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Universities should model accountability

The sudden retirement of HSU Athletics Director Daniel Collen raises unanswered questions of accountability. How did administrative oversight fail to anticipate and mitigate Athletics’ budget crisis threatening the football program? Did Mr. Collen’s political campaign and election to the Northern Humboldt School District Board interfere with directing the athletics department? Did Mr. Collen hold appropriate academic credentials for a top university post? (Does his replacement?).

Did Collen negotiate a secret settlement to immediately retire after facing lawsuits alleging misappropriation of donations for his fishing trips to Ketchikan, Alaska with two other HSU executives; or, the lawsuit by long-term HSU athletics employee Dan Pambianco alleging he was demoted for exposing Collen’s extravagant university-funded travel; or, Collen’s termination of 25-year track coach Dave Wells resulting in a $250,000 settlement?

Apparently, no reforms were enacted since the infamous $15 million fraud committed by HSU executive John Sterns in 2001, and the secret settlement from the class-action lawsuit filed by Education Department professors. Following these scandals, former HSU President Alistair McCrone negotiated a retirement settlement by accepting a temporary “consultant” position at his full president’s salary. Sterns’ immediate supervisor, Vice President Don Christensen, became a university administrator in Oregon. (CSU auditors concluded that HSU’s fearful workplace enabled Stern’s financial fraud and embezzlement to continue for 3 years!).

Humboldt County has extraordinary recreational resources: rivers, forests, shoreline, parks, trails, lagoons, harbor and wetlands, yet, McCrone and former HSU president Rollin Richmond authorized hundreds of millions of dollars over 2 decades on new and remodeled facilities for recreation, leisure, entertainment and sports, requiring more staff, faculty, management and maintenance while simultaneously cutting academics. Expanded leisure activities attracted wealthier students despite high participation fees… until a declining economy persuaded families to rediscover the value of academics closer to home, leaving HSU today with fewer students and a fully funded “resort.”

Divesting in HSU academics produced overcrowded classrooms; elimination of numerous courses and entire degrees in nursing, industrial technology and German language; early retirement of the most experienced professors; the highest athletics fees in the CSU system; and three decades of relentless tuition increases culminating in debilitating debt for graduates. HSU’s high-security “campus resort” with pretentious locked-gate housing, rock climbing walls and library lattes are the LAST things needed by hundreds of homeless students (and thousands more working-class) who rely on administrative leadership to focus on relevant academic resources required to succeed.

The public deserved to hear responses to unasked questions of accountability from Collen, Richmond, McCrone, Christensen and many others.

Prioritizing accessible academics over a class-centered resort is essential in preparing graduates for the looming realities of environmental, economic and social crises from climate change and perpetual wars for foreign oil, minerals and oppressed labor. Achieving carbon reduction and full employment from a green, U.S.-made economy would require prerequisites in urban planning and social, political, economic and environmental activism tailored to every degree. These include prerequisites in citizenship, labor history, contract law, diplomacy and negotiation that are fundamental in developing confidence and assertiveness within student’s chosen career; in demanding accountability at work, school, community and personal relationships, or in signing countless contracts for housing, employment, transportation, credit cards and healthcare.

Accountability at HSU requires transparency. For example, administrator’s academic credentials, compensation and pensions are not being reported. In fact, HSU cancelled publication of its annual directory listing everyone working on campus and their titles. Incompetence, nepotism, favoritism, fraud and corruption, like mycelium, thrive in darkness and costs millions!

The Bay Area firm Strategic Edge Consulting, hired by HSU last year, noted communication problems between former HSU Athletics director Collen and other departments raising broader questions about campus leadership and professionalism. Few ironies are more astonishing than a public university led by administrators lacking advanced degrees in public administration or communication who are charged with promoting and governing “academic excellence” for teachers and students. A credible vision for academic excellence could come from administrators recruited from hundreds of adults graduating with honors on U.C. campuses each year with advanced degrees in public administration, public finance and human resources; individuals more capable in avoiding budget chaos and recurring failures to integrate due-process employment rights into personnel practices. Until then, HSU’s lack of vision and its history of unaccountable multi-million dollar scandals, lawsuits and secret settlements will continue.

Without basic skills, experiences, and responsibility in demanding accountability where we live, work and learn, every community’s local government, university and media will continue to cooperate, legitimize and empower this nation’s fascist drift that Donald Trump’s reelection and “Alt-Right” policies rely on.

 

Sincerely,

George Clark

HSU Liberal Arts graduate 1982,

(My debt-free education met the requirement for an “accessible public education” guaranteed under the U.S. Education Act of 1965).

HSU Center Accounting Technician 1979-1989

 

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