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The Chronicle of Higher Education
From the issue dated August 4, 2000

A 17-Month Presidency Leaves U. of Toledo in a State of Unusual Disarray

'It never really occurred to me that you could dismantle a university so fast,' says one ex-professor


Toledo, Ohio

With "reorganization" and "decentralization" as the buzzwords of his presidency, Vik J. Kapoor promised to turn the middling University of Toledo into a "crown jewel of Ohio" and a center of research.

Now, a year and a half after the former engineering dean took the helm, the Board of Trustees that hired him has forced him to resign and return to the faculty. His brief presidency has left the state university reeling as it tries to recover from what some observers on campus characterize as a near dismantling of the institution.

Current and former professors and administrators say the scale of the disarray that ensued in such a short time is unprecedented among established colleges. "It's something that all serious educators need to look at and be aware of and learn from," says Philip J. Rusche, who in 1999 became dean of the education college at California State University at Northridge, after being forced out as education dean at Toledo.

Mr. Kapoor, since his resignation in June, declined numerous requests to be interviewed for this article, saying only that he feared that his comments would be criticized publicly by the board's leaders as "sour grapes." Under Mr. Kapoor's exit agreement, he will retain his presidential salary of $206,000 a year through December 2001, and will keep $60,000 in retirement benefits purchased for him as president. He now heads a research center in the engineering college.

The limestone, Gothic-style buildings and manicured lawns of the campus in this blue-collar city of manufacturing and automobile-assembly plants seem the same as ever. But the task now of rebuilding the university is daunting, say current and former faculty and staff members, students, administrators, and trustees.

In his 17 months in office, Mr. Kapoor forced out two of Toledo's eight deans, at a time when four other deans had already retired, or had announced their plans to do so before he took office. His own promotion opened up another deanship, as did his naming of the eighth dean as provost.

Then there is the sheer number of faculty and staff members who resigned or were fired during the 17 months of Mr. Kapoor's administration. The university lost 128 professors -- nearly a fifth of its faculty, according to figures provided by Toledo.

About 100 of them took advantage of an early-retirement program begun by Mr. Kapoor's predecessor, Frank Horton. The board at that time believed that bringing in new blood would bolster enrollment, which had been dwindling for a decade. The rest of the professors simply resigned. Faculty leaders say most of those who left did so because of their dismay over Mr. Kapoor's actions.

Among the 600 professional staff members who had neither tenure nor a union as protection, nearly 60 lost their jobs. They include the four directors of the information-technology department, several vice presidents, financial-aid and development-office professionals, and research-laboratory technicians.

Nearly all of the faculty and staff openings have gone unfilled, the result of a hiring freeze that Mr. Kapoor instituted soon after taking office. With few exceptions, it stayed in force while he was president.

On top of all that, turmoil has also beset the Board of Trustees, with four of the nine board members resigning. Several former chairmen last spring also called for the ouster of the then-chairman, Ronald R. Langenderfer.

The changes were part of a broad push for reorganization by Mr. Kapoor. But faculty and staff members, as well as students, say he never communicated his rationale or an overall strategic plan behind those tactics to people on the campus.

He abolished the university's research office, which processed scientists' federal grants. He pared down the center for academic computing. He dissolved a universitywide center for international students and study-abroad programs, and shut a branch of the college of arts and sciences that advised students.

Mr. Kapoor said he wanted to decentralize services and assign them to individual departments.

Meanwhile, professors say Mr. Kapoor didn't give departments the budget appropriations to cover their extra duties. Indeed, the university's overall budget was seven months late for the 2000 fiscal year, so deans and department heads didn't know how much money they had to spend. This year's budget, due in June, also was late. Faculty and staff members say services have continued, although sometimes in diminished form.

"Even in my worst nightmares, it never really occurred to me that you could dismantle a university so fast," says Harriet Adams, a former English professor.

Ms. Adams had served on the search committee when Mr. Kapoor was hired, but she and most other members of the Faculty Senate signed a resolution at the time opposing Mr. Kapoor's candidacy. She chose the early-retirement option last year. "The terror at that university was just unbelievable," she says. "There were people who were fired by e-mail. There were people who were fired in public meetings."

The board's current chairman, James M. Tuschman, says he and the former chairman, Mr. Langenderfer, had wanted Mr. Kapoor to be president because of his accomplishments as engineering dean. The board wanted a "change agent," one who would build academic programs and reverse the decline in Toledo's enrollment, which had fallen from about 25,000 in 1991 to about 19,000 in 1999, when Mr. Kapoor took office.

The trustees hired Mr. Kapoor over the objections of faculty and staff members, students, and officials of the university's foundation. All had rated him last among the three finalists for the job. The Faculty Senate passed its resolution protesting his candidacy partly because engineering professors had criticized his management style as dean.

The new administration further stirred the faculty's dismay when the interim dean of education, Charlene Czerniak, sent an e-mail message to Mr. Kapoor last fall listing professors in groups according to their perceived level of morale (The Chronicle, October 22). The dismay increased last winter, when Mr. Langenderfer, then chairman of the trustees, threatened during a board meeting to fire anyone who spread "malicious rumors" about the university.

Mr. Tuschman says that as the disorder mounted during Mr. Kapoor's presidency, he and Mr. Langenderfer began to worry. "We felt that there would have to be changes in deanships, and in core curriculum, so we set him on courses to effect some of those things. But what was coming back was not in the collaborative style and spirit we wanted," Mr. Tuschman says. "Certainly some of the faculty and staff members needed to go. But we started to see more muscle being cut into than just skin, and our concerns continued to heighten."

Some critics on the campus, however, say the board's leaders supported Mr. Kapoor for far too long, and may have directed many of his actions -- an accusation that Mr. Tuschman denies.

Although Mr. Kapoor is out, the institution's upheaval continues at the highest level. Four of the nine trustees have resigned since Mr. Kapoor was appointed president; three of them had expressed dissatisfaction with Mr. Kapoor and the board's leadership.

The most recent resignation came this month, when Charles R. Webb, a trustee since 1994, quit. "I strongly encourage you to consider the situation surrounding board governance at the university," he wrote to Gov. Bob Taft. "The university cannot be run like an industrial company where it's dictated from the top down, and that's what has happened," Mr. Webb added in an interview.

Scott Milburn, a spokesman for the Republican governor, says Mr. Taft, who has appointed only four of the board's members, is concerned about the situation at the university. But "the governor is really reluctant to micromanage the University of Toledo or any university," Mr. Milburn says.

Mr. Langenderfer, a steel-company executive, did not return several telephone messages seeking comment. In a news release, he attributed Mr. Webb's resignation to "sour grapes" over not being appointed the new board chairman. Mr. Webb denies that accusation.

But he and other former trustees, as well as current and former faculty members and students, criticize the board's choice of Mr. Tuschman as the new chairman, and question his record both on the board and in his professional life.

"He supported very strongly Vik Kapoor's presidency, and he supported Mr. Kapoor for a year and a half on every issue," says Jacqueline Knepper, another trustee who resigned. "Much of the responsibility for what happened under Vik Kapoor falls on the shoulders of the board."

The Faculty Senate last month approved a resolution stating that Mr. Tuschman didn't have the faculty's support. Meanwhile, the new chairman has been plagued by a scandal over what state officials say was the lavish spending, fraud, and mismanagement that led to the failure of P.I.E. Mutual Insurance Company, a medical-malpractice insurer.

Mr. Tuschman was a partner in a law firm created to serve only the insurance company. The insurer was ordered to liquidate in 1998, after state investigators found that it had fixed its accounting books to hide a debt in excess of $275-million.

The state in 1998 also filed an $80-million lawsuit against Mr. Tuschman and his former partners in the dissolved law firm, charging that they knew of P.I.E.'s financial problems. The lawsuit was settled for $4-million in June.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is continuing to investigate the insurer. Mr. Tuschman says he isn't a target of the inquiry, and he denies any wrongdoing. He says he and his former law partners were misled by the company's chief executive and knew nothing of the financial mismanagement while it was occurring. The F.B.I. refuses to disclose details of the case.

Now that Mr. Kapoor is no longer president, Mr. Tuschman believes that Toledo is on track for recovery. "We're going to make the right decisions," he says.

He and others are optimistic that Toledo can begin a turnaround with the interim president, William Decatur, who arrived last fall as vice president for finance. This summer Mr. Decatur began plans for hiring new faculty members, although he acknowledges that the move comes too late to take advantage of the academic year's recruiting cycle.

Plans are also under way for "revising and rebuilding many of our business and administrative processes," he says.

Others at the university, including students, say the events of Mr. Kapoor's presidency have left them uncertain about the future. Keith Tarjanyi, a senior who was editor of the student newspaper for the past two years, says his reporters talked to "several hundred" students during Mr. Kapoor's presidency. "Eight out of 10 of the students said they had been affected by what had happened in this presidency," Mr. Tarjanyi says. "Their classes had been canceled or something had been taken away in their program."

To keep its faculty members and students, the university needs a strong new president now -- one who is willing to make a long-term commitment, campus observers say. "They have to build some trust back in the institution," says C. Jack Maynard, who left Toledo's education faculty to become dean of the education school at the University of Michigan at Flint.

"If they're successful enough to attract the right kind of president, they can pull it off. But it's not a one- or two-year process. You're talking about years."
Section: Money & Management
Page: A33

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