Last modified: Wednesday, May 17, 2006
May 17, 2006
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Ex-president of UNF faced test in Indiana; After receiving stiff criticism, Adam Herbert ended up overseeing sweeping changes at the university
By CHARLIE PATTON, The Times-Union
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- For Adam Herbert, a funny thing happened on the way to the guillotine.
The former president of the University of North Florida acquired a reputation as a skillful politician during his years at UNF and as chancellor of the state university system.
A rising star from the time he came to Jacksonville in 1988, he served as president of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, helped lead a ticket drive that was essential to bringing the Jaguars to Jacksonville, headed Gov. Jeb Bush's transition team, founded a think tank at UNF and was mentioned as a possible candidate for mayor.
Instead, in 2003, Herbert became president of Indiana University, an eight-campus system that includes Indiana University Bloomington, the state's oldest and largest school.
For Herbert, who was 58 when he took the $422,000-a-year job, Indiana, a school with a reputation as a good but not great university, offered a challenging climax to a long and successful academic career.
"I was hired as a change agent," he said during a recent interview.
But last November, Herbert found himself facing a crisis that threatened to leave a stain on his career and put his political skills to a severe test.
During a rare campuswide meeting of the Bloomington faculty, Herbert was widely criticized for being indecisive and inaccessible, and for exhibiting a "profound lack of visibility in key public and professional settings." The faculty voted 754 to 229 to ask the trustees to review Herbert's performance, in effect asking the trustees to evaluate and possibly terminate Herbert's presidency.
Seven weeks later, on the day before an emergency trustees meeting, Herbert announced he would leave when his contract expires in July 2008.
From afar, it looked as if the faculty revolt had succeeded.
But on the Bloomington campus, a different picture emerged.
No snap judgments
When the trustees met Jan. 15, they enacted, at Herbert's prodding, sweeping changes in the university's administrative structure. They also made it clear that he would be kept in office to implement those changes.
A month earlier, when school broke for the holidays, "Things were very tense and there was very little sense of a way out," recalled Fred Cate, a Bloomington law professor and an outspoken critic of Herbert.
But somehow, all the tension was defused during the trustees meeting.
"Dr. Herbert and the trustees between them acted brilliantly," Cate said.
Although Herbert agreed to step down in 2008, the trustee's meeting made it clear he would be free to finish his term in office and implement sweeping changes.
Today, Herbert tries to downplay the nastiness of what happened.
"In every family there are, from time-to-time, disagreements," he said.
But he also used the phrase "we all have our turn in the barrel," several times during the interview, a reminder of just how uncomfortable the situation made him.
And, although he said the cause of the faculty revolt was flaws in Indiana's system that had caused three predecessors to be "subjected to criticism of the faculty," he noted, "In my case it was a bit more personal."
The event that triggered the revolt was Herbert's announcement that he wanted to reopen a search for a new chancellor for the Bloomington campus.
As Indiana University was structured, the Bloomington chancellor was the person in charge of the day-to-day operations on that campus, providing an extra layer of bureaucracy between the president and the Bloomington faculty.
The job had been open during most of Herbert's tenure and it appeared to the faculty that Herbert was in no hurry to fill the post. When he finally assembled a search committee and it submitted a list of names, Herbert rejected the list and called for a new search.
But Herbert's rejection of the list not only fueled criticisms that he was slow and indecisive, it inflamed supporters of Kumble R. Subbaswamy, dean of Bloomington's College of Arts and Sciences, who was on the list. Subbaswamy was subsequently hired as provost by the University of Kentucky.
About 200 people attended the first of two faculty meetings in November 2005, and about 40 spoke against Herbert.
His critics aired a list of grievances, some of which seemed ridiculous or inaccurate, said Bloomington law professor Kevin Brown, a Herbert supporter. For instance, he was attacked for alienating major donors about the same time he was announcing three major gifts totaling about $150 million, including what was the largest single private gift in school history.
"Other stuff was petty, like not returning e-mails," Brown said. "I was beyond surprised. I was shocked."
At a second meeting last November, which was the first campuswide faculty meeting since 1986, a resolution was passed that, among other charges, accused Herbert of a "profound lack of visibility in key public and professional settings, leading to direct negative consequences for the university."
Even some critics concede Herbert was catching flak for a lot of problems that existed before his arrival at Indiana.
The overall administrative structure of Indiana University was "Byzantine," Cate said.
What began as unhappiness over Subbaswamy's rejection "morphed into something else ... a general complaint about the way Herbert was doing the job," said Theodore Miller, a professor of public and environmental affairs who is president of the Bloomington faculty.
"There was a discontent that Bloomington was not being presented as the flagship campus," he added.
"Shock and awe" makeover
If all those tensions seemed to explode into the anti-Herbert vote in November, they seemed to dissipate just as quickly when the trustees met in January, Miller said.
"My heroes in this are the trustees," Miller said. "What they figured out was that this wasn't about Adam Herbert, it was about the structure of the university."
"Somehow they pulled this rabbit out of a hat," said Cate, who had been an outspoken critic.
The changes Herbert sought streamlined the bureaucracy and gave him direct authority over the Bloomington campus. They also raised admission standards and standardized its academic requirements.
"The changes represent the first restructuring of the IU administration in 30 years and follow the model of Purdue University and other Big Ten schools," the Indianapolis Star reported.
More cynically, the student-run Indiana Daily Student, in an editorial, described the changes as "a 'shock and awe' cosmetic makeover."
Not everybody was happy to see Herbert remain in office.
"Hopefully we will not have to wait a full two years before we get a replacement," said Ted Widlanski, a Bloomington chemistry professor. "It's really unfortunate that he caused so much damage. There were some terrific people and institutions that were hurt because of him."
But even Widlanski said he's through criticizing Herbert.
"It's not worth banging this drum repeatedly," he said.
In the meantime, Herbert has two years to preside over what he calls "one of the most significant periods of transformation in the university's history."
"I think we are on the right track," Miller said. "This university needed reorganization in the worst way. I think ultimately Adam's impact on this university is going to be very basic and very positive."
Career highlights for Adam Herbert
1966: Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of Southern California
1968: Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Southern California
1971: Doctorate in urban affairs and public administration from the University of Pittsburgh
1974: Named one of 15 White House Fellows in the Ford Administration. He served as special assistant to the U.S. secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, as special assistant to the U.S. undersecretary of Housing and Urban Development, and as director of research for the Joint Center for Political Studies in Washington
1971-1989: Taught at Howard University, Virginia Tech, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Southern California and Florida International University, where he was dean of the School of Public Affairs and Services and vice president for academic affairs.
1989-1998: Served as president of the University of North Florida
1993: Served as president of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce
1997: During a Christmas party, University of Florida President John Lombardi calls Herbert, who is a black conservative Republican, "an Oreo, white on the inside." Lombardi later apologizes and Herbert accepts
1998: Led Gov.-elect Jeb Bush's transition team
1998-2000: Chancellor of the State University System of Florida
2001-2003: Founding executive director of The Florida Center for Public Policy and Leadership at UNF
2003: Named 17th president of Indiana University