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
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."
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.