Not afraid of change: professor critiques Dell’Omo administration

By Joel Phillips

Last Thursday President Dell’Omo wrote to faculty about refusing to participate in academic program prioritization.

Dell’Omo wrote, “I know that the prospect of such change can be scary. But imagine if Rider never changed? Imagine if Rider was trying to compete in today’s marketplace as the institution it was in 1900, 1950 or even 2000? Higher education evolves, and we must evolve with it. That’s what this work is about.”

Setting aside the demeaning paternalistic tone, Dell’Omo presumes faculty are afraid of change.

We are not.

For years faculty have pleaded for change in the form of management that respects the central role faculty play in a university. An administration that respects its faculty would never decide entirely on its own what it wants to do and how it wants to do it. Is it surprising that no faculty member will agree to be an unwitting tool to implement this administration’s plan to eliminate programs and fire their colleagues?

Faculty would embrace change in the form of competent respectful leadership.

However, senior management serves at the pleasure of the Board of Trustees.

Are the Trustees open to change? To date the Trustees have supported this administration. But on what basis? Are there no objective measures that would demonstrate a need for changed management?

The blueprint for prioritization comes from a book by Robert C. Dickeson, who runs a consulting firm called Academic Strategy Partners (ASP). Like Credo, ASP helps universities decide what programs and faculty to eliminate.

One such institution, Columbia College Chicago (CCC), appears on Dickeson’s site as a “Proven Success” Story. The press is filled with stories of the massive turmoil their prioritization process caused, the plummeting student satisfaction, and the concern for CCC’s long-term viability.

Chicago Magazine wrote in 2016 that “Prospective students, and the cautious parents who support them, are increasingly wary of Columbia. The question trustees are grappling with is whether the damage can be contained, if not reversed.”

Perhaps nothing demonstrates Columbia’s “success” as well as a 31% decline in overall enrollment since its prioritization (data from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System [IDEPS]).

All the information on Columbia’s disastrous outcomes was available before Rider’s administration chose to follow the same process that produced them years ago. Now the administration demands that we must undertake this task again. But was Rider’s first prioritization a “success?”

Rider’s enrollment “success” looks much like that of CCC — a 39% decline in first-year enrollment and a 19% decline in overall enrollment (data from IPEDS).

Perhaps there are other objective measures, such as the benchmarks from the President’s Strategic Plan.

Did Rider’s full-time undergraduate enrollment increase 12%? Spoiler: It dropped 19%.

Has freshman-sophomore retention increased to 85%? Spoiler: It remains the same.

Is Rider a workplace of choice? Spoiler: Faculty and staff have left in droves.

Do Rider’s faculty and staff believe in this administration’s direction? Spoiler:

For some reason the administration refuses to share the full results of its climate survey.

Has Rider’s financial stability improved? Spoiler: Not according to Moody’s, whose repeated downgrades place Rider deep in junk-bond territory.

Did local and regional media/social media exposure increase? Here the answer is a resounding yes.

Rider made national news by being sued by a theological seminary and its own faculty, students and alumni for failing to uphold Rider’s promises. The self-inflicted disaster by attempting to sell Westminster has cost Rider millions in lost revenues and legal expenses. Reneging on Rider’s promise to allow students to select which fast food chain could open a campus restaurant brought us additional national recognition. The controversy surrounding the vendor had been in the press for years.

Locally, 60,000 cars pass Rider’s new slogan — Free to Roam — every day.

“To roam” is to wander about aimlessly. Is that what families want in exchange for $40,000 per year?

No one thinks senior administration has purposefully run Rider into the ground. It is the product of being allowed to wander aimlessly for years.

Demonstrable incompetence has placed Rider’s future in peril. The change Rider needs is new leadership.

Joel Phillips, Professor of Music Composition and Theory and faculty member who has devoted 37 years to this institution

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