(The following is my column for this week's Newton County News.)
A uniter not a divider.
That was the slogan George W. Bush used in his first campaign for president and that was how current Missouri Southern State University President Bruce Speck was described when he first strolled onto the campus.
The phrase did not turn out to be accurate for either man, though it comes closer in the case of Speck. Speck is succeeding in doing something that has never happened in the seven decades Missouri Southern has existed, going back to its days as Missouri Southern State College and Joplin Junior College.
For the first time, the MSSU faculty is united…in opposition to Speck. Furtive attempts to unionize the faculty have occurred from time to time during the quarter of a century that Dr. Julio Leon was in charge of the campus, but nothing ever came of it.
This Friday, observers may finally get a chance to see just how deep the opposition to the polarizing Speck is. An afternoon meeting has been scheduled to organize a chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
What has happened to create this kind of atmosphere at MSSU?
Since Speck’s arrival, the university has been permeated with an atmosphere of fear as programs have been cut without notification, and seemingly without rhyme or reason, at a time when the country is having deep economic difficulties, but when the university itself appears to be in reasonably good shape.
In addition to the programs that have been eliminated, Speck, apparently at the behest of Board of Governors President Dwight Douglas, of Neosho, has taken substantial steps toward dismantling the university's international program.
It appears the MSSU Board of Governors either did not look carefully at Speck’s recent background, or they did look carefully, and decided that he was precisely the person it wanted to lead the university.
On April 14, a lawsuit in which Speck was initially a defendant came to a close when the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Speck’s former employer, Austin Peay University in Tennessee, did not discriminate against four African American professors. Though the court ruled there was not enough evidence to prove discrimination, the decision noted that the only evidence of racism that had been offered was a quote allegedly made by Speck. I wrote about the lawsuit in late December on my blog, The Turner Report.
“The lawsuit said that Speck, who served as vice president of academic affairs at the university, insulted two of the plaintiffs, Jacqueline Wade, director of the university's African American Cultural Center (AACC) and Nancy Dawson by saying ‘he 'was tired of your arm-twisting and resistance to my decisions.'
“He also made clear that he would not tolerate Dr. Wade’s and Dr. Dawson’s 'pushiness' and 'uppityness.' Dr. Wade was offended by the latter comment as 'covert racial denigration.' "
Though the situations at Austin Peay and Missouri Southern are not the same, both involve a “my way or the highway” attitude that has created friction at the faculty level.
Of course, one of Speck’s major attributes, which was cited by Southern officials when he was hired, is his skill as a fundraiser, a man who could bring in the money to help the university navigate the troubled economic waters.
Apparently that, too, was not quite accurate. This week, the university placed an ad for a new official, who will draw a six-figure salary. This man or woman will be the vice president for university development and executive director of the University Foundation.
Speck’s talent at fundraising must be the ability to hire someone at great expense who actually has a talent for fundraising.