Ky. Voices: Transy president offers inspiring vision but his best move is to resign

June 6, 2013 

David Lollis of Lexington, a 1959 Transylvania graduate, has worked with housing and economic development groups.

LESLIE E. KOSSOFF — LK PHOTOS

Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall and not even Rafinesque can put him back together again.

Yes, it is a sad day for Transylvania University, my alma mater. There is little value now in questioning the faculty's decision to address Transylvania's clear and dangerous problems with a no-confidence vote.

It does not help now to say that the select group of trustees and faculty, who were committed to working with the president toward reconciliation and a new collegial form of shared leadership, needed more time to work their magic.

Now, what might have been done, cannot be done.

I am sad and sorry. I have been with President Owen Williams on three occasions, all in gatherings where he shared his plans for Transylvania. I was pleased and impressed with his vision.

The change and direction he articulated were forward-thinking and needed. However, in these events I was not able to get a reading on his management style or his capacity for face to face interaction. Inadequacies in these areas have been his downfall.

I know Williams, with his most impressive education and experience, did not expect to fail at Transy. A man of his stature and temperament has to have his complete ego involved at this stage of the saga.

But in the solitude of quiet moments of reflection, he must be searching for the exit back to the northeast. It is very hard for any of us to admit that you can only fold a hand so poorly played.

Therefore, the only solution, the only way forward is for Williams to resign, for the trustees to swallow hard and accept his resignation, and for the faculty and students not to celebrate, because theirs is not a victory.

John Thelin, a University of Kentucky higher education historian, quoted in the Herald-Leader, shared his insight on the general decline of shared governance — the concept of faculty, staff and the administration governing universities together.

He says that most university governing boards, including Transylvania's, are mostly filed with people from the corporate world, where shared governance is "very alien."

When I was trying to be a student leader at Transy, it was a constant battle to get our voices heard. College should not be only seen as preparation for life, but seen as life itself.

Our nation proves day after day that we, as citizens, are ill prepared for governance. Participating in governance is the best way to learn citizenship, and learning, through both study and experience, should be the mission of higher education.

In my experience at Transylvania and at New York University where I taught, individual faculty members were brilliant at researching a subject, analyzing and understanding the subject and leading wonderful give-and-take discussions of the subject. But, when acting as a group, the faculty sought the status quo.

It is the job of a new president to have a vision for the future that keeps the best of the past, but also breaks the new ground required to be ready for the new world.

The very word "university" should mean we do the job before us collegially, transparently and with the deliberate participation of the whole university community. The trustees have failed. The president has failed. The faculty has failed. The students have failed.

All failed in different ways and in different degrees. The alums have watched in horror; we are laughed at enough over the ignorance surrounding our name.

If we do not want to go the way of the Antiochs before us, we now have to pick up the scattered pieces and start over.

Can we make Thomas Jefferson proud again?

David Lollis of Lexington, a 1959 Transylvania graduate, has worked with housing and economic development groups.

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