Queen Anne’s Lace

Is there anything more contemptible than revisionist history from a failed university president?

The interviewer asks Prisco why she left Felician University for Holy Family University. We get no cogent, responsive answer to this question.

She was drawn from Felician University to Holy Family, we’re told in this article, because of the latter’s sense of community and responsibility. Wouldn’t that just be a confession of failure? She was President of Felician from 2012 to 2020. What prevented her from promoting a sense of community and responsibility at Felician in all that time? I guess she was too busy firing people to get around to it.

She was, we’re told, “familiar” with HFU. She wasn’t familiar with Felician? Eight years as President didn’t do the trick?

She sings the praises of HFU’s academics. What about Felician’s academics? Did we fall short of “Dr. Prisco’s” exalted standards? Her sneeringly dismissive attitude toward academic research around 14:00 into the interview suggests pretty low academic standards, actually.

HFU, she says, was in “a strong financial position.” Is she trying to tell us, belatedly, that Felician wasn’t? Because that wasn’t at all what she told us when she was President. We were all given to believe through her eloquent speechifying that her financial acumen had put us in the black (albeit always close enough to the red to justify the latest termination).

“Oh, but HFU has a Gen Ed Curriculum.” Right–so did Felician. It was Anne Prisco herself who went out of her way to mangle the Gen Ed Curriculum we had before she graced us with her presence, and to give us the confused mess she shoved down our throats for the following eight ears. Granted, if you’d never taught or advised a single student during this time, or shepherded them through the Gen Ed mess you’d made, none of this would necessarily have occurred to you.

“Right, but HFU is in the northeast.” Hmm. Well, according to both Siri and Google Maps, Rutherford, New Jersey is also firmly in the northeast.

“Ah, but HFU has satellite campuses.” I hear you, Doc, but believe it or not, so did Felician. Truth is stranger than fiction, isn’t it? We had one campus in…Lodi…and one in Rutherford. Remember? And then we had articulated programs at community colleges around the state. I guess you forgot, but I drove to those satellite campuses–in Paterson, in Edison, in West Windsor. Then I taught at them. Whilst doing so, I encountered the sullen community college students who felt cheated by the indifference and insensitivity of Felician’s executive leadership, starting with its President. I relayed those messages back to your VPAA. And yet with amazing consistency, every word fell on deaf ears. What about those satellite campuses, the ones you left behind in New Jersey?

The interviewer somehow avoids asking about the fact that President Prisco left Felician because she was removed from her position by the Board of Trustees. Is she expecting her audience to believe that that involuntary removal played no role in her departure? Or is she just hoping that her audience won’t know? “Dare not to know” is a perfect description of the essence of her presidency.

If I were doing the interview, I’d have asked: what about your nepotistic hire of your Felician VPAA, Sylvia McGeary, as “Accreditation Liaison Officer” at HFU? Sylvia used to make a big show of badmouthing Anne when I sat in the former’s office, during my periodic (and inevitably pointless) attempts to get straight answers from her to my questions about what the “President’s Council” thought it was doing as it “ran” the University. Now Sylvia once again sits at Anne’s throne, a vivid example of the very thin line that distinguishes backstabbing from ass-kissing.

The problem with Felician was and is that without tenure, no one could (or can) call out the malfeasances of those in charge. The bold are fired or resign; the prudent keep their mouths shut. The game goes on. And on. And on. They didn’t earn their AAUP Censure Status for nothing. I still get threats from Felician administrators about what I say on social media, as though I still worked in the ninth-rate prison they call a “university.” Did they miss the memo that I resigned over their malfeasances? Shall I resend it?

The people currently in charge of Felician are, if anything, a step below the ancien regime under which I served, a bit like France under Napoleon Bonaparte after the reign of Louis XVI, uninterrupted by the salutary influence of Robespierre or St Just. The university’s current President is a disgraced naval admiral with zero experience in higher education. I guess that’s why they hired him: with his bullying style, love of hierarchy, contempt for procedure, and indifference to academic values, he should fit right in at FU. But it’s hard to compare two sets of candidates, old and new, in a race to the bottom. The only worthwhile comparisons to make are those between decency and indecency, honesty and dishonesty, fairness and unfairness, competence and incompetence. In that light, almost all of Felician’s executive leadership, past and present, deserves failing grades on all four counts.

I regret not saying all this more loudly and clearly when I was there—despite the fact that I was widely regarded as a hothead and a loudmouth. What Felician needed was a hotter head connected to a louder mouth. It still does.

The press should stop falling for these administrative grifters. But on this topic, mainstream journalists are indistinguishable from writers of ad copy–regurgitating the same happy-pappy bullshit in unison; serving up the same stupid buzz phrases; dishing out the same uncritical acceptance of whatever rubbish is uttered by those in power.

Nothing requires anyone to care about higher education. But if you do, either you knowingly acquiesce in the deceptions that its “leaders” perpetrate, or you resist them. I prefer resistance. You may prefer acquiescence. There are, I guess, pros and cons either way. But either strategy beats the delusional belief that all is well in the ivory tower. Take a long, hard look at these people and ask yourself whether you can say that with a straight face.

Free botany lesson, by the way.

(The views I express here are exclusively my own, and do not represent, or claim to represent, anyone besides myself. For the benefit of people who have trouble grasping the obvious.)

2 thoughts on “Queen Anne’s Lace

  1. Yes, but you’ve got to hand it to her–she’s a master of administrative bullshit artistry. The comment about the NYU research job comes across as the cri de coeur of someone who wants to get out there and “make a difference” in the lives of downtrodden people. And they could hardly be liberated by research papers, right? So off she went to get her hands dirty in the muck of the world. So very Franciscan of her (you might think), whether you agree or disagree.

    That’s how it comes across to the naive listener. And that’s how it came across to all of us back in 2012, when she first made her appearance at Felician. She wasn’t the most polished or eloquent speaker, but she seemed sincere, and mostly said the right things. When she hit a few bum notes, it seemed excusable. She was a newcomer. This was her first college presidency. She was our first lay president. She was “obviously” sincere. So it seemed appropriate to give her the benefit of the doubt.

    It took me much longer than it took most of the real cynics at Felician to see through the act. Temperamentally, I’m a sucker for sincerity, or apparent sincerity. The learning curve was steep, but eventually all of us mastered it, even if we got fired or had to resign in the process.

    Everything she says is a fucking act. Everything. The sincerity is pure appearance. The “lack of eloquence” is actually indicative of deep incoherence. Her entire approach to governance is to read some bullshit in the higher ed press, get fixated on it, sling some more bullshit about the ever-hidden social science that supports the nonsense she’s decided to fixate on, and then issue random orders to her subordinates (the faculty) to do things her way.

    She was protected at Felician by the fact that the institution doesn’t grant tenure. So people either pushed back and got fired, or held back and held their tongues forever. The total absence of candor didn’t bother Anne Prisco & Co in the least. She’d just hire another consultant or set of consultants, make some more arbitrary hires, then make some more arbitrary terminations, then stand in front of us, and sling some incoherent bullshit–then leave the rostrum without taking questions. At every one of these events, I sat there wishing there was a Jersey-born John Galt in the audience who’d stand up and say, “Excuse me–what the fuck are you talking about?”

    For years, she tasked me with creating a PPE program at Felician. This was going to be the salvation of our woes. Well, before that, she got us (me) to write a program evaluation for Philosophy. Philosophy placed first in the university. The university’s response to that finding? They eliminated our major and fired one of our Associate Professors–even as one Assistant Professor resigned, a Full Professor retired, another Associate went into administration, and another Associate went on sabbatical. A Philosophy department tasked with teaching Gen Ed to the entire university was being held up (or held together) by one full time faculty member: me. For years.

    Obviously, this is a set of problems that can only be solved by the creation of a PPE program, right? Because when you face a staffing shortage, the obvious thing to do is to fantasize that if you create a completely new program, your institution will be able to compete with the likes of NYU, outcompete them, draw in their students, draw in their revenue, and live happily ever after. I don’t know what’s worse, that she really believed that, or was only pretending to.

    Why would PPE students come to Felician rather than NYU? No answer. Why think we can attract PPE students if we couldn’t attract philosophy majors or pre-law advisees? No answer. Who’s going to teach the E component of the program? No answer. Will we have an E component? No answer. If we don’t, how it is PPE? No answer. Will the E component be housed in Arts & Sciences, given that economics is currently taught out of the Business School? No answer. How do you run a program across two schools? No answer. Who’s going to run it? No answer. Yet she wondered why the program never materialized. To this day, I can’t get over the fucking idiocy of it all.

    You couldn’t, from her smooth-talking manner, conceivably imagine the misery she created at Felician–her cavalier way with terminations, her total lack of integrity in dealing with any personnel issue, her total lack of candor on any issue of significance, her inability to give a straight answer to any question asked with the best of intentions. She was the worst boss I’ve ever worked for, and I’ve worked at some fucked-up places. But she wins first prize. The Board of Trustees that hired her deserves her. The problem is, the people who don’t deserve her have no say about the fact that she presides over them. I feel for them. I’ve been there. All I can say is, leave while you can.

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