Last week, 34 Dakota State University students and alumni issued an open letter protesting DSU president David Borofsky's decision to remove professors Tom Halverson and Wayne Pauli from their leadership roles in the College of Business and Information Systems and return them to full-time teaching status. This move mirrors the demotion of Kari Forbes-Boyte, who stepped down from her deanship of the College of Arts and Sciences to full-time teaching shortly after Borofsky's surprise promotion from interim to permanent president of DSU.
Dr. Borofsky responded Saturday with an e-mail to DSU students, DSU staff, and the Board of Regents. Borofsky raises shields, kindly assigning joint responsibility for the decision to VP Academic Judy Dittman. He says he was reluctant to discuss his "concerns" about their decision because "there is so much misinformation out there that it is difficult to address it all"... and of course, a good executive's first response to lots of misinformation should be silence.
As expected, Borofsky says personnel decisions are confidential, so he can't tell us the real reasons. (Former university professor David Newquist says that in South Dakota, "personnel matters" is usually code for covering the boss's backside, not protecting workers.) But organizations "evolve," and sometimes "change is necessary and positive."
Borofsky names all sorts of other DSU staff who have contributed to the university's growth and reputation, because DSU is an all-caps TEAM effort.
Being part of a TEAM also means not writing disrespectful e-mails. Borofsky says he has received some less than respectful e-mails on the Halverson–Pauli matter. "...I sincerely hope those who have ventured down that road will learn from this experience," says Borofsky. Leaders make important decisions with great care and concern for all stakeholders, but "they cannot always be transparent to the public." Borofsky asks that all concerned parties "give these decisions the respect they deserve" because "Doing so will be an important skill when you leave the academic world and begin careers in business and government."
Let me translate that last line: if you want to survive DSU and the careers for which DSU prepares you, you'd better learn to respect the boss and the decisions he makes, even when he refuses to give any good reason for his decisions.
I don't think we could ask for a better summary of the mission of higher education in South Dakota as conceived under the current regime: not dauntless intellectual curiosity, but workplace submission to managerial hierarchy.
Here's Dr. Borofsky's Saturday, July 5 response in full:
Dear students, alumni, faculty, staff and members of the Board of Regents:
It appears the decision that Dr. Judy Dittman, Vice President of Academic Affairs, and I made to ask Drs. Tom Halverson and Wayne Pauli to return to the classroom full-time has created some questions and concerns. I have been reluctant to address these concerns via email because there is so much misinformation out there that it is difficult to address it all. I also will not hold a summer public forum because many students and faculty would not be able to attend. However, after a series of discussions with respected alumni and students, I have agreed to address the concerns via this letter.
A number of people who have contacted me have requested that I provide an explanation of the reasons that Drs. Halverson and Pauli were asked to return to the classroom. This is, of course, impossible as those are internal personnel decisions and are required by policy and law to remain confidential. While I understand a desire among some to have an explanation, it is simply not possible to provide one. What I can say is this: Drs. Halverson and Pauli both have great relationships with students (as evidenced by the many emails we have received). Asking them to be full-time faculty in the classroom extends the impact of their expertise and is a positive move for students.
Some of you have written about Dr. Halverson’s positive effect on the College of BIS, and I agree with you. But organizations, and DSU is no different, evolve and there are times when change is necessary and positive. Dr. Halverson is a well-respected Computer Science professor who has agreed, and will still be called upon, to provide his expertise outside the classroom. I expect that he will continue to work with students on the kinds of projects that several of you discussed in your emails. That very topic has been part of the discussions that Dr. Halverson, Dr. Dittman, and I have had.
In addition to Dr. Halverson’s and Dr. Pauli’s contributions, there are many other reasons that our Computer Science programs are so respected in the state, regionally and nationally. Over an arc of years, members of our Computer Science faculty have created that respect… faculty like Drs. Kevin Streff, Stephen Krebsbach, Ronghua Shan, Josh Pauli, Ashley Podhradsky, Pat Engebretson, Chris Olson, Surendra Sarnikar, Steve Graham, Brent Tulloss, Bill Figg and others have all contributed to our significant success. And, our newer (Kyle Cronin, Matt Miller, Jun Lui, Yong Wang, Rob Honomichl, Mike Ham, Dawn Dittman, and Josh Stroschein) faculty’s expertise is growing and expanding our reputation.
In addition to efforts by our faculty, numerous other DSU people have worked to grow our importance in the Computer Science field. DSU Vice President Stacy Krusemark has negotiated many contracts that have helped grow our presence; our Foundation staff has reached out and continues to reach out to ensure alumni and corporate donors are informed about DSU’s success. Dr. Kevin Streff brought recognition to DSU when he testified before the US Senate Banking and Commerce Committee about information security in the banking industry. Drs. Josh Pauli and Pat Engebretson have built a great relationship with the National Security Agency and that has enhanced DSU’s overall image with the Federal Government. A number of federal agencies are hiring our students as interns and our graduates as employees.
DSU’s commitment to Computer Science and Information Systems has never been stronger. We have raised millions of dollars to secure the purchase of the Madison Community Hospital building so that we can create the Beacom Institute of Technology. The creation of the Beacom Institute of Technology will allow DSU to expand its high-level technology partnership with the NSA, create a technology showcase facility, and will allow research in areas that are at the forefront of protecting the security of our country’s information infrastructure. As part of that growth, DSU has secured $900,000 in funding from the South Dakota Legislature to expand our computer science programs and faculty. In just the past year, new Masters and Doctoral programs have been added in these fields.
As you can see, a TEAM effort has built the success of Computer Science, Information Systems, Information Security, and related programs at DSU. Our commitment to, and focus on, the College of BIS and our students’ success has never been greater, and our best accomplishments lie just ahead. There are multiple activities planned (beginning this summer) that will continue to grow our Computer Science reputation and expand our student enrollment and success. A positive student experience will remain on the front burner for every faculty and staff member here at DSU. Our most important goal is to ensure student success – to make sure that the careers that students seek will be easier to obtain and that graduate schools will more readily accept our graduates. We have full confidence in Professor Rick Puetz in his role as interim Dean because he demonstrated his successful leadership style while holding the Dean’s position for nine years earlier in his career at DSU.
I am committed to respectful dissent. As a matter of fact, faculty and staff will tell you that I often talk about R&D, which in this case means Respect and Dignity. Frankly speaking, some of the emails I have received about this matter have not been respectful, and I sincerely hope those who have ventured down that road will learn from this experience. Leaders in organizations make decisions for a broad array of reasons and factors. These decisions are important and done with great care and concern for the long-term interest of all stakeholders, but they cannot always be transparent to the public. Some of you were concerned that the University’s leadership did not ask your opinion about this change beforehand. While we understand both your allegiance to Drs. Halverson and Pauli and your concern about important decisions generally, we acted in what we truly believe to be the best interests of the University for the long term. I ask that you give these decisions the respect they deserve. Doing so will be an important skill when you leave the academic world and begin careers in business and government.
Let’s go about the work of continuing to grow Dakota State as the premier university for Computer Science and Information Technology education. Our programs are a gem that deserves to be admired across our country and the world. It is up to ALL of us to keep DSU headed toward that goal.
Have a great rest of your summer. See you in August.
Dr. David B. Borofsky
Dakota State University