SAVANNAH - Four years after the state University System sent Savannah State University an administrative"dream team" to raise enrollment, academic performance and morale, a group of employees says the campus environment is a nightmare.
Unpopular administrative decisions, declining enrollment, high turnover and the arrest of a tenured professor prompted a group of faculty and staff to question the effectiveness of leaders.
In particular, they criticized Vice President for Academic Affairs Joseph Silver, who has carried out many tough decisions designed to reform the struggling institution.
But University System Chancellor Stephen Portch is standing by his man, as are a group of Savannah State supporters.
Dr. Silver's resignation was demanded in a letter delivered to his office Nov. 1. It was initially signed by 14 faculty, staff and university friends but continues to circulate, and a few additional signatures have been added.
"We often have the impression that you do not work for our interests so much as the will of your supervisors in Atlanta," the letter said."Indeed, you have not earned the confidence of the faculty, staff and community, and you do not deserve it. Therefore, for the following reasons, we ask for your resignation."
One of the signers, professor Modibo Kadalie, said Savannah State is the only University System institution where the Board of Regents unilaterally appointed a president and a vice president. He said a new search should be conducted - this time with faculty involvement.
"We went along with it, it didn't work, and now we want to fix it," Kadalie said.
But Dr. Silver doesn't think he has to make any apologies for his appointment or his actions.
"I love Savannah State University and I enjoy working for (University President) Carlton Brown, and I plan to be here," he said.
He's backed by Dr. Brown and a group of 91 staff, faculty and community members who signed a petition to refute the letter calling for Dr. Silver's resignation.
"I am certainly not accepting any resignation from Dr. Silver," Dr. Brown said.
Dr. Portch hand-picked Dr. Brown and Dr. Silver in 1997 after faculty, staff and alumni called for the resignation of the institution's 10th president, John T. Wolfe.
Mr. Wolfe began cleaning house just weeks into his presidency to improve management and accountability on campus. Some popular people were fired and locks were placed on their office doors, which led to a flurry of petitions, campuswide student protests and a no-confidence vote from faculty, staff and alumni. His presidency lasted four years.
Dr. Portch wasn't pleased by the events that led to the Wolfe resignation and said he won't be swayed by the latest call for administrative change.
"If that letter is intended for me, they can save their 33 cents," he said.
For three years, the faculty has given Dr. Silver low performance evaluations based on claims that he runs the campus like a dictatorship, hires unqualified yes-men to fill key positions and intimidates those who question him. Even some faculty and staff members who didn't wish to take sides on the issue said egotistical administrators have stymied the grievance process and left unhappy employees with little hope of relief.
But Dr. Portch, who was adamant when he appointed Dr. Brown and Dr. Silver that no more administrators from Savannah State would be pressured to resign, has not changed his mind.
The Dream Team
In the four years under the Brown-Silver administration, the graduate programs gained basic accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the master of social work program earned specialized accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education. Construction began on a privatized housing facility, state funding was secured to replace the old and outdated dormitories, and the university is meeting state-mandated goals to improve academic outcomes by eliminating learning support programs and raising admission standards.
Since Dr. Silver arrived on campus, everything has improved, according to WHCJ Savannah State Radio host Ike Carter. He said the views expressed in the Silver protest letter don't have campuswide support.
"I've found him to be fair in all aspects, and he puts the good of the students and the institution above everything," Mr. Carter said.
But many in the group of unhappy faculty are calling the years under Mr. Wolfe the good old days.
"We'd be better off with a wounded Wolfe than a Brown and Silver team - the so-called dream team," said professor Kenneth Jordan."At least Wolfe was able to meet the faculty halfway."
University enrollment has dropped from nearly 3,000 students to just more than 2,000, faculty and staff turnover is high, the university library has been without librarians since September and there are looming questions about the institution's ability to attract students and raise revenue.
Accreditation could be jeopardized by the lack of librarians if the vacancies persist until next year, according to Don Crump of SACS.
And in September, a Civil Rights Act violation lawsuit over a Savannah State University hire was settled for an undisclosed amount. Attorney Alan Lowe said his client, Kelly Huff, a white professor, was passed over for a job in the mass communications department and a lesser qualified black person who hadn't submitted a complete application was hired. A grievance committee found that procedures had been violated and unanimously recommended that Ms. Huff get the job with back pay, Mr. Lowe said. But the university ignored the recommendation and retained the other candidate.
Dr. Silver said a search for librarians is ongoing and staff is filling in temporarily. The problem stems from the fact that the former library director gave two weeks' notice before resigning, he said.
And he claims the institution's enrollment figures are misleading and have actually"hovered around 2,200."
Their progress in attracting stronger students more than makes up for any stagnant growth, according to Dr. Silver. Since 1997 the average SAT scores of entering freshmen has risen from 810 to 870.
Charles Elmore, a 28-year tenured professor, said Dr. Silver and Dr. Brown are moving the institution forward and he doesn't understand the faculty discontent.
"I feel great about being here," Mr. Elmore said."I support Dr. Silver and Dr. Brown's leadership wholeheartedly."
And he's not alone.
During a Nov. 9 interview with the Savannah Morning News, Dr. Silver said the call for his resignation was made by an insignificant number of people - just 14 out of a faculty of about 130, a student body of 2,200 and a staff and alumni of thousands. He said everyone in the small group of petitioners was negatively affected by the rising standards and increased demand for accountability and was involved in the protests against the previous administration.
On Nov. 10 - the day after the interview - university spokeswoman Loretta Heyward provided the Morning News with a petition in support of Dr. Silver. It was dated Nov. 9 and was signed by 91 members of the staff, faculty and community.
"It is time for the silent majority to come forward and denounce this group," the letter said."Too long, we have tolerated the verbal attack against one of the most productive administrators this institution has had."
Some of the unhappiness stems from Dr. Silver's forceful personality and the fact that he is charged with faculty tenure, accountability and pay raises. But staff member Edna Jackson said more people should try to be as fair and dedicated to the uplift of the university as Dr. Silver.
"You have to look beyond the individual and see what's good for the institution and you have to go beyond personalities," she said.
Obviously upset that his devotion to the university has been questioned, Dr. Silver went over a long list of things he has initiated to improve and enhance the institution - from accountability measures and a shorter registration to student scholarships he funds out of pocket. But he said he hasn't lost any sleep over the evaluation or the protest letter because he's too busy working.
"I think I'm in good company," he said, "because they talked about Jesus Christ."
"Silver's petition does not address any of the issues in the letter I signed or deal with the academic infrastructure of the institution," Savannah State staffer Michael Porter said."It reads like a resume - full of superficial, feel-good things."