ASU’s “Zip Code Barriers” Continue to Stack Up

WATCHING ADAMS COMMENTARY – 10/27/16

asubarrierI walked out of McClure’s campus state of the union address last week feeling optimistic. Despite the fact that we are facing declining enrollment, a serious budget deficit, a State audit, and an accreditation visit, I was uplifted by what seemed like a very genuine attempt by administration to promote transparency and communication.

Rather than brushing our problems (administrative, academic, and financial inefficiencies) under the rug or placing blame on outside entities, we were calling them out by name and thinking of ways to fix them. Clearly my bar of expectation has been set. The last thing that President McClure left us with was a statement credited to ASU Board Chairman Salazar, in which she stated that “ASU is not going to crack the genetic code, but we need to crack the barriers of our zip code.”

So it certainly struck a chord when the recent Watching Adams article revealed the use of the Salazar ranch for a Title V Unidos retreat – paying over $12,000 for the venue. Not only did it kill my optimism (again – because let’s face it, we all have our ups and downs with ASU), but it served as an excellent example of one or more of the barriers of our zip code. I interpret these zip code barriers as ones that not only afflict Adams State University but are evident throughout the San Luis Valley community.

The Salazar ranch article touches upon not only very clear and apparent nepotism issues given that Title V is directed by the sibling of the ASU Board Chair; it also reveals ASU’s culture of caring more about personal gain regardless of who might be affected, of quality of services provided, and not to mention General Accounting Principles (!).

Nepotism is something yet to be brought up during all the “difficult conversations” ASU claims to be having. The hiring of and direct or indirect reporting of any familial relation should be strictly prohibited unless there are specific policies in place that protect against conflicts of interest that will inevitably result from such a hiring. I’ll stop you right there and let you know that your argument of “well, it’s a small town and it’s so difficult to get qualified individuals- we tried” is officially debunked. That form of thinking falls in line with the old argument of low salaries at ASU exist because the SLV cost of living is so low – but I digress.

This argument shows that current leadership lacks the desire, creativity, or even qualifications themselves to attract and retain qualified professionals. Recent WA findings regarding Extended Studies spousal salaries is another clear example for the need of an anti-nepotism policy.

Among other specific policies is a Dual Career Policy. Lack of spousal retention is another zip code barrier that plagues not only ASU but the SLV. I know it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest an anti-nepotism policy and dual career policy in the same breath, but such policies make even more sense at our small and close knit community.

Section 2 of the ASU Purchasing Manual titled Procurement Code of Ethics states that:

“Any person employed by the University who purchases goods and services, or is involved in the purchasing process, for the University, shall be bound by this code and shall:

4. Refrain from any private or professional activity that would create a conflict between personal interests and the interests of Adams State University.

5. Identify and strive to eliminate participation of an individual in operational situations where a conflict of interest may be involved.”

Under Further Clarification of the Code of Ethics 1:

“It is essential that any activity or involvement between purchasing professional and active or potential suppliers, which in any way diminishes, or even appears (emphasis added) to diminish, open and fair treatment of suppliers be strictly avoided. The following is a recommended guideline in dealing with perception:

Situations may occur in which, through uncontrollable circumstances, one finds oneself in a business relationship with a personal friend. The perception (as well as the potential) of a conflict of interest should be discussed with one’s superior, and a reassignment of buying responsibility should be considered.”

Sure, the University did not pay for the usage of La Manzanilla Farm directly but this should not remove Title V funds from ASU scrutiny. The same argument could be made for any purchase made on campus. After all, student tuition is the funding source for most costs covered at ASU. Of course, this logic isn’t necessarily new on this campus. Just last summer, ASU settled out of court with Danny Ledonne and instead of owning up to the errors that led to the settlement, administration simply highlighted the fact that their insurance company, and not ASU, disbursed the $100,000 check made out to the ACLU.

The fact that Chairman Salazar was remunerated by Title V funds through the Unidos retreat should imply the need for even higher scrutiny because it involves the misuse of federal funds. It’s no secret that federal grants are constantly under pressure to spend down their budget. This practice enforces the “use it or lose it” rule. You’re either using the funds or you don’t really need them. But it hurts the institution overall when its financial integrity is compromised for the sake of the bottom line.

Surely it would have been possible to hold the same retreat at a community location that could provide all the bells and whistles necessary to spend down their grant. This would have eliminated the conflict of interest and provided much needed economic stimulation to the local community. President McClure also stated that, as suggested in the preliminary findings of the Huron Performance Audit, we need to better utilize our own spaces. Clearly, in this case, such common sense recommendations were not heeded.

Every person I’ve spoken with is wide-eyed in amazement that this Salazar ranch deal was allowed to happen. However, after many years at ASU I’m not sure why we’re still surprised at the complete ignorance of ethics and integrity practiced here.

Perhaps it’s because we still have hope. Surely, that’s why we still come to work every day. We have the hope that things will change. We have the hope that if we get through the barrage of daily ABM e-mails then we’ll make a dent in our workload. We have the hope that if only we had a couple of more hours in our work week, we’d have time to provide constructive criticism to the over 100 page HLC document that is so critical to our very existence.

In the end, it’s clear that everyone is depleted, overworked, significantly underpaid, and generally undervalued for the sheer amount of tasks performed on a daily basis. And unfortunately, such sentiments are ubiquitous around campus.

What this leaves me with is a realization that the status quo will march on. ASU will not change. The only way this institution will change is if there is a complete overhaul of the entire “old regime” – including faculty, staff and administration. Anything short of this will guarantee the continuation of the same unethical practices everyone is so used to at this point. Personally, I will continue to express these kinds of opinions under the veil of anonymity because of fear of retaliation.

Add that to the list of “zip code barriers.”