Letter to the Editor: Fresh start doesn’t mean we can relax

Scott Cragin, Professor Business Administration and Marketing/Management

When Bruce Speck was finally fired from the presidency of MSSU, I published an open letter to MSSU Board of Governors in the Joplin Globe thanking them for their actions and expressing great hope for the future of MSSU.

But I believe it is worth briefly reviewing the legacy of Bruce Speck so that past misjudgments can be avoided in the future.

At the heart of the Bruce Speck legacy is Dwight Douglas. Mr. Douglas was one of the leaders (the leader?) of efforts to oust our previous president of 25 years, Julio Leon. I don’t believe that Mr. Douglas was fond of either Leon or the University’s international mission. Douglas was chair of the Board of Governors at this time and also chaired the search committee for a new president. These positions of power allowed Douglas to push the hiring of Speck despite the fact that he was the last man standing after the other candidates had withdrawn. A new search should have been conducted. It was not and Douglas is responsible for the failed process. After hiring Speck, Douglas became Speck’s mentor of sorts. They became friends and neighbors.

Speck was hired in January of 2008 and there were hopes at that time for positive change on campus. But that soon changed. One of Speck’s first actions was to email the president of the Faculty Senate to inform her essentially to know her place. He was the boss and faculty need to understand that. I remember her walking out of her office dumbfounded by the tone of the email. Fast-forward to November of 2009 after a long run of missteps by Speck and his administration. At that time, the Faculty Senate conducted an overwhelming vote of no confidence against Speck (140-44) including a great deal of evidence of his missteps. It short order, the Board of Governors, under chair Douglas, extended Speck’s contract by two years, confirming faculty fears that the Board was supportive of Speck’s “leadership” style. The next three years were a continuing parade of Speck missteps which will not be cataloged here but can be found in the archives of resources such as Southern Watch and The Turner Report blogs. The Chart, newspaper of record for the University, stopped all investigative reporting when Speck fired the (award-winning) faculty advisor. The Joplin Globe publisher made a deal with the university to stop investigative reporting and focus on positive stories. Thus the only reporting of what was really going on regarding MSSU was conducted by blogs. There was a growing sense of doom and gloom on campus.

Bruce Speck should have never been hired as president of MSSU. A competent, inclusive national search with the use of a professional search firm should have been conducted but was not. It is very difficult to understand how the Board of Governors could allow Speck to continue in his office as long as he did. I believe the early years can be attributed to the support of Douglas and his sway over other governors, but it’s harder to understand once Douglas left the Board. It appears that the Board needs to open up more lines of communication instead of enforcing “official channels.” Both the Faculty and Staff Senates have developed effective means of providing feedback through annual surveys. Let us hope that the Board avails itself of the resources that allow them to do their job effectively.

As the search for a new president gets underway, we must learn from the past.