Last night I attended your alumni Q&A. I sat down front, I took copious notes, and I tried to listen with an open mind. I figured that, since you were willing to stand there in front of all of us, I owed you that much.
I’m writing this letter now out of a place of love for you, and my university. Last night you said you needed “truth tellers” in your life, and, although I am a stranger to you, I’m here to speak truth as I see it. It may not be easy for you to hear, but I hope you listen.
Last night you stood in front of a room of people who are very different from one another in many ways. This issue has eclipsed age, gender, politics, and religious conviction. It has pulled people together who normally agree on little, and united them in a common cause. I hope you know how rare that is, and I hope it helps you see exactly how dire the situation on campus has become. People are willing to put aside their differences to try and save a school that they love. That is breathtaking.
Your faculty has stated, overwhelmingly, that they currently have no confidence in your leadership, and your staff has echoed that voice, although not in the same unified fashion. Last night you told us that the vote had shocked you. You need to know that a vote like this does not rise out of thin air. It is something that grows, slowly, out of years of unrest and unease. You seem to be treating this vote like a wake up call, but I want you to see that the alarm clock has been ringing for seven years. A vote of no confidence isn’t a wake up call, it’s a final act of desperation.
For an unstated reason, you have given yourself eighteen months to rebuild trust and make everything better. I’m not sure why you’ve chosen that timeline, but I want to assure you that it is much too long, while also being much too short, for the current situation. It is too long because I fear you do not have that much time to repair trust before amazing people begin to leave NNU for good. It is too short, because there are seven years of hurt and neglect to repair. It is too long because there has been significant damage done to NNU’s image, and that damage needs to be fixed now, before we lose students to sister schools and other institutions. It is too short because there is no way for you to repair that damage as quickly as it needs to be repaired in your current position.
You keep stressing in your letters, as well as in your Q&A sessions, that you are aggressive in your leadership style. You state that you are a bulldog, but that you will try to change. Building on your own analogy for yourself: A bulldog can go through obedience training, but a bulldog can never become a labrador retriever. Ultimately, it will still be a bulldog, with bulldog tendencies, and bulldog reactions. I think it is possible that what NNU needs right now is a labrador retriever.
This is where speaking the truth in love comes in: I think you would be happier and better suited at another institution. I’m sure there are places who need your aggressive style, who would long for it and thrive under it. However, it would seem that, in your current situation, you’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I do think it is good to stretch one’s self out of one’s comfort zone, and to ignite change in stagnant waters, but I am not sure your brand of change is what NNU wants or needs right now. It has become clear to many that, perhaps, it is time to see if someone else can take what you started, and turn it into something even greater than you imagined possible.
There is no shame in walking away from failure. There is no shame in apologizing, and then actively trying to make things right by stepping down. In fact, I think that it is often the more noble thing to do. I can see that you want to stay, to fix the mistakes you’ve made, I feel your passion! In it’s own way, that is honorable. However, I also believe that, right now, this very moment, you have the rare opportunity to do something bigger; you have the opportunity to stop the bleeding, and reverse the injury by removing yourself. There are not many people who have the ability to restore faith and repair relationship in such a decisive manner.
Dr. Alexander, I’m asking you, for the good of your school, for the good of your faculty and staff, for the good of current and future students, and for your own good: Please. Step down. Allow NNU to heal under the leadership of another. Give those who currently have no confidence in your leadership back the confidence they once had in their institution.
Kristine R. Noteboom