The Arizona Desert Lamp

You will respect Robert Shelton’s authoritah!

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 8 June 2009

AuthoritahJust over three months ago, history professor Juan Garcia was appointed vice-president of instruction. President Shelton praised Garcia’s “distinguished record of leadership and academic accomplishment,” and looked forward to working with him on improving the “academic experience” for students at the UA. On Friday, President Shelton sent him this email:

Dear Juan,

As you can tell, I was copied on this email exchange. Let me be direct. The wording and tone of your email to Provost Hay – your direct superior – will not be tolerated. With this email, I am formally asking for your resignation from your administrative position. A printed letter will follow.

Robert

The background story (and the awesomely bad Comic Sans emails) come courtesy of great research from the Arizona Daily Star‘s Aaron Mackey:

In the fall, Hay asked the veteran administrator to design a set of courses that could be taught in Centennial and to coordinate with several other UA departments to execute the plan.

. . .
Garcia developed a comprehensive plan for the Centennial classes that included providing additional support to students through the UA’s Office of Student Affairs.

In an e-mail from her Blackberry phone on May 20, Hay informed Garcia that the project would be moved to the student affairs’ office with the final stages of the planning headed by Melissa Vito, the vice president of student affairs.

In a terse response, Garcia objected to the change, refused to meet with Vito and said it was wrong to allow a non-academic unit to oversee the program.

Terse is what polite publications use in place of “really pissed off.” The complete text of the reply:

What?!! You are joking, right? If this is not a joke, then I decline to do as you ask. I will not acquiesce to a decision that once again has excluded me from the process. At the very least I should have been consulted on a decision that will profoundly affect and infringe on my main area of responsibility. Second, the decision conveys the wrong message about my leadership on the project and all of the planning and effort that has gone into this complex undertaking thus far. Finally, I am not willing to relinquish responsibility for this project because it clearly and rightfully falls within the domain of instruction and academic affairs. Giving the Centennial Hall project to a non-instructional unit flies in the face of reason and practice. It carries with it grave implications that faculty will oppose. In short, this heavy handed, insensitive, discriminatory, and unilateral decision making on your part is going too far. This is another example of your lack of respect for me and for the office of Instruction. Juan

Juan R. Garcia

Vice President for Instruction &

Dean of University College

Now, we’re not the biggest fans of Dr. Garcia here – after all, not only was he behind the abominable “advisers fee,” but also has been one of the University College‘s biggest defenders. Yet for all of his Brucean tendencies when it comes to punctuation, his core point is actually spot-on – the plan to teach classes in Centennial Hall, regardless how one feels about it, is an academic reorganization, and any “retention” initiatives that might be attached should be secondary in their scope.

At the very least, it’s a legitimate issue to raise. Yet President Shelton refused to even listen to such arguments, or at the very least to say, “Hey, Juan, simmer down, let’s reconsider,” or, “Wow, Dr. Garcia, I didn’t realize you objected so strongly – how could we improve this?” Instead, Garcia was curtly dismissed with a message that could’ve been a Twitter entry – and, what’s more, reminded of where he really stands in the university hierarchy, with the “your direct superior” line. President Shelton and Provost Hay continue the university’s fine tradition of transparency, refusing to comment to any degree with regards to the situation.

Perhaps there’s a bright side to all this though – the university might decide that the $210,000 price-tag [PDF] for a bureaucratic “Vice President for Instruction” might be a bit too pricey. An out-of-state student can dream, right?

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10 Responses

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  1. Jimi Alexander said, on 8 June 2009 at 7:27 pm

    The best comment on the AZ Star article:

    “You do not cross King Bob or his henchmen.”

    That is all.

  2. Garrett P. O'Hara said, on 8 June 2009 at 11:22 pm

    It doesn’t surprise me that Aaron Mackey is covering this well. He was an excellent Daily Wildcat editor-in-chief.

    We don’t know all of the personal battles going on in this one. We can speculate all we want about how folks probably should have met face-to-face, etc., but email never tells the entire story.

    With that said, what we do have should irk us. If I’m getting the timestamps of the emails right, Shelton sent the request for resignation less than two hours after Garcia’s inflammatory email. Either this was EXTREMELY shoot-from-the-hip or there have already been issues with conflicting attitudes, etc. I’m inclined to think the latter.

    As for trying to pull off a 1,200-student class is concerned, good luck!

    • Evan Lisull said, on 9 June 2009 at 6:00 am

      Right, but that’s kind of the point – it’s extremely petty of Shelton to be getting caught up in these sorts of university politics. There certainly were preceding incidents – Garcia references them himself. That’s in no way an excuse for curtly dismissing him in the manner that he did. For the sake of space I didn’t include the Hay reply email, but it’s worth checking out. She, after all, was the one directly attacked by Garcia – but felt no compunction to do anything but regretfully repeat her request. Certainly, I suspect this is passive-aggressive on her part, for if I’m not mistaken she – as his “direct superior” – could have dismissed him herself. Instead, she chose to pass the buck off to Shelton. Whatever it may be, it’s a useful reminder that as friendly as Shelton may appear in favorable settings, he’s quite the bulldog when not in the public eye.

      This also brings us back to my favorite pet issue, transparency. If indeed there is another side to the story – a scenario I’m far more skeptical actually exists – why wouldn’t Hay/Shelton/”anonymous source” start making such references? Releasing counter-emails?

      Finally, since you brought it up (and I’m lazily gathering wool on the issue), a quick question – what makes a 1,200 person class impossible, but a 560 person class perfectly OK?

  3. Mike W. said, on 9 June 2009 at 11:46 am

    I can’t imagine a professional situation where I could reply to my supervisor “I decline to do as you ask” and expect my employment to continue. It is difficult to understand all of the issues involved, but my read is that they (Shelton, Hay) were seeking grounds to dismiss Garcia. They tossed him red meat and he responded as they had anticipated.

    When you accept an administrative post, you toe the managerial line. If you cannot, you move on. Garcia acts here like a tenured professor, who is granted the license to reject the requests of his leadership. In a year-to-year contract, one does not have such latitude.

    Of note too is that Garcia was clearly the source of the leak to the journalist as the path to his desktop is referenced in the PDF site at the AZStarnet page.

    Glad I don’t work for the UofA…

    • Evan Lisull said, on 9 June 2009 at 12:29 pm

      “When you accept an administrative post, you toe the managerial line. ”

      To a point – but as Garrett points out (drawing the opposite conclusion), we don’t know the whole story here. Accepting an administrative post does not mean blind adherence to every decision made by a superior, and in an atmosphere of “free thought” like the university it certainly does not mean giving up the right to contest a decision. Yes, Garcia said he would decline to transfer this authority – but as Garrett points out, Shelton gave him all of eight minutes to renege on his heated message. Your theory is probably right (re: seeking grounds for dismissal), but this raises even more questions than it answers. After all, it was only three months ago that Shelton hired Garcia.

      Again, though, the issue is not the firing per se, but the manner in which it was done. Administrators are expected to adhere to the requests of their superiors (again, to a point), but these superiors are not supposed to act with this “L’univeristé, c’est moi” sort of attitude. This email, for all of the self-interest that allowed it to come to light, reveals a very different President Shelton than the congenial public figure we are used to.

  4. Mike W. said, on 9 June 2009 at 1:02 pm

    First, great work with this blog Evan. It is a fun way for a former Wildcat to stay in touch with nasty university politics 😉

    What is clear is that there was dissatisfaction with either progress to date or vision of execution Garcia had around moving lectures to Centennial Hall. Hay is clearly moving responsibility for this task from Garcia’s offices to another administrator. As his supervisor, that is her right.

    His reply demonstrates an utter lack of political savvy that would be expected of any executive. One should always assume that any written material in an email can be forwarded far and wide both within an organization and outside. Therefore, one should be very careful with the wording and tone of an email. Furthermore, email communication is generally perceived in a much harsher light than the sender originally intended.

    A far better response would have been along the lines of “I’d like to meet in person to better understand your decision and its implications. Of course, I will support your final decision and will do everything possible to ensure a smooth transition of these responsibilities.”

    Refusing to comply with his supervisor’s directives is completely unacceptable in any professional environment, academic or otherwise. It is okay to disagree, to challenge, and push back, but this needs to be done in an appropriate manner. Accusing his supervisor of ‘discrimination’ while offering no supporting facts, is also beyond the pale. It will be the most expensive $210K / year mistake he’ll ever make.

    If, as I suggest, Garcia was the source of this leak (based upon the path to his local machine at the PDF site), he was also mistake to provide this information to the press. It does not reflect well on his ability to work well within a multi-level organization, and will likely preclude him from being offered similar administrative assignments at other institutions (they will surely Google any candidates for important positions and will assess his behavior at the UofA).

    I enjoyed your comment: “these superiors are not supposed to act with this “L’univeristé, c’est moi” sort of attitude.” These administrators will act as it is their fiefdom until removed from their post. They will act in their self interest to protect their turf (as Garcia did). Where is the interest of the student body in this matter? It is, not surprisingly, nowhere to be found…

    • Evan Lisull said, on 9 June 2009 at 5:52 pm

      Good points, all – but the only reason I’m responded is to urge you, for goodness sake, to keep commenting when you can. The more informed commenters we have on the site, the better.

  5. rosalind garcia said, on 15 June 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Actually, the emails were leaked all over campus by the President’s office and they were requested by the Star through the Freedom of Information Act. Since Juan’s email is monitored daily by the administration since his dismissal, I am not the least bit suprised that they sent copies of the emails to Mackey via Juan’s computer to make it appear that he was the source of the leak.

  6. […] further illustrate this point, take an example from the entry from this site on the firing of Juan Garcia, the only named source for the Wildcat article. In the […]

  7. […] Juan R. Garcia last semester. As reported by the Arizona Daily Star’s Aaron Mackey and posted [link added – EML] on The Arizona Desert Lamp blog, Garcia was placed in charge of designing and […]


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