Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Case of the Lost Employees

Below is a press release from UAF regarding an event on Thursday called, The Case of the Lost Employees. This is a very relevant topic and hats off to UAF for addressing the problem.

I have been told that employees at the Wood Center (and other departments at UAF) continue to disappear. Since I left in September, the Receptionist, Scheduling Coordinator, and Orientation Coordinator all departed the Wood Center for other positions at the University. I was also told that the Leadership Coordinator is leaving UAF in August. From what I understand, the Student Activities Coordinator position that I left six months ago is still vacant, too. Some turnover is, obviously, normal; however, it seems to me like the turnover at UAF has been very high lately. Any other observations? Any data?

Maybe this week's event will help. Here is the official press release:

University of Alaska Fairbanks <>
Date: February 28, 2008 3:47:24 PM AKST
Subject: [UAFNews-L] The Case of the Lost Employees

Subject: The Case of the Lost Employees
Start Date: Feb. 28, 2008
Stop Date: March 5, 2008
Date: Please announce until 5 p.m. on March 5, 2008.


Several University of Alaska Fairbanks departments are teaming up to present a free human resources seminar, "The Case of the Lost Employees," Thursday, March 6th from 1:30-4:30 p.m. in the Wood Center Ballroom.

The event will feature employee engagement expert Donna Cutting, who combines theater with traditional presentation techniques to provide action steps for engaging employees.

The seminar will include tips for welcoming new employees, rewarding and recognizing people, and creating a productive, service-oriented workplace.

The event is open to the public. Please RSVP to 474-6600 to reserve your seat today.

CONTACT: Earlina Bowden at 907-474-6600 or Marmian Grimes, UAF public information officer, at 907-474-7902.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Speak With Conviction

A couple of years ago, we brought Taylor Mali to UAF for a performance at the Salisbury Theatre. Several hundred people came to hear him speak. He performed this piece, which seems more and more important all the time:

Monday, December 10, 2007

Irresponsible Deferral To Power

Guest Opinion: Dr. Norman K. Swazo, Professor of Philosophy, UAF, 06 December 2007

To the UAF Sun Star:

In his grievance, Mr. Stepp appeals to the authority of university mission and declared commitment to equal opportunity as applicable standards of assessment. Ms. Bowden concludes that Ms. Anderson made a decision consistent with allowable “discretion” as hiring authority.

Mr. Stepp says: Whatever is wrong here, this is not about people, but about the university living up to its mission. I disagree: This is very much about people who make a significant difference in the daily pursuit of university mission consequent to their daily judgments and decisions within structured positions of authority. I call on the university administration to live up to its AA/EO mission and address basic problems:

• This grievance points to a problem with “supervisors” who exercise their hiring authority consistent with a concept of discretion granted them under university policy and regulation. This discretion is presumed and generally accepted to be inerrant, unimpeachable, and irreversible when exercised, though the exercise of this discretion is subject to “independent” oversight to assure no “abuse” of discretion in either judgment or decision. Ms. Bowden concludes Ms. Anderson manifest no abuse of discretion either in judgment or in decision. Is Ms. Bowden thereby affirming a substantive judgment about the merits/qualifications of the applicant, in contrast to issuing a finding about violation of procedure? What are the boundaries of discretion in judgment or decision in “hiring authority”? What is to be done when a hiring authority acts inconsistent with his or her authority and manifests an exercise of power that acts under the cover of authority, ignoring or dismissing a reasonably defensible recommendation of a hiring committee? “Procedure” is unclear here.

• Ms. Bowden seeks to assure merely that hiring practices do not violate public law or university policy, regulation, or procedure. As long as everyone involved performs according to the letter, there is no legitimate reason to object to judgments or decisions made? What happened to the concept of acting consistent with the positive spirit of equal opportunity? Are we satisfied to pursue the minimum standard? Might we—ought we—instead choose to attain the higher standard, really affording staff such as Mr. Stepp equal opportunity? I submit: Mr. Stepp was not treated fairly by the decision taken to declare a failed first search. My sense of “fairness” is moral. Perhaps moral sense is administratively out of place at UAF.

• What is to happen administratively when a supervisor (1) provides Mr. Stepp with annual performance reviews consistently and uniformly positive over several years, (2) receives positive endorsement from her senior staff to have Mr. Stepp appointed, (3) then dubiously “judges” Mr. Stepp unqualified? Any reasonably objective and impartial observer of these facts would infer: Ms. Anderson (a) prefers not to share direction of the Wood Center “programming” with Mr. Stepp, despite his qualification; (b) judges Mr. Stepp’s fiscal management skills questionable (though she authorized—and is herself first and foremost accountable for—expenditures she could have otherwise disapproved). Conclude: Ms. Anderson does not want to work with Mr. Stepp. That is her “prerogative” as hiring authority. No “legal harm” is done. Nevertheless, a moral wrong is done against Mr. Stepp’s dignity as “good faith” applicant. There is no reciprocal good faith in hiring.

The UAF administration tolerates this moral wrong, to its discredit, when neither the Vice Chancellor for Student Enrollment and Services nor the AA/EO officer finds good reason to correct and otherwise discipline either “judgment” or a “decision” taken. To hold discretion in judgment always inerrant, unimpeachable, and irreversible is not to recognize legitimate authority, but only irresponsible deferral to power.

Rigorous Questioning and Dissent Protect Our Freedoms

I was overwhelmed by the turnout on Wednesday for the Failed Search University presentation. I had requested 50 chairs for the event and never imagined that we'd need 200! As I said the other day, I will never be able to adequately express my gratitude for the support and encouragement that I received that night (but I'll try!). Thank you!

Since Wednesday, several people have told me that they could not attend the event due to scheduling conflicts. I have offered to meet with small groups to explain the situation. If you are interested in that, too, please let me know.

We are also going to post most of the presentation on YouTube just as soon as we can. In the meantime, if you'd like to see the DVD, let me know.

To repeat the underlying theme of the presentation, in order for the University to achieve its goals, we need all people at the University working together and performing their very best. My case demonstrates, I think, that this doesn't always happen.

In The Firecracker Boys, Alaskan author Dan O'Neill wrote:

“[Project] Chariot illustrates why the most cherished institutions of a free society -- a democratic government, a free press, the university, even the Church -- cannot necessarily be accepted as seats of objectivity and candor. The lesson Project Chariot offers is that a free society must be a skeptical one, that rigorous questioning and dissent protect, rather than subvert, our freedoms.”

Obviously, the stakes were much higher during the Project Chariot fiasco, but that quote from The Firecracker Boys also sums up my goal with the Failed Search University presentation -- we need some rigorous questioning and maybe a little dissent in order to protect the freedoms of UAF staff members (students and faculty, too). Again, let me know if you'd like to talk about this in any more detail with any of your groups or organizations.

Many people have asked, "What next?" I am getting together with some folks to discuss some ideas. More on that soon. What do you think? Please feel free to post comments.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Word For The Day: Byzantine

I just received this message from a friend, Bill, to let me know that he'll attend the Failed Search University presentation tomorrow evening:

"I saw this posted and will be very interested to hear the tale of what sounds like byzantine campus politics. "

When I was an undergrad at the University of Illinois, I had a philosophy professor who spent a semester talking about the Byzantine Empire. Brilliant guy, of course, and I could never follow him. Bill is just as smart and easier to understand.

He may have hit the nail on the head, too. Here are a couple of definitions of byzantine:

(1) Of, relating to, or characterized by intrigue; scheming or devious: "a fine hand for Byzantine deals and cozy arrangements."

(2) Highly complex or intricate and occasionally devious: "Byzantine methods for holding on to his chairmanship"

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Feedback from Students, Faculty, and Staff

I couldn't be doing this without the support of a lot of great people. Thanks to all of you who have offered me support and strength.

Since I announced the Failed Search University presentation on Wednesday at 7pm in the Wood Center Ballroom, I have received a ton of support from students, staff, faculty, and community members. Here is just a sample (thank you!!!):


UAF has suffered a grave loss with the resignation of Jeff Stepp as the Student Activities coordinator. Not only have the students suffered, but so too have the countless other UAF offices, programs, and community groups that Jeff directly supported through his creation and promotion of student activities. Jeff has tirelessly worked to foster an environment of cooperation, inclusion, and creative and intellectual engagement on the UAF campus. He was one of the reasons that UAF was a great place to work.

The fact that UAF failed to recognize and foster his rising aspirations and clear potential proves to me that this institution
continues to favor petty politics over insight and vision.

It has been said to me that Jeff had a "choice" to stay in his current position, but that choice seems to have been a humiliating and uncomfortable circumstance following the botched hiring process and now equally questionable grievance proceedings. Resignation was the only dignified choice in this situation - one that any self-respecting person would have made.

The search committee proceedings for the Associate Director of Programming need to be examined by an outside reviewer to determine the legality of the hiring process as well as the findings of the grievance. It is the very least that the University should do to address these


Hey Lovely People,

I just thought I should let you know about a very important event taking place next Wednesday, December 5, at 7pm in the Wood Center Ballroom.

Maybe you haven't heard about the unfortunate chain of events that led to Jeff Stepp's resignation from the Student Activities office this past summer but the University has really let us down, y'all! Students are really getting the shaft here; as far as I know there have been no attempts to hear from the students and what their concerns are regarding this matter. After all, students pay for student activities, seems only fair that they should have a say in how things go down. This really hurts us all, the community has been spoiled by Jeff Stepp. His relationships with local bands and community organizations is unparalleled. He has really reached out to include everyone in the happenings on campus.

Chances are you have participated in one of the many quality shows Jeff managed to bring our way, all the way up here in the Banks! Maybe you caught Saul Williams last fall, or Betty Lavette? Or maybe you saw Henry Rollins or Jello Biafra, The Mountains Goats, Shihan, Tim Fite, Rob Corddry, Sage Francis, Sekou the misfit, Tim Easton, Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars maybe you saw a Great Cover Up or two, or danced on the grass at a Beluga Night...the list goes on and on. Maybe you're wondering why things are so dead on campus this fall...or why the Bright Eyes show got cancelled ? Yah, I said Bright Eyes. How sweet would that have been?

SO. What is to be done ? Jeff is going to speak out this Wednesday, December 5, at 7pm in the Wood Center Ballroom.

You can be there to show your support to a man who has improved the quality of our lives and inspired us with his dedication to bring quality, first rate performers to our community to improve student life and excite the community!

Give something back to the Stepper...he deserves it!


Walk tall, Jeff, and wear a bullet proof vest and helmet.


See you there, man! I am especially interested from a human resources perspective.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Special Event: Failed Search University

Failed Search University:
Student Activities, Professional Development and Betrayal at UAF

presentation by
Jeff Stepp

Wednesday, December 5, 7pm
Wood Center Ballroom, UAF

In April, Jeff Stepp submitted his application for the Wood Center’s vacant Associate Director of Programming position. His supervisors had called Stepp a “programming powerhouse” and a “campus resource for events” who “brought a fresh perspective of event management, activity promotion, and just a general enthusiastic attitude to Wood Center and UAF.” Despite these positive performance reviews, five years of success as the Student Activities Coordinator and the recommendations of the members of the hiring committee, his application for the Wood Center’s Associate Director of Programming job was eliminated from consideration during the final phase of the hiring process.

What happened?

During this presentation, Stepp will take you on a bizarre, unpredictable, and sometimes hilarious ride through a hiring process that resulted in a failed search and his ongoing struggle to convince the University to live up to the Department of Human Resources’ mission “to provide services which promote a work environment that is characterized by fair treatment of staff, open communications, personal accountability, trust and mutual respect.”

After the presentation, there will be time for questions and comments. Students, staff, faculty, and community members are welcome to attend. Admission is free.

Sponsored by: UAF Coalition for Peace and Justice, UAF Department of Communication, and Righteous Ladies Rebelling

Jeff Stepp served as the UAF Student Activities Coordinator from October, 2002 – September, 2007. In his first year at UAF, Stepp was presented with the ASUAF Award for Outstanding Staff. He was elected to serve as president of UAF Staff Council and chair of UA Staff Alliance during the 2006 – 2007 academic year. At the invitation of Chancellor Jones, Stepp was selected in March, 2007, to serve as a co-chair of the Vision Task Force’s Faculty and Staff Development Work Group.


I have been really busy lately. Teaching, taking classes, new job ... and trying to get to the bottom of the failed search. I filed a complaint with UAF's equal employment officer back in mid-October and just finally received the findings of her so-called investigation the Friday before Thanksgiving.

In the dictionary, investigation is defined as, "a searching inquiry for ascertaining facts; detailed or careful examination." The report wasn't that. And I have been responding ever since.

I am going to try to scan the relevant documents (e.g., the hiring review, hiring paperwork, my letters to UAF administrators and HR, etc.) so that I can post them as pdfs here on the blog. Anyone know how to do that? (I know how to scan. How do you post pdfs?)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The darker emotional tones of impasse ...

I just recently made it to the appendices in Getting Unstuck, where I found these excerpts from, "A Note on Impasse and Depression":

Impasse often brings with it an intermittent heaviness of mood. During times of impasse, it may seem that usually reliable sources for cheering yourself up or thinking your way through problems are no longer effective. In many ways, you may feel that business as usual in the way you take care of things has slowed, or even halted. You may feel that you are "not yourself" and that your familiar pleasures and distractions no longer hold their appeal. You may loose sleep turning over an important decision in your mind. In all of these ways, a career or life impasse may mimic some of the symptoms of depression. It is important to realize that these symptoms, and the impasse experience, are not, in themselves, evidence of clinical depression ...

Accepting the darker emotional tones of impasse is part of the journey. In all classic descriptions of impasse, this sense of darkness is part of the story. Whether it is Dante' lost in his "dark wood," Odysseus journeying to Hades in the eleventh book of the Odyssey, or Holden Caulfield stuck wondering what he should do next with his life, this emotional heaviness seems to come with the territory ...

This last paragraph, of course, draws heavily from Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces -- which is part of the reason that I like Butler's book so much. It also nails a lot of the feelings that I have been experiencing the past several months. I try to maintain an optimistic perspective, but it's been an emotional rollercoaster. I'm glad to read that it's normal ... and not clinical depression.

(Butler credits Campbell -- and lots of other "psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, psychotherapists, and poets" -- in the annotated bibliography of Getting Unstuck.)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Coming Soon ...

... Failed Search merchandise for you and your loved ones. Stay tuned.

That Crafty ol' Lao Tzu

The first practice is the practice of undiscriminating virtue: take care of those who are deserving; also, and equally, take care of those who are not. (Hua Hu Ching: The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Failed Search Playlist

For the past several months, I have been groovin' to Mavis Staples' most recent album, We'll Never Turn Back. The liner notes state that, "I hope this music will help you find the courage to stand up, speak up, and speak out and answer the call of your own conscience. It is my hope that this music will help you see what ordinary people with extraordinary vision can do when they decide they will never turn back." A-men.

Following is my first Failed Search playlist. It's not an exhaustive or deliberate attempt to find the best songs to capture the moment. It's just a few songs that I have been drawn to lately or tunes that have come across my path that stand out because they talk about movin' on or lookin' up. Of course, the list starts with Ms. Mavis herself:

We Shall Not Be Moved (Mavis Staples, We'll Never Turn Back)
Further On Up The Road (Bruce Spingsteen, Live In Dublin)
Do You Realize? (Flaming Lips, Yoshimi)
Road To Joy (Bright Eyes, I'm Wide Awake)
Guitar Town (Steve Earle, Essential Steve Earle)
Don't Think Twice (Bob Dylan, No Direction Home Soundtrack)
No Roads Here (Corb Lund, Five Dollar Bill)
The Road Goes On Forever (Joe Ely, Live at Antone's)
Oney (Johnny Cash, Columbia Years)
Take This Job and Shove It (David Allan Coe, Greatest Hits)

What songs would you add to the Failed Search playlist? Please comment.