, Graves said he will survey the faculty again to gauge progress. This year, he said he will continue to grow infrastructure to fund research, help faculty apply for grants, develop new academic programs, such as the new interdisciplinary certificate in disabilities studies and implement faculty and student awards programs.

“We have an outstanding faculty,” Graves said. “Deans are often called upon to make difficult decisions and there’s no way to please all people at all times.”

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