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Business school blues

Business school struggles to regain footing after a season of conflict

Published: Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 14:10

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Morgan Crutchfield/Echo staff photographer

Willis Commerce Building home to NCCU’s School of Business

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Bijoy Sahoo, former dean of the NCCU School of Business

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Sundar Fleming, dean of the NCCU School of Business


It's not exactly been smooth sailing at N.C. Central University's School of Business lately.

On August 30 the dean of the school, Bijoy Sahoo, was abruptly replaced after a task force review recommended new leadership.

Sahoo could not be reached to interview for this story.

Sahoo, the NCCU assistant vice chancellor for strategic planning and continuous improvement, was brought into the School of Business in 2005, after then-dean of the school, Benjamin Newhouse, failed to apply for reaccreditation with the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs.

Sahoo's position as dean was made permanent in 2006 and the school regained its accreditation with the ACBSP in the spring of that year.

After that promising start, the dean and some of the school's faculty fell out of sync.

In a draft of the minutes from the August 30 faculty meeting at the school, attended by the provost, the chancellor, and 40 faculty members, Chancellor Charlie Nelms announced that Sahoo would be placed on administrative leave until January, and that Sundar Fleming would assume the role of interim dean.

"There has been a breakdown in the cooperation, communication, and collaboration in moving the business school forward," Nelms said, summarizing the findings of a School of Business review published last July.

"Collegiality … it is the responsibility of all of us. Petty behavior and grievances simply have to cease," Nelms said, according to the minutes.

Nelms also acknowledged Sahoo's "role in restoring the lost ACBSP accreditation" and stated that the "business school is a critical piece of this University."

EXTERNAL REVIEW FINDINGS

The assignment of the external review team was to "critically review the mission, direction, curriculum, organization and leadership of the School of Business at N.C. Central University," according to the report.

The team was chaired by Lenneal Henderson, an endowed chair of the political science department and the former interim provost, and six outside members from as far away as Wayne State University.

The team had 10 key recommendations for the School of Business.

Some of the more important recommendations were to appoint a new dean to help promote a better culture of cooperation, excellence and performance.

The team observed low faculty morale, cooperation and collaboration, a loss of confidence in the current dean and insufficient progress toward reaccreditation with a second accrediting association.

They described the new leadership in the office of the dean as an imperative.

The team observed that some faculty and staff had reported conflict and stress and said that they are even fearful of coming to work or find the environment to be hostile and tense.

According to the team, "conflict [is] draining the creative, pedagogical and administrative energies of the School of Business."

CAMERON SEAY

One of the most vocal critics of the business school has been Cameron Seay, an African American assistant professor in computer information systems, who came to the business school in 2005 on a tenure line position.

According to Courtney Ferguson, a faculty member whose grievances with Sahoo are described below, Seay was the one who "badgered Sahoo the most."

In a March 2010 memo to the provost, Sahoo recounts that he initially, in 2008, stood by Seay even after a promotions committee recommended against his reappointment.

He stated that he did so "with sincere hope and expectation that the additional time and counseling would help him become a more productive scholar and rectify personal behavior and conduct."

In that same memo he explains his reasons for not recommending Seay to a second 3-year appointment stating that the promotions committee was split 4-4 on Seay's reappointment and that the improved behavior that he had hoped for did not materialize.

"The four ‘yes' votes all came from African-Americans," according to Seay.

In his memo, Sahoo described his decision regarding Seay as follows: "He negatively impacts the performance and the morale of his faculty colleagues by demeaning their worth.

"He has been reprimanded for shouting, for using abusive language, and for insulting members of staff and his faculty colleagues."

According to the memo, Seay has called colleagues "liars and cowards," called a female faculty member "sweetie," and another "Bull Connor."

Conner, a symbol of white bigotry, was the public safety commissioner of Selma, Ala. who used water hoses and police dogs on black protesters during the civil rights movement.

By November 2009, Seay had been placed on administrative leave by Chancellor Nelms who wrote the following to Seay: "I want to state unequivocally that incivility and lack of respect are inconsistent with the values of NCCU and will not be tolerated."

A little over a month and a half later, Seay inquired about how to file an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint against Sahoo and the School of Business in a Jan. 3 2010 e-mail.

In the e-mail to Andria Knight, NCCU's former EEO director, Seay claimed that there was "blatant retaliation against me for engaging in Constitutionally-protected speech."

By April 30, 2010 Nelms decided that he had to go beyond administrative leave. He fired Seay, stating that he was to "remain off-campus" and "not have any contact with departmental faculty, staff and/or students."

In that memo, Nelms described Seay's conduct as making him "unfit to continue as a member of the NCCU faculty" and says that Seay has created "an atmosphere of fear, threat, and intimidation."

Seay denies creating such an environment and paints a different picture.

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2 comments Log in to Comment

larubia69
Thu Oct 14 2010 20:52
I want to say first, that my time at NCCU was instructive for me, and that I loved every minute of working with students.

I did not, however, enjoy the one lead professor, who consistently, lied to Dr. Sahoo, and most of the rest of the SOBA faculty. Dr. Sahoo made an error when he changed out some rather strong lead faculty members and replaced them with weak ones. It's disturbing to me to know that these senior full professors, had not published anything in years, and yet were expected to lead. While in theory, that was reasonable, some of the lead faculty required some leadership training. It would have been good if one lead faculty member had not plagiarized into the bargain. Sadly, SOBA leadership found that acceptable because the person who did this was just "under citing" or that he just didn't know. How is it that a Full Professor doesn't know? How is that acceptable in professors if we hold students to a higher standard?

There are several professors, to include Cameron Seay, that wanted to create a good strong program to uplift NCCU and the community it serves, that simply did not seem to be a priority for Dr. Sahoo. Improving the program to create, strong, marketable students should have been the first goal. While Cameron is decidely flamboyant, he was there to help students achieve in an underexploited market in IT. Research improvements could have come later, I think that just enforcing the current research standards that were in place would have been appropriate.

I agree that Dr. Sahoo's attempt to improve faculty research standards was a most likely a 'must', getting AACSB accreditation was a must, his methods were less than effective and created a large schism between faculty and leadership. What is disheartening, was to realize that I teach more classes now than I did there, and my research requirements are achievable. I would have struggled with the requirements that were implemented in 2008, most likely to my detriment. It was wrong to have an imbalance between grandfathered faculty and new faculty because it became clear that the research expectations for the entire SOBA hinged on the newest faculty members. Older, tenured faculty just did not appear all that interested, with rare exceptions, in doing quality research or engaging in quality teaching.

Overall, I know about the struggle between balance in the SOBA, it was not easy to be there. My departure was unexpected, but truly, I don't know if I would have lasted longer than Cameron Seay. I hope that the lessening of tensions in the SOBA benefits students over time. I also hope that the changing of the guard removes the temporary blot on the record of this historic and once prestigious university. For those who didn't know, the university was among the top 50 of HBCUs in the country according to a 2008 Black Enterprise magazine article.

At this time, I will thank Dr. Sahoo, and the entire SOBA faculty and staff for giving me the opportunity to be of service to NCCU students in the SOBA. Being at NCCU helped me to fulfill my goal of working at an HBCU, and for that I feel very lucky.

I hope that the situation is resolved soon, and that the SOBA is able to acquire stronger and balanced leadership for the future. I would hate to see the students end up being short-changed in an already difficult dynamic work environment.

All the best to Faculty and Students at SOBA
Sincerely,
Dr. Rod
--

trueBlue
Sat Oct 9 2010 08:33
So much mis-representation. It amazes me how NCCU can make such a bad situation have a semi-"it's ok" spin. The atrocities that ocurred in the School of Business are far worse than exposed and the persons listed only represent a tiny portion of the cruelties exacted on employees. The poor communication, planning, implementation, etc., is squarely on the shoulders of Dean Sahoo. He was not a leader and did not have the management skills to be a leader. There are wonderful faculty in the school and very poor faculty. Unfortunately, for the students of the school, those who have the control choose the poor of the wonderful. Ask the students who are afraid to speak...wait...they are afraid to speak....check for job placement beyond Target, Walmart, and Lowes. Facts are facts...please don't confuse them with fluff....

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