President’s evaluation moves forward

Jessie Hellmann

The Board of Trustees took its first step in USI President Linda Bennett’s tenure evaluation Tuesday night in a way that is entirely new to the university.

This is the first time an outside firm helped with a presidential evaluation, but the trustees thought it was necessary because the university had never formed a formal evaluation policy.

Stephen Portch, from the firm Pappas Consulting Group, Inc., conducted the interviews and focus groups that took course over a day and a half.  

The firm is based out of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and has worked on reforming presidential evaluation processes with schools such as Eastern Kentucky University and The College of New Jersey.

“Ironically almost everyone got evaluated formally except the president, and (the board) started to look around for best practices,” Portch said. “We got into conversation, and they’ve now adopted a policy which calls for an annual evaluation by the board of the president.”

Before this year, none of USI’s three presidents have ever had a comprehensive, or a “360,” evaluation.

He said the informal evaluation, which occurs annually, will be primarily conducted by the board, but every few years an outside consultant will be brought in.

“No less than every five years, but probably a little sooner, (the board) will conduct what’s called a comprehensive evaluation where they would engage someone like myself to come in and conduct focus groups, talk to stakeholders and gather some information, and then synthesize that information and present it as a report to the board,” Portch said.

About 15 faculty members and administrators showed up for the focus group and had a mixture of things to say.

Assistant Vice President for Business Affairs Mary Hupfer said she knows Bennett cares about the university a lot, but time may limit her.

“I think that she would do anything in her power to grow the institution and strengthen the institution,” Hupfer said. “As any president faces, she is torn with her time. I know there are times when she wishes she had an extra 24 hours in a day to do what she feels she needs to do.”

Lee Ann Shafer, academic programs adviser for the division of outreach and engagement, said she’s not sure if the strategic plan, which Bennett had a hand in putting together and was approved by the board in summer 2010, is making any headway.

“I was really pleasantly surprised to have a strategic plan developed,” Shafer said. “I know that the board of trustees is holding her and the upper level of management of our university accountable for the plan, but I would just say that those goals have not necessarily been achieved, or some of those have not have had progress made.”

She said she is worried that the efforts toward helping the strategic plan get dropped when the university is working on other projects.

“The many of us who have a part in that process and pin some hopes on progress as a way of moving forward – where is that going?” she said. “Is it dropped? Are we going to drop it to work on other things?”

Others present said Bennett should take into consideration everyone’s issues, not just those of the administration. But overall, everyone agreed she is approachable.

The draft of the presidential evaluation proposal has yet to be passed by the board.

It includes metrics by which the president will be evaluated and was proposed by the Board of Trustees in a meeting in Indianapolis in January. Members were told to read over the proposal and be ready to discuss it at the next meeting in March.

This month, the members discussed it briefly citing that the strategic plan wasn’t mentioned in the proposal, and they moved to have it included and brought up and possibly voted on at the next meeting, which will occur May 2

Every trustee was contacted by The Shield yesterday. Both Ted Ziemer and Jeff Dunn were on vacation in Florida and could not be reached for comment. All other trustees did not return calls as of Wednesday.