Why are Interim Provost and Office of General Counsel at University of Cincinnati Refusing to Mediate?

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 3.53.12 PMAs has been reported in various media outlets, the Dean of the College of Law at the University of Cincinnati is in conflict with some of the tenured faculty over steps she’s taken to address the multi-million dollar budget deficit at the law school.

This conflict is not surprising. On the one side, you have long-tenured faculty who have grown accustomed to lax oversight and a vacuum of leadership created when both the President and Provost who hired Dean Bard left UC and the roles were filled with interim appointments.  On the other side, you have a new Dean who was hired by the prior President and Provost and given a mandate to lead the law school into the forefront of modern day legal education and address the budget deficit. She has done both. In fact, the National Jurist, a publication aimed at law school students, just ranked the law school in the top 20 law schools nationwide for practical training.

What is surprising is how the administration at the University of Cincinnati, has, to date, handled this conflict.

They’ve missed at least two opportunities to address this conflict in a productive, professional and respectful manner.

First Missed Opportunity: Despite agreement to do so, the Interim Provost refused to bring in a mediator to facilitate discussions between faculty and the Dean. He started on this path by agreeing to bring in a mediator to facilitate communications between the Dean and the Faculty. Unfortunately, he then refused to allow the Dean to bring in the mediator.

By contrast, Dean Bard continues to want to bring in a mediator to help facilitate the tough conversations that need to take place. As she said to the faculty in a March 15th email:

“I would like us to begin having the hard conversations that have to take place here to address our very pressing issues and I would like to work together in an atmosphere of respect and dignity with the entire law school community.  I still think we would benefit from expert help in getting these conversations going and I’m open to referrals.”

Second Missed Opportunity: The University’s Office of General Counsel declined a proposal by Dean Bard’s legal counsel to mediate the conflict. That rejection happened on March 6, 2017 and was – to say the least – surprising.

If ever there was a conflict that cried out for mediation this is it. Mediating these types of conflict has a number of advantages over litigating it or trying it in the press. Mediation is a professional and respectful way to resolve conflict that can be done privately. It also gives the parties closest to the conflict ultimate control over the outcome of the dispute.

Pursuant to Dean Bard’s 5-year employment contract, it is the Board of Trustees who will ultimately determine the outcome of this situation. Hopefully, the University’s President and Board of Trustees can weigh in and persuade the Interim Provost and the Office of General Counsel to mediate this before more damage is done to the reputations of the university, the law school and everyone involved.

The University of Cincinnati is a comprehensive public research university and a part of the University System of Ohio.  As a public university, one of its main sources of funding is “public money.” That funding comes with significant management responsibilities. I’d hate to see the University of Cincinnati face the kind of challenges that has plagued the University of Wisconsin. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reported today, the University of Wisconsin at Madison has endured several years of budget cuts and the state government taking a stronger hand in its policies.

For anyone who agrees that this is a conflict best resolved in mediation vs. the press or the courtroom, here are the emails for UC’s President and Board of Trustees:

President: President@UC.edu

Board of Trustees: Board.Trustees@UC.edu

Disclaimer:   I am an alumni of the University of Cincinnati College of Law and am representing Dean Jennifer Bard in her attempts to address this situation through the use of mediation.

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