Leadership changes bring struggle, growth

The School of Global Commerce and Management announced Friday it had hired a new dean to head the school after five years of leadership turnover

by Evanne Montoya

The School of Global Commerce and Management has been no stranger to change over the past few years with a number of changes in faculty and administration.

Three main challenges — the need to pursue accreditation, continue to seek out and maintain relationships with the business community and overcome some personnel issues in the department — have surfaced as a result of the faculty changes.

Kyle Usrey, charter dean of the School of Global Commerce and Management, departed in 2007. The school did not hire a new dean until 2010.

John Hengesh, interim director of graduate studies in business, has been at Whitworth for seven years, since part-way through Usrey’s time as dean. He also worked with Craig Hinnenkamp, associate professor of economics and business, during Hinnenkamp’s time as interim dean.

“Craig Hinnenkamp did an outstanding job as interim dean during that time of searching for the new one,” Hengesh said.

The new dean,  Bob Beatty, remained at Whitworth only a year. Usrey said he was concerned about the effect the loss of another dean could have on the school.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “I know that prior to that the university had a difficult time finding someone that was willing to serve in that role.”

The lack of consistency in leadership has meant that the department faculty has had to pick up some of the slack.

“As you can imagine, change is hard,” Hengesh said. “When the dean left last summer, we got together as a group and sorted out the things that needed to be done that for one reason or another had not been.”

Hengesh said he is proud to be a part of the group of professors that has continued to work on improving the school.

“I believe that the morale, the professionalism and the dedication of the instructors here is really a good strength of the school,” he said.

Michael Le Roy, Whitworth’s provost and executive vice president, also played a role in the department.

“I don’t want to overstate it too strongly because the people that are in place have been doing a great job,” Le Roy said. “I think the primary function that I’ve tried to serve is to support them, find out what their needs are and try to get those needs met.”

Seeking specialized accreditation

Whitworth’s business program is already included in Whitworth’s overall accreditation as a University through the Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities, Le Roy said. The school is now seeking what is called specialized accreditation, similar to what is possessed by the education, music and athletic training programs.

“We see the business school as a very high priority; a large number of students are interested in that and we feel pretty strongly that we want to support that,” Le Roy said. “We also know that external accreditation is something that is a mark of excellence in a school.”

Former professor in the School of Global Commerce and Management, Richard Schatz, said that Usrey had decided on a route to specialized accreditation before he left.

“Kyle Usrey and the School of Global Commerce and Management faculty had decided by 2007 to pursue accreditation for the school through the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs,” Schatz said. “A couple years later Le Roy overruled this decision and decided for  Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business accreditation — a process that is likely to cost Whitworth $1 million a year and takes four to five years from the date of application.”

Accreditation through ACBSP also should be accomplished within five years of candidacy, according to the ACBSP website.

Administration and faculty governance bodies never received a proposal to get ACBSP accreditation, Le Roy said.

In spring of 2009, after a study conducted by faculty members such as Le Roy, Hinnenkamp, Schatz, Barbara Sanders and Dale Soden, AACSB accreditation was chosen. AACSB is the agency that universities such as Seattle Pacific University and Pacific Lutheran University have used to accredit their business programs. The fact that it is the agency used by universities that he considers peers, along with the prestige of this particular agency, influenced the decision, Le Roy said.

“We also looked at what the standards were — what would it require in terms of resources, what would it require in terms of faculty — and we felt like the standards set forth by AACSB were very consistent with the standards Whitworth has for academics in all other areas,” he said.

Le Roy estimates that it will cost $250,000 over a number of years to achieve accreditation. About half of that has already been provided by the Boppell Endowment.

The process of achieving accreditation, however, will take time. Achieving accreditation is a part of the strategic 10-year plan, Le Roy said.

“To me, being accredited by a certain year is not nearly as important as what [being accredited] says to us about Whitworth and Whitworth’s business program in the end,” he said. “So hopefully by the time we get to accreditation we are a much stronger program.”

The steps the school needs to take will not be a huge change, Hengesh said. The accreditation standards will require an increased emphasis on research.

“First of all, we strongly believe that we provide a quality education today,” Hengesh said. “The accreditation will help us refine our focus in several areas.”

While Hengesh said that the school’s current lack of specialized accreditation shouldn’t affect students in their efforts to get jobs, it can have an effect on Whitworth’s desirability to graduate students.

“It is very important because our competitors are using [the fact that we do not yet have accreditation] against us,” Hengesh said. “It’s important that we can compete at that level with accreditation.”

Finding and maintaining connections with the business community

Another goal for the business school is to develop and nurture connections with the business community. One of the early ways the department did that was through the advisory board assembled by Usrey.

“The board acted as kind of a sounding board for direction for the school,” Schatz said. “They gave advice, assistance, internships and gave us a profile in the community.”

The board was comprised of business men and women in the community. Steve Helmbrecht, senior vice president and chief financial officer of Itron, said his main role with the school was to meet with students in the Masters in International Management program. He also gave lectures and presentations on international business to Usrey’s classes on several occasions.

“The feedback was quite positive,” Helmbrecht said. “I had students request the opportunity to meet with me afterwards because they wanted to learn more about my experiences and get some suggestions about how to get involved in international management.”

The connection provided opportunities for some Whitworth graduates.

“In one or two cases we hired somebody out of the program,” Helmbrecht said. “I really was impressed by the caliber of the students that I had a chance to interact with.”

After Usrey left, however, the school stopped calling the board to meet. This was a concern to Schatz. He said he frequently asked why the board was not being consulted.

“This radically lowered our profile in the community,” Schatz said. “It was embarrassing.”

The school did not have a clear picture of its direction at that time, which is why Le Roy said he decided to hold off on seeking the board’s counsel.

“We felt like we wanted to be well-organized internally, and have clarity about our goals, destinations and time line internally before we started working externally,” Le Roy said.

The fact that the board stopped meeting has not halted efforts to make connections with the community.

“We have an active dialogue going on with many of the community business leaders regarding internships and placement of our graduates with jobs,” Hengesh said.  “It is more active right now than it has ever been; my colleagues and I are really excited about getting students out there in internships and jobs.”

One of the ways they do that is through the work of Tate White, assistant director of graduate studies in business.

“Part of his responsibility is talking with the companies, and seeing where there are potential opportunities in these companies,” Hengesh said.

The department has started talking to Whitworth trustees who were on the business advisory board about forming it again, Hengesh said.

“The advisory board’s really important for the dean to connect to the business world,” Hengesh said. “We look forward to reengaging that activity in the fall with our new dean.”

Personnel problems and climate

Usrey departed the school after securing a job as a chief academic officer at another Christian university. That was not, however, his only reason for leaving.

“I think it’s fair to say that I had a serious disagreement with Dr. Le Roy,” he said. “I don’t want to get into specifics, but it involved leadership and management and integrity issues.”

By this time, Usrey said, he had become invested in the community. He was working on poverty alleviation and economic development issues in Spokane and had been appointed as the citizen-at-large representative on the Washington state ethics administrative commission by the governor.

“All of that was attractive; it was a part of our lives,” Usrey said. “My wife was heavily involved in the community and church community as well, but we felt it was time to move on after what had transpired the last year.”

In response to Usrey’s comment that Usrey left partially because of a disagreement, Le Roy said that he could not talk about personnel situations.

Rob Wilson, a former associate professor of history and political studies as well as economics and business, was not re-hired after 16 years at Whitworth when the school decided to regularize the position, he said.

“I just have a pretty strong sense that I was moved out of the picture intentionally because someone had a different agenda,” he said.

The department went through a search for the position, and Wilson applied. But the search was failed because they didn’t have enough qualified applicants, Wilson said. The department searched again, and this time Wilson was one of the two finalists. He did not receive the job.

“I wasn’t on the search committee that made the recommendation,” Usrey said. “But for what it’s worth I think Rob Wilson did not get a fair shake from the institution.”

Wilson said he had a difficult time getting interviews, because other institutions wondered why Whitworth wouldn’t re-hire him.

“From a personal standpoint, it’s kind of difficult when you’re at age 62, as I was, and after 16 years at the institution, when you thought you were doing a good job, to be told you wouldn’t be hired again,” Wilson said.  “Your chances of another job are almost nothing.”

Schatz said he suggested hiring Wilson as an adjunct professor, but Le Roy’s office rejected the request.

“I was told to never again even suggest Rob as a potential adjunct,” he said.

When Schatz retired last year, he did so with a negotiated retirement, meaning he retired but with a written legal agreement that had some conditions. One of those conditions, he said, was that he would not be blacklisted from adjunct teaching by Whitworth.

Le Roy disputed some of the claims by Wilson and Schatz.

“That’s not how we do things,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a blacklist.”

Le Roy also noted that the allegations were brought before the faculty affairs committee in the form of a grievance from Wilson.

“The faculty affairs committee reviewed those allegations, reviewed all of the evidence, and they found no basis for those claims at all,” Le Roy said.

Schatz said he didn’t agree with Le Roy’s management style. Prior to his retirement, Schatz said Le Roy made threats against Schatz due to his opposition of the Costa Rica campus.

“That’s part of the reason I left,” Schatz said. “He said, ‘I will bring a case against you.’”

Schatz also said the university had to pay settlements to former employees who left because of Le Roy.

“From the business school there were at least two people,” Schatz said. “Tens of thousands were paid to them on the condition they kept silent.”

Le Roy said those allegations are not true.

“No, nobody left because of disagreements with me,” Le Roy said. “We don’t talk about personnel, on the record or off the record,” Le Roy said.

Moving forward with a new leader

As the School of Global Commerce and Management prepares to welcome Timothy Wilkinson, who will assume the position as dean of the School of Global Commerce and Management July 1, the school’s future often is in the spotlight.

“I think, with the right person in management and leadership, that the school will once again be very successful,” Usrey said.

The school has a good foundation for success with the outstanding faculty members that remain in both the undergraduate and graduate programs, he said.

Hengesh, however, said the business school is already enjoying some great successes. Students in the business school recently participated in the business plan competition hosted at Whitworth and the Spokane Intercollegiate Research Conference. The Masters of Business Administration and Masters in Management program will be beginning classes downtown, which should appeal to working professionals. The MBA/MIM program is also seeing increased enrollment.

“We’re seeing some growing interest in our MBA/MIM program from our undergrads here,” Hengesh said.

The economics program was just awarded membership in the national economic honor society, meaning the program is now recognized nationally as an outstanding one, Hengesh said.

Schatz said he cared about Whitworth, so the events preceding his departure broke his heart.

“I know they’re trying to hire a dean now,” he said. “It’ll take good leadership, and there has to be a shift of culture where people are not so intimidated.”

The challenges that have arisen in the school’s history have had a variety of effects, say those involved.

“I think the overriding thing I can say is that the folks who have lived through those changes recognize that there were issues and challenges from the past, and it’s really important to learn from those,” Hengesh said. “But the group that is here today is really focused on moving ahead, and through the various changes I think we’ve become a tighter organization.”

Contact Evanne Montoya at emontoya13@my.whitworth.edu.

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