Communicating With Leaders

I was reflecting, yesterday, on my many enjoyable and colorful discussions with University Leaders.

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Over a period of 20 years I had the privilege, and the challenge of endeavoring to make the case for both Building Services, and the wonderful people that comprised the organization, and the civil service community…of which, at the time, there were 2,000 individuals.

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It is was, somewhat of a fearful thing, in the beginning, for me to ‘speak truth to power,’ nevertheless…I did so for many years prior to my retirement.

It is my habit, over many years, to name the person that I am speaking of, when my comments are positive, and to leave the leader, nameless, when our interaction was somewhat challenging.

Chancellor Beggs was a breath of fresh air for the SIUC Campus.  He and his wife, Shirley, were so friendly and welcoming and beloved on our Campus that it was a no-brainer for the president of the University to retain him in his role as SIUC Chancellor when his two year appointment expired.

Dr. Beggs believed, from what the President had told him, that he would be named as the permanent Carbondale Chancellor.

I served on the Chancellor Search Committee that was commissioned to find a replacement for Chancellor Beggs.  The president, who I beseeched both publicly and privately to retain Chancellor Beggs, assured me that he would if it was evident that there was a ground swell of support for him from the Campus.

There was a groundswell of support for Dr. Beggs and he believed that he would be appointed permanent chancellor until about three days before his replacement was named.

Chancellor Jo Ann Argersinger was a energetic and outgoing person that drew people to her like a magnet.

She was loved by faculty, staff, and students.

Chancellor Argeringer became so popular on Campus that she eclipsed the President and he subsequently terminated her in under a year.

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I supported her, upon her termination and made a short public speech that she had, ’caused us to dream again,’ regarding the possibilities of what SIUC could become.

I was extremely careful to say nothing against the president of the University nor the Board of Trustees…and yet was privately threatened by a University leader to cease my support for Jo Ann or endanger my entire department being contracted out.

A University Chancellor told me on three occasions that civil service staff were on the bottom of the ‘ladder of importance’ and that they would have to wait for a possible raise in pay until after both faculty and the administrative/professional Staff received theirs…and then…if there were any monies left…civil service staff could have a raise.

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After the third time that the Chancellor made the insulting, ‘order of importance,’ statement to me…I informed him that if he said that insulting statement to me again that I would cease trying to find positive things to say about him and resign my position as the president of the Civil Service Council.

The same Chancellor, who recited how unimportant we Civil Service Staff were, told me on another occasion, ‘to leave him the hell alone!’

In all of my communications with chancellors and presidents…this chancellor did more for the Civil Service Community than any other.  I was extremely fond of him and discovered that his bark…was much worse than his bite.

A University President, and my friend, abdicated his responsibility to the SIUC Chancellor who was responsible for bringing him to Campus.

I spoke with this President on many, many occasions.  Mary Jane heard me speak to him, candidly, on one occasion…and cautioned me that he had the power to fire me and that I had better tone my remarks down.

I was speaking to him about the woman to whom he owed his job at SIU and his responsibility to her.

At my retirement reception the President of the Southern Illinois University system came and delivered remarks regarding our relationship.

He said that if he cut one student worker from my custodial organization, Building Services, that he would catch hell from me.

This is the same President that sought my opinion on numerous occasions regarding all manner of issues confronting the University.

‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.’   Proverbs 27:6   KJV

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My friend, Jim, alerted me that a request for proposal to contract the food service staff’s jobs in Housing.  There was a University wide committee to meet the next morning to discuss, what had been described to me as a ‘done deal’  for the elimination of many Civil Service positions in the Housing food service area.

My colleague and friend, Jake, joined me in a evening meeting with the University Chancellor.

The Chancellor informed us that it was his right and his duty and that he was not only going to examine the contracting of food service but that he really should send out a Request for Proposal for Building Services as well.

I talked with him at length regarding the University’s responsibility to the employment of Southern Illinoisan’s and that he would never find the dedication that his current employees have to the institution.  He stared at me, angrily, for several minutes, and then asked, abruptly, if there was anything else that I wanted to talk about…and I responded that there was not.

The next morning the University wide Committee Meeting was canceled and shortly thereafter the Chancellor said that he would not discuss the contracting of full time staff employment while he was in office.

There are times that difficult crossroads bring a successful path.

 

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