Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why Harrisburg University is a failure and how to save it

As you can imagine, I get hate mail. Most of the stuff is along the lines of "You are destroying the school!" and "Why are you crapping where you eat?" and "Reveal yourself coward!" You get the idea. You might think you are telling me off, but I'm actually grateful that you are passionate enough to visit the blog and send me a note. It means you care and that's good. I can see your point though, I've been highly critical of the administration and absentee trustees to the point of being downright mean. But my intention is not to destroy Harrisburg University, but to save it. You may recall I blogged last year about some of the very same stuff I'm blogging about this year. The blog was only live for a couple of months, then I shut it down in hopes of change. Sadly, I've only seen changes for the worse.

I was forced to blog as Harrisburg University lacks any mechanism for self-correction. All the power in the organization is concentrated with the provost and he is grossly unqualified to be our chief academic officer. He has never succeed as a faculty member or an academic administrator. Take a hard look at his bio, it's either fluff or business related. BTW, both of those business in his bio no longer exist, so I'm not sure how good of a businessmen he is either. Anyhow, the president is not nicknamed "Do Nothing" without reason, he's been essentially useless. He has never tempered the provost in any way. As the president and the provost are the only ones that speak to the trustees (until recently), it has lead to a complete failure of the organization.

Even within the organization, everything is decided by the provost. Take a look at the HU Student Handbook or the HU Faculty Handbook. You'll see that there are established procedures for grievances, but the provost has the final say on everything. What if your problem is with the provost? What if the provost is a complete idiot? The buck officially stops at the president, but as we've established - he's useless at best.

We have seen how student enrollment is down, retention is pitiful, the president is a liar, the provost is an incompetent buffoon, the school acts fraudulently towards freshman, financial aid is screwed up, the school's mission has been forgotten, there are persistent rumors of financial distress, the registrar devours the young, we have a bloated administration with fat salaries, we don't have enough faculty and genuine science is dying. What else could go wrong? What has to happen before the trustees do something?

How did the university get so far off track?

It's obvious that the administration wants the university to be a business and technology school. It has demonstrated no real interest in STEM or experiential learning, its complete dedication to the underrepresented is a single remedial math class and the school is currently gutting the science faculty. The capital region of Pennsylvania does/did not need another business and technology school. Rather than fight an uphill battle to get a charter, it seems the university  latched onto every buzzword ("STEM", "underrepresented" and "experiential learning") they could find. Anything that would distinguish the school, get a charter and help with funding.

The provost's big innovation was to run the university like a business. That model is a complete failure. An academic institution is not akin to a business selling software or sprockets. The faculty and staff are not the employees and the students are not the customers. That, however, is the provost's attitude and the fundamental failure of the institution. The administration feels that they are Harrisburg University. In their minds, the faculty and staff work for them and the students buy their product.

This business-like model of education is at odds with successful academic models. Principles that include shared governance, fiscal transparency and academic integrity are simply incompatible with an approach that takes the power from the community to help and direct themselves. This business-like model has killed the community itself and has lead to Harrisburg University becoming nothing more than a soulless for-profit business and technology institution. Everything about Harrisburg University screams "for profit": the marketing material is all about "hot careers", the marketing is disingenuous ("92 percent of HU students have a job in their major at graduation!"), a shiny building, fake centers of science, and an administration that continuously lies about facts and figures.

The students sense the lack of community, the falseness and administration's air of disinterest in them. Unfortunately, it takes a semester or two before the realize they have been scammed.This is why we have declining enrollment and bottom-of-the-barrel retention.

Can we fix it?

That's really up to you. Is Harrisburg University worth fighting for? I like to think that it is. But there must be fundamental changes made immediately or the school is destine for failure. Read through the blog. You'll see example after example of  failures on the part of Harrisburg University in many aspects of accreditation. You'll see examples of Harrisburg University violating Pennsylvania law. One disgruntled employee or a few angry students could topple the whole institution. It's really that bad.

I've heard staff members and administration complaining about this blog. They feel that to reveal these problems to students and the community is just plain wrong. I disagree. If my kid was a student at Harrisburg University, I'd want them to know the truth. Wouldn't you?

Students are not customers that can be hoodwinked, they are part of our community and they deserve our respect. We have an ethical and professional obligation to tell them the truth.

If you feel otherwise, then go get a job selling used cars or something, you don't belong in an academic institution.

What can be done

1) Harrisburg University must acknowledge our problems and take immediate corrective action. This is the only way to avoid losing accreditation.
2) The business-like model of education must be abandoned.
3) Harrisburg University must, from this day forward, be honest in all of their public dealings.
4) Our current administration must be removed.
5) There must be fiscal transparency.
6) There must be shared governance.
7) The faculty must unite and form a community.
8) The faculty, staff and administration must acknowledge that Harrisburg University exists for the benefits of the students and the community, not vice versa.
9) The trustees need to get their heads out of their asses.
10) Our overpaid an overabundant administrators need to be culled.
11) Our academic programs need to be reviewed.
12) Harrisburg University needs real leadership. The selection of new leaders should be decided with input from the entire community.

It's now or never HU community. Do we stand or do we fall?


  1. The business-model is not what failed. First, a model is only that, a model. Second, within that model, businesses fail. They fail for many reasons, often due to a product (in this case a service) life cycle, but not because of the mere fact they are a business.

    Assuming HU is a business, it is perhaps failing because it has failed to successfully run a business by (1) failing to address customer needs/satisfaction, (2) failing to maintain a culture to successfully deliver consitent services to the customer, and (3) invested resources in "fad" products rather than staples with enduring life cycles.

  2. Above all, Darr needs to hit the road. The trustees need to wake up and make it happen.

  3. HU only exists because Eric Darr has been so good! He has had to put up with a small group of malcontents that have done nothing but try to tear down all that Eric Darr built. Maybe if certain people would work with Eric and just follow his lead we all could have six figure salaries! You sir, have taken money from those of us that have built this university.

  4. The HU Town Meeting was a total waste of my time. All the administration did was lie to us. I'm done with all the lies.

  5. 'Faculty,' considering Darr's two companies crashed and burned, what makes you think following Darr would make everything better? If your definition of "better" is to get rich off of students while cheating them out of a proper education so you can get your six-figure salary, then you shouldn't be working at a school in the first place.

  6. Well an hour and fourth five minute town hall... I still have concerns.

  7. "HU only exists because Eric Darr has been so good!"
    Are you fucking kidding me. You need to get your head out of Eric's ass and smell the coffee madame. Yes we all know who you are. You are a fraud and poor excuse for a professor. Hopefully you will be gone soon along with this pathetic administration.
    Good riddance to bad rubish I say!

  8. The "Town Hall Meeting" was an absolute failure. Great Job SGA with all of the great questions (insert sarcastic laughter here)! You had the perfect opportunity to call them on all the deeply important things discussed on this blog and you TOTALLY BLEW IT! Useless waste of time. Thanks for having our backs, NOT.

  9. Bob Eric and Mel did a great job at the town hall meeting and answerd all of our questions. Thanks for being so open and honest guys! This blog is a joke and everyone should stop reading this garbage.

  10. To the Blogger or Bloggers:
    I am highly concerned for you and your health. I am reaching out to you to offer you help. I think counseling or speaking to a trained professoinal about your sadness and anger could really help you process some of these issues you are having. If you need someone to talk to I can refer you to someone. I feel like you are not getting the closure you need by authoring this blog, and there are other ways of doing this that may be more productive for you.

    I am willing to help.

  11. Faculty said...
    HU only exists because Eric Darr has been so good! He has had to put up with a small group of malcontents that have done nothing but try to tear down all that Eric Darr built.

    Thank you faculty member, for openly stating that students do not contribute to HU's existence. Much appreciated.

  12. Kim: It would be nice if you would be willing to help the students rather than leaving inane comments for the blogger.

  13. Faculty...
    Maybe if certain people would work with Eric and just follow his lead we all could have six figure salaries! You sir, have taken money from those of us that have built this university.

    Faculty: Right before this you said that Eric Darr built the University. And he does make 6 figures. What exactly are you trying to say?

    Blogger: you keep raising the issue of blatant lying and incompetent management. How about the idiotic faculty? Actually, I respect the vast majority of the faculty at school, and realize that this one's probably just the fraud PhD who has to hand out A's since she's not actually competent enough to grade.

  14. Well ya' know, anyone can write that they are faculty and post here--so take it with a grain of salt. There ARE faculty that are only interested in a paycheck though.

  15. Back off the SGA. Last I checked all of the students had a chance to make a change and join SGA. They did the best they could with the time alloted. Also, who got you the town meeting? SGA. Its not their fault that mel, "eric" and bob gave answers that were worthless. You dont like how SGA handled things, do it your damn self or come to a meeting and part take. otherwise STFU!

  16. It's not like Kim has anything else to do. What else does she contribute to the University? A copy and paste weekly announcement and nothing else. At least she is pretending to do something else.

  17. Just wondering, (because I don't attend Harrisburg University but am seriously considering it) what exactly are the supposed problems? I understand the whole totalitarian thing going on with the administration and the Provost and all that, but what grievances have you suffered? Is it just that they don't care about certain types of science or certain majors? Because in all honesty, as unfair and stupid as that is, if it's not my major I'll sympathize but not care all that much...