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Spoilt Culture 

It's been so long since things have run smoothly at Humboldt State University that most of us have lost any idea of what normal is supposed to be like. The distrust, suspicion, hatred, paranoia, internecine warfare, obscure bureaucratic maneuvering -- it all seems like standard operating procedure up on the hill, and we just shake our heads and laugh and thank our stars that we aren't personally associated with such a baroquely dysfunctional institution. Those crazy academics!

And then along comes Keeling Associates, a high-powered consultancy out of New York, to grab everyone by the lapels and shake vigorously. No, says Keeling in an Oct. 7 report released by the university last weekend. No, listen, it says: This isn't just the usual ivory-tower pointyhead petty infighting we're talking about. Your university is a massive organizational clusterbombed catastrophe almost beyond measure, and it's going take something like a miracle for you to pull it together.

"The University's record has been characterized more by finding ways to avoid the hard decisions made necessary by budget cuts than by adapting to or accommodating those cuts in a thoughtful and strategic manner," the consultants write. "The accumulation of these decisions has resulted in a dysfunctional campus culture that is characterized by ineffective presidential leadership, a lack of shared institutional vision and governance, ineffective decision making and a fatigued if not demoralized administration, faculty, staff and student body."

And there's 31 pages following that one, all of it pretty much in the same vein.

Keeling Associates were brought on in the spring to study the university's culture, following a somewhat devastating report from the Western Association of Colleges and Schools (WASC), the body that accredits HSU. (Basically, it's WASC's job to assure that HSU deserves to be called a "university.") When WASC was last in town it decided to delay, for a year, a scheduled review of the university's educational effectiveness. According to Keeling, and apparently others at HSU, this was because the university was on a course to flunk the review, and so to run the risk spending the next several years on the knife's edge of losing accreditation. The WASC took pity.

So Keeling was brought in to study why the Humboldt State could never get anything done, and why all the different parties at the school spent so much time undermining and battling one another. Their conclusion: Everyone is to blame. The faculty refuse to accept the budget strangulation coming down from the state of California, which simply has to change the nature of the institution. The staff likewise acts erratically. In a telling anecdote, the consultants report that the university's entire accounting staff quit in protest when the university changed software systems -- even though the change was mandated by the state university system and not local administrators.

But as is perhaps proper, the bulk of the blame for the crisis is laid at the feet of President Rollin Richmond, who in most cases has unilateral authority to make decisions about how the university is governed. Hardly anyone has confidence in Richmond's leadership, according to the report, and that seems largely to be due to the fact that he acts erratically, without consulting even his close deputies, or even ignoring all counsel completely and shooting the university off on his own course, without explanation. The report doesn't call on Richmond to resign. It does everything but.

Things are going to have to get worse before they get better.

 

It's the last few days before the most momentous election of my lifetime -- maybe yours, too -- and we have just a couple of wrap-up housekeeping notes for you.

First: The Journal and our friends at The Venue Project are pleased to broadcast the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission-sponsored debate over Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. It takes place tonight (Thursday, Oct. 30) at College of the Redwood's Forum theater, and it features, on the "No" side, attorney Terry Stewart, who earlier this year argued (and won) San Francisco's same-sex marriage case before the California Supreme Court. We'll be running it live at northcoastjournal.com.

Then, on Election Day, you'll want to keep it tuned to radio station KHUM (104.3 or 104.7 on the FM dial) for full-blown coverage of local, state and national election results. The North Coast Journal is joining forces with the KHUM crew for complete flood-the-zone coverage of election night events up and down the county, including the presidential election. We'll see if we can cut to our Judy Hodgson in Colorado as the votes come in there. And we're simultaneously inviting you to help us live-blog the goings-on at northcoastjournal.com.

Join us if you can. Otherwise, see you on the other side of Tuesday, in a distinctly different world.

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Hank Sims

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