Education Business and Teachers and Education & Workforce Development and University of Indianapolis

U of I dean under fire from within department

December 25, 2006

Michael B. Shapiro was a successful Buckeye entrepreneur before he was hired in 2004 as dean of the business school at the 4,200-student University of Indianapolis.

With experience helping Ohio build its version of Indiana's BioCrossroads biomedical initiative, Shapiro once described himself as someone with "tremendous, tremendous horsepower and a lot of torque."

Touted for the dean's job as just the right guy to rub shoulders with the local business community, he set out to raise donations for the 650-student business school and to boost its prominence in a fiercely competitive market. But just over two years later, he might be facing his biggest challenge from within.

Three current and three former U of I professors this month filed a grievance against Shapiro, asking the president of the faculty senate to address their complaint that Shapiro has created a hostile work environment intended to purge those who don't share his vision for tailoring degrees to meet the needs of specific industries.

They also allege he violated university and federal rules by not seeking the most-qualified applicants or seeking faculty input when filling positions. Professors cite specifically the hiring of Darrell Bowman as director of the undergraduate school, and the promotion of assistant professor and MBA-program head Matt Will to associate dean. Will is a camera-friendly and quote-ready expert on all matters business and is cited frequently in local media reports.

The grievance, obtained by IBJ, calls for the university to return Will to the grad school and to reassign Bowman and to fill their vacancies according to the college's hiring policy.

Other relief sought includes a university review of Shapiro's faculty evaluations, a review of all hiring decisions, and reinstatement of inappropriately terminated faculty members.

Lawrence Sondhaus, president of the faculty senate, could not be reached for comment.

Mixed reviews

By some measures, the rift involves more than one-third of the 18 full-time business faculty members at the university founded in 1902 by the United Methodist Church. Professors say four other faculty members support the grievance but didn't sign it out of fear of retaliation.

Yet other professors say they support Shapiro and that his role as the business school's first dean focused mainly on external efforts is misunderstood. He and Will have worked hard to raise money for the department to provide professors with new opportunities, they add.

Bringing the grievance is accounting professor Jeanie Balcom, economics professor Esen Gurtunca and William "Butch" Fennema, who teaches human resources and management.

Also signing are former business school faculty Wes Jones, who left this year to become a hospice chaplain at St. Vincent Hospital; James Stephens, who is now a health administration professor at Ohio University, and Raj Singhal, former finance and accounting professor, who left in August when his contract was not renewed.

"Several of the faculty members have left or have been made to leave ... . Nobody has ever seen a thing like this, and I've been at three institutions," said Singhal, who obtained his doctorate from the University of South Carolina. "I would not put up with this nonsense."

Discontent has been building for two years, said an ex-U of I professor who now teaches out of state but prefers to remain anonymous. He said dissension became a mutiny after the administration failed to respond to faculty complaints.

"If a school can't run itself, that's a big problem."

Following his mandate

The private university disputes the allegations and the extent of faculty disenchantment.

"Based on the size of the School of Business, the number of complaints is not out of the ordinary," said Mary Wade Atteberry, spokeswoman for the university.

She said the business school employs more than 80 people, although many of those are adjunct professors and staff.

Shapiro was not available for comment. Will declined, saying he couldn't talk about the grievance at this stage.

Atteberry said Shapiro was hired with the mandate "to take the business programs to a higher level, and change is not always popular.

"The process has required adjustments in personnel and procedures that apparently did not sit well with department members who were satisfied with the status quo."

Retribution?

Professors say the problem with the leadership is not about new ideas, per se, but about Shapiro's not following established procedures--and about fierce retaliation against dissenters.

"It's a sure ticket to be fired," Singhal said.

He figures that he fell out of grace at a staff meeting, after saying he objected to Will's continually "bad-mouthing" peers openly.

In academic circles, to ensure the best decisions, "there has to be healthy debate," Singhal said.

"It's now more of a corporate model," said a longtime U of I professor who is not party to the complaint but asked not to be identified.

"They have been very rough on some of the faculty," he said. "They do run a tight ship. It's either, 'You're a team player, or you're against us.'"

Longtime accounting professor Balcom thinks she fell out of favor when, while on a search committee, she challenged the qualifications of an accounting job candidate preferred by department heads. While accomplished in other business fields, the candidate appeared to have taken only about nine credit hours of accounting classes.

Balcom said she soon wound up being assigned two night courses traditionally reserved for junior-level faculty.

"They did that on purpose," she said.

Some other faculty allege they, too, had sudden schedule changes.

Balcom said she also was slammed on her evaluation despite previously earning good marks. Moreover, she and other professors said administrators failed to provide concrete evidence for the downgrades, or to review self-evaluation forms.

"When they did my evaluation, they never substantiated anything," Singhal said.

"One faculty member used the old high school trick of sticking pages together in her documentation. When she got her evaluation materials returned, the pages were still stuck together," the complaint states.

Atteberry said the university has raised its expectations and adjusted its evaluation process accordingly as it seeks more of a merit-based pay system.

Hiring questioned

The 12-page grievance states the hostile work environment began when Shapiro hired Darrell Bowman as an assistant professor and director of the undergraduate school "without following university procedures."

Bowman was an outsider, with degrees in computer programming from Ivy Tech Community College and an MBA from Indiana Institute of Technology, in Fort Wayne. Surely there were outside candidates with stronger credentials, the dissident faculty members said. They suspect Bowman was picked because he was a friend of Matt Will's.

Faculty members said Shapiro claimed the entire current faculty had been reviewed "and that no one was qualified for the job." But they point out that many of U of I's professors have advanced degrees from respected universities.

The grievance also said graduate school head Will was tapped by Shapiro as associate dean despite the policy of the faculty handbook, which "clearly states that there must be a search for a position of this type. An exception can be made [only] if there is support of the faculty."

"People who attempted to discuss the noncompliance issues were labeled as problems and disloyal," the complaint said.

The university disputes the allegations.

Atteberry said Bowman was hired and Will was appointed in accordance with university policy, with the decision resting with the dean and provost.

Another complaint is that Shapiro is nowhere to be found, especially to those deemed to be on the "out list."

They say he sent a letter to one faculty member accusing him of being drunk on the job.

"The dean had no idea about the medications that the faculty member was taking because the dean had never bothered to talk with the faculty member," according to the complaint.

But Atteberry said there's good reason Shapiro isn't as visible on campus as is Will.

"Dr. Shapiro's role, by definition, is more externally focused and professor Will's position is one of operations manager. It is not unusual to see this kind of division of responsibility" elsewhere, she said.

Shapiro supporters

Sheela Yadav, an assistant professor specializing in supply chain management, said there's nothing unusual about the dean/associate dean format in larger schools.

"I have found the school to be the most outstanding work environment I've ever had, and supportive," Yadev said.

Shapiro is the third dean that professor of international business Kathy Bohley Hubbard has worked for in the last 10 years. She said Shapiro and Will have provided new opportunities, such as helping secure resources to allow her to work in Vietnam, advising on international trade issues.

"I would have never had that opportunity before," she said.

Under the new business school leadership, "our expectations have risen. ... We want more research. We want you out in the community," Hubbard said.

Part of the change is needed because "higher education is becoming increasingly competitive ... . So we have to offer something to our students that's different," she added.

As to whether Shapiro has been successful wrangling more money from companies, university officials wouldn't elaborate. They described his work so far as "laying the necessary groundwork."

"It may take two or three years for a new dean to establish relationships and educate potential donors," Atteberry said.

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