A man's voice booms out over several hundred invited guests at UMKC's Pierson Auditorium. At her inauguration on September 29, 2000, a new chancellor defined her vision for the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the voice thunders.thunders Video clips of Chancellor Martha Gilliland draped in a black robe appear on screens at the front of the room. Another voice, this one Gilliland's, comes from the speakers, recounting how she and a group of eighty administrators, faculty, staff and students arrived at "our blueprint for the future." Gilliland's blueprint was supposed to be a new, populist way of guiding the university. Similar methods had been tried in individual departments at other colleges, but never university-wide as UMKC was going to attempt. Coming up with such a blueprint relied on the hard work of dedicated people from the university and the community willing to work on special breakthrough projects -- creating a "model" living environment for students, for example, or earning international recognition for biocomputing or building a world-renowned arts center.
In the video clips, happy people rise to make points while others listen attentively. "The ideas that emerged felt to me like a release of pent-up creativity, the unleashing of our own human potential," Gilliland's recorded voice says.
Pierson Auditorium is drenched with dramatic effect for Gilliland's August 27 report back to the community, a presentation called "Transforming UMKC: The First Year -- Building on Excellence at UMKC." In the darkened room, colored lights swirl on stretched-fabric triangles. Banners representing various school departments frame the rows of tables and chairs. Sheets of paper hang from one wall, covered with phrases rendered in colored magic marker, evidence of successful planning sessions: "TAKE BACK SENATE," "When UMKC speaks, higher education listens," "UMKC is 'doing it' in higher education" and "UMKC: premier in urban/21st Century context."
The mighty voice returns: "Ladies and gentlemen ... Chancellor Martha W. Gilliland."
To applause, Gilliland approaches the podium.
"Today is about accomplishment," she says, before turning the audience's attention to three other lecterns. One at a time, members of the faculty and staff emerge into their spotlights to introduce themselves and brag about what their breakthrough teams have accomplished.
"UMKC is being transformed," announces Cathy Carroll, assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy.
"We are no longer doing business as usual. We make things happen," declares Lora Lacey-Hahn, associate dean in the School of Nursing.
Then, Donahue-style, two women with microphones approach preselected people in the audience. Sonia Ahmed rises to accept congratulations for being Mid-Continent female student athlete of the year. Student body president Jonas Hughes welcomes back his "shake-'em-up-chancellor" -- using a phrase The Kansas City Star had recently used to describe Gilliland (in an article noting that she had been a guest at a reception, dinner and dance to honor philanthropist Julia Irene Kauffman).
Mike Reed, who for sixteen years has served as dean of UMKC's dental school, rises to say he needs to go "off script" for a moment. He then recites the most memorable sentence of the night, one that will appear in the next day's Star: "Life as a dean has never been quite so fulfilling, enjoyable and exciting as it is right now."
The words hang in the air a moment -- drawing applause from almost everyone in the room -- before Reed continues with his written remarks about the dental school.
In truth, the last year at UMKC has been marked by division, conspiratorial whispers and high-profile departures. Reed is one of only four remaining deans; seven others have quit or been fired since Gilliland's arrival.
The people sitting at a table in the back -- the ones from the School of Biological Sciences, who aren't clapping -- must be wondering what university Reed lives in.
It started so well.
Gilliland's hiring in December 1999 was celebrated by UMKC faculty and staff, as well as by the community.
She impressed observers during her inauguration and other early speeches, coming off as a woman who had the energy, enthusiasm and vision to take UMKC where it should have gone long ago. Here at last was a chancellor who saw what UMKC could be. Here was the woman who would rouse the school from its mediocrity.
UMKC needed shaking up.
Its programs included bright spots like the prestigious Conservatory of Music and the esteemed School of Biological Sciences. But UMKC remained trapped within its image as a commuter university, a fall-back school for students whose finances or first choices didn't work out. And the university didn't just suffer from an image problem. U.S. News and World Report, which puts out the best-known college rankings each year, called it a third-tier national university.
"That's the paradox of UMKC," says George Gale, a philosophy professor who's been at UMKC for thirty years. "There are some really good faculty at UMKC, some surprisingly good people, people who are big in their fields, and the place just never jelled. [Gilliland] said this place was way the hell better than it was acting, and she was just going to grab the place by the short hairs and do something with it."
Gilliland said UMKC had no excuse not to thrive. It had more flexibility than Kansas' and Missouri's flagship universities in Lawrence and Columbia, where a more immediate bureaucracy tended to inhibit change. Located in a metropolitan area of around two million people, UMKC was more able to solicit money, advice and help from local leaders and corporations than its small-town counterparts. There was no reason UMKC couldn't change both its image and its reality quickly, Gilliland argued.
"I am absolutely convinced the real opportunity right now in higher education exists for universities located in cities," Gilliland said at her inauguration. "The economic, social and intellectual action is in cities -- in this particular city. Wow! What a city. Kansas City is on the move." (Gilliland was excited about the Kauffman Foundation complex, the nearby Stowers Institute, Brush Creek's redevelopment and the renovation of Union Station.)
She talked of unleashing the school's "human potential," becoming a "campus without borders" and "recommitting to academic excellence." In that inaugural speech, she twice proclaimed that "UMKC will define the standards for higher education."
And UMKC would achieve such incredible goals through her blueprint.
By her inauguration, an initial set of volunteers, the "Group of 80," already had come up with eleven breakthrough projects approved by Gilliland. Their missions were aimed at all corners of the university. One team was set on boosting the university's bank account, tapping private and government grant sources and increasing enrollment from its current 6,800 students to bring in more tuition income. Another wanted to create a campus center where students and alumni could eat, study or work on computers as well as drop off dry cleaning or meet for coffee. The Model Campus Living project intended to provide ideal on-campus living for 2,000 students by 2006. (The university now has room for fewer than 400.) The Leading Life Science Innovation team hoped to establish UMKC as an internationally known center for biological research. Other teams dedicated themselves to finding ways to let undergraduates participate in research projects; revamping the system for awarding tenure, promotions and raises; creating "the nation's foremost collaborative international center for artistic innovation and education"; reorganizing the budgeting process; renovating classrooms; and making the campus safe, clean and available.
"A number of the ideas at least sounded very worthwhile," says Jakob Waterborg, an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences. And working on them, Waterborg says, he got to know members of the faculty and staff from other departments. But, he says, "there were reservations on how things were going to be done."
Mostly through word of mouth, leaders from the original eighty teams recruited more volunteers to work on the individual projects. To ensure that their efforts would be effective, Gilliland had hired a consultant to moderate the breakthrough teams' meetings.
She encouraged everyone connected to the university -- from cafeteria workers to academic deans, as well as student leaders and civic boosters -- to attend one of the regularly scheduled "Transforming UMKC" workshops at the Uptown Theater. Under the direction of Gilliland's consultant, these three-day gatherings were billed as ways to help everyone speak the same language and understand the new way UMKC would be run.
Instead, they have separated members of the faculty and staff as effectively as if Gilliland had built a wall straight down Cherry Street. UMKC faculty and staff have been forced to make a winless decision: sign on to Gilliland's blueprint process and endure the sniggering of cynical colleagues, or shun it and watch their backs.
The most highly publicized example of Gilliland's seriousness about the process came in June, when she removed Marino Martinez-Carrion as the biological sciences dean; in that role, he had spent a decade guiding the department from obscurity to respectability. (Martinez-Carrion, who has tenure, remains on the faculty.)
Martinez-Carrion's demotion mobilized his department, whose faculty voted 41-0 for demanding his reinstatement. They wrote letters to the editor of The Kansas City Star. They appealed to colleagues outside UMKC for letters of support. And they began an effort to discredit Gilliland and her blueprint.
One of them unearthed a copy of an essay by Gilliland and cowriter Amelia Tynan, a vice-provost for information technology, summarizing their experiences in the information services department at the University of Arizona. What shocked Gilliland's critics was the language she used to describe detractors.
"An enormous amount of leadership time is wasted on people who are complaining, finding everything that is wrong, or simply not participating in solutions," Gilliland and her partner wrote. "We fondly refer to these as the terrorists."
Some "terrorists," they continued, simply needed to be ignored. But those in leadership positions "can undermine the effort in a rather significant way. They may, in fact, need to be removed, and that in itself provides powerful momentum."
Though she was now the head of an institution of higher learning, Gilliland had condemned the free exchange of ideas, hinting at what would happen to those who rebelled.
As for Gilliland's precious blueprint, it's connected to an oft-mocked 1970s self-improvement program known as "est."
EST stands for Erhard Seminars Training.
It was founded by a man born John Paul "Jack" Rosenberg in Philadelphia in 1936. Rosenberg grew up to be a car salesman and abandoned his wife and four children in 1960. Rosenberg fled Philadelphia with a second wife he had married illegally, and the renegade couple started a new life with new names. Rosenberg became Werner Erhard, borrowing the names from German physicist Werner Heisenberg and former German economics minister Ludwig Erhard.
Erhard sold cars in St. Louis and encyclopedias in Seattle before moving to San Francisco, where he used his charisma and sales techniques to peddle ideas rather than things.
And in the late 1960s, Americans were being seduced by all sorts of ideas. Self-improvement courses were blooming like bougainvillea in California's temperate climate. Erhard's philosophies were part of the "human potential movement," which held that people could accomplish more by using their minds more effectively.
At the time, George Gale was a graduate student at the University of California at Davis. He remembers some of his friends' embracing L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology while others were participating in "encounter" groups.
"Everybody in that generation, whether they were encountering or not, had the idea we were being manipulated by society, and the best way to get society changed was to get pure," Gale says. "The best way to get pure was to get rid of the little social niceties and to get at the real underlying truth ... all the little patterns of 'Did you like the hat?' 'Yes, it's a nice hat.' 'Did you have a nice time at the party?' 'Yes, it was a lovely party.'"
Getting rid of those superficial -- though deeply ingrained -- social habits required drugs or a certain level of exhaustion, which was where the long group meetings came in. People who could afford them took courses at human potential "institutes." Gale's friends bought books and moderated their own sessions.
After sampling a few flowers, Werner Erhard cultivated his own species, introducing est in 1971. Est was a hybrid that incorporated strains of Scientology, Dale Carnegie's power of positive thinking, a few psychology principles and, for good measure, a little Zen Buddhism.
In exchange for a few hundred bucks and two weekends of time, Erhard promised to transform lives. The heart of his liberating message was that there were no victims, that each person created his or her own reality and that the past was unimportant.
Erhard's adherents arrived at that epiphany through a series of group exercises. They filled hotel meeting rooms a hundred at a time. In one exercise, a small group lined up at the front of the room while everyone else stared at them stone-faced and an est trainer pelted them with insults. In another, they lay on the floor with their eyes closed to imagine that they were afraid of everyone else in the room, terrified of everyone else in the world.
The transformation process sometimes produced disturbing side effects. Barf bags were always handy. Body catchers remained at the ready, lest someone faint. People cried and moaned. Their leaders cursed them, then applauded them. The weekends built to a climactic revelation that humans were simply machines. "What is, is, and what ain't, ain't," the leaders recited. At that point, anyone who needed more elaboration simply didn't "get it."
Erhard sent his newly converted into the world to recruit more people for the introductory course, to assist in future sessions and to enroll in advanced courses.
The est gospel spread. Offices opened across the country and then around the world. Tens, then hundreds of thousands of people boasted of being transformed. Unconcerned that their enthusiasm was met with ridicule, they urged their coworkers and family members to take the course. As "esties," they knew something their detractors didn't.
For many, the course was positive. It was a strong dose of common sense and encouragement -- quit feeling sorry for yourself and do something with your life.
But it also had unsettling peculiarities. Leaders didn't allow participants to use the restroom except during infrequent breaks. They forbade their charges from talking -- to each other or at all -- unless called upon. Leaders banned note-taking and ordered everyone to remove their watches at the beginning of sessions. Verbal abuse was common and greeted with applause from the rest of the room.
People who had been through the course started speaking its strange language. They talked of needing "space," having "breakthroughs" and "getting it." The jargon doesn't sound especially weird today, but unique language is one of the characteristics of a cult, according to the American Family Foundation, a nonprofit group formed in 1979 to "study psychological manipulation and cultic groups." The foundation characterizes est as the most successful of a line of "large group awareness trainings" (LGATs) worth monitoring. On its Web site, the foundation notes that est and its knockoff groups repeatedly use "'exciting' words and phrases, such as 'breakthrough,' 'unique,' 'your full potential,' 'must be experienced,' and 'changed my life' ... Observers have also associated some LGATs with at least the potential to cause psychological distress to some participants. Some compare the training to thought reform programs, or 'brainwashing,' and to 'cults.'"
Erhard took the idea of personal responsibility to an extreme, arguing on more than one occasion that the Jews were responsible for their persecution by Hitler.
Initially, negative media coverage involved the est-connected Hunger Project, which had drawn the adoring support of musician John Denver but had never been about feeding people. It was an exercise in following Erhard's teachings. Just as people should take responsibility for themselves, Erhard said, they should take responsibility for the end of world hunger. If they did, world hunger would end in two decades, he said, apparently seeing nothing wrong with spending millions of dollars raised through the project on promotional materials and events rather than on rice and beans. Mother Jones magazine did, however, and published a 1978 story that laid bare Erhard's hypocrisy.
Erhard also drew the attention of IRS investigators, who took issue with an organizational structure in which Erhard used offshore corporations as tax shelters. The IRS finally earned a ruling from the U.S. Tax Court in 1986, erasing Erhard's tax deductions back to 1971. But by the mid-1980s Erhard Seminars Training no longer existed, and the $14 million in revoked deductions went uncollected.
Questions about Erhard's behavior climaxed in a 1991 60 Minutes interview during which one of Erhard's daughters accused him of sexual abuse. She later recanted, but by then it was fairly obvious that Erhard, the guru of how to live life, hadn't done so well living his.
But his teachings live on. Though he dissolved est in 1985, Erhard replaced it with a new introductory course called "The Forum"; in 1991, he sold the rights to the techniques to his employees, who incorporated under the name Landmark Education Corp.
In 1984, Erhard had also started Transformational Technologies, a group of consulting firms that worked with companies such as Allstate Insurance Co., Ford and Monsanto to motivate their department managers.
From 1986 to 1988, Transformational Technologies' executive vice president was a man named Gordon Starr. According to Who's Who in the West, Starr had worked with Werner Erhard & Associates beginning in 1974 and was a volunteer on the Hunger Project beginning in 1978.
In February of last year, Starr formed his own consulting company called Starr Consulting Group, which "specializes in the transformation of large organizations."
A month later, Starr was awarded a $750,000 consulting contract to help Martha Gilliland transform UMKC.
Gilliland declined interview requests, saying through her public relations department that she has been too busy the last few weeks to speak with the Pitch. Starr also declined, saying that he would have to talk to his client first; he didn't call back.
Gilliland had been at UMKC three months when she brought in Starr and his new company to essentially put a large public institution through est.
Gilliland has urged all UMKC faculty and staff to go through the three-day Workshop for Transforming UMKC. Between April and August, 119 of the university's 826 faculty and 173 of its 1,251 staff members took the workshop; others had taken earlier workshops; university officials estimate the total number of attendees at 600.
The workshop's lingo is all too familiar for people who remember the esties. Blueprint subcommittees who are working on specific projects are called "breakthrough" teams. Both the est program and the blueprint process are bent on "transformation."
The words rankle many members of the faculty, whose entire professional lives are often based on precise language.
"My colleagues in the school have problems with the type of sensitivity training or psychological verbiage the consultants Gordon Starr and his people use," says Jakob Waterborg. When Starr and his consultants talk about something vaguely "transformative," Waterborg says, such words are "disregarded as qualitative bull rather than something you can check or verify."
Waterborg is part of the "extended cabinet" -- essentially Gilliland's 150-member blueprint advisory committee -- and took an early session of the workshop.
He and his fellow participants spent the first day voicing all the bad things about UMKC, while the moderator wrote those complaints in colored marker on a big sheet of paper. They made lists of the stereotypes associated with different groups of university employees: Faculty were "meeting with their students only a few hours during the week and otherwise they do nothing"; staff were "always wrong, never right"; and administrators "obviously make every decision without any input from anyone."
"I felt terrible when I left," says Patrick Peebles, chairman of the history department. Peebles, who graduated from the University of California-Berkeley in 1966, is plenty familiar with the human potential movement.
Based on the buzz around campus, Peebles expected exercises more akin to the self-improvement courses he knew from his own college years. At UMKC's workshop, Peebles found similarities, but, he says, "I expected the workshops to be much more intensive than they actually were." There were, for instance, lots of bathroom breaks.
Peebles found the second and third days more upbeat -- maybe too upbeat. The workshop leaders requested that everyone board an imaginary yellow bus, which would take them to 2006. The moderators asked everyone to describe the UMKC of the future -- but made it clear they wanted idyllic images. They didn't want to hear that the school had 10 percent more undergraduate students or that the endowment had grown by 25 percent. UMKC employees who have ridden the magic bus have come back making the incredible statements that, in five years, UMKC will be "better than Harvard," that its endowment will have grown by $500 million, that there will be a computer data port at every desk in every classroom.
But the hallucinations have been more than punch lines. They've led to the departure of key faculty and administrators.
Michael Friedland resigned his post as dean of the School of Medicine this summer to take a position as an associate vice president and dean at West Virginia University. The job offer was a good one, and Friedland said the atmosphere at UMKC was no incentive to stay. He says Gilliland expected an unusual level of enthusiasm.
"My whole career I've been trained to be dispassionate about how I approach things," Friedland says. "I think the blueprint was looking for more emotion perhaps than my training permitted ... There seems to be a lot more emotion being expressed than real substantive progress moving forward."
Biology associate-professor Kelley Thomas was also turned off by the idealistic aspect of the blueprint enforced by Starr and his two assistants.
"Don't consider budget. Don't consider restraints. You decide what's possible," Thomas says, summarizing the rules. "You have to think outside the box. It's a nice exercise, but let's get back to reality."
After eight years, Thomas is leaving the university to take a prestigious position at the University of New Hampshire. With him will go an $800,000 federal grant to study genetic mutations. It's a significant loss -- Thomas specializes in computer analysis of biological research, which is exactly the type of life-sciences work that Kansas City leaders have been courting now that the Stowers Institute is open.
"This is one of the very severe losses that have come down the pike," says Thomas' fellow genetic researcher Waterborg.
Thomas says he's leaving because of his fears about what is happening to the university and the school of biological sciences. "I'm not quite willing to gamble," he says, adding that he's "a little embarrassed" by his departure. "It's kind of a chicken way out in a sense."
But Thomas was an early supporter of Gilliland. "I worked side by side with the chancellor on many things," he says.
He signed up to work on a breakthrough designed to help biologists and computer scientists work together to better understand biological processes, including genetics. But he was initially turned off by what he calls "standard corporate mind manipulations" -- exercises to get the blueprint participants thinking the same way.
Thomas says he didn't take any of it too seriously, nor did many of the people with whom he attended the sessions. Participants made a habit of responding to the moderators with false enthusiasm, the subtleties of which were lost on Starr and his assistants. "There's a lot of nudging under the table," Thomas says, as if people were daring each other to "watch me say this."
But Thomas' patience snapped last May, at a progress meeting with representatives of various breakthrough projects. The Uptown Theater's meeting room was decorated with banners. One had the word "gossip" with a slash through it. Another, Thomas recalls, said something like "Don't listen to people complaining about things you can't do anything about."
The meeting seemed to be about how to deal with growing campus dissatisfaction with the blueprint.
Early in the meeting, Thomas recalls, the moderator said, "We need to get all conversations on campus to be about the blueprint." When one senior professor asked why, Thomas says, one of Starr's assistants shot him down. "He was accused of not being committed to the blueprint process to ask such a question."
The leader then began coaching breakthrough team members on how they should tell others on campus about their progress. Thomas' turn came in the afternoon, even though by then all but one of his ten team members had left. Starr's assistant was telling Thomas to "project" rather than "report." He didn't quite understand and, in frustration, said that the Kansas City Business Journal had reported that UMKC was the regional leader in the development of bioinformation. He immediately retracted the comment, explaining that he had just made it up. But the moderator was pleased, saying that didn't matter. "It was sort of a cheer almost," he says.
"I got up and left and will never return," Thomas says. "If nothing else, a university is about being real and knowing the difference between what is the truth and what isn't the truth."
Now he regrets the efforts he devoted to the blueprint, which gobbled at least three weeks of work time just in meetings.
Philosophy professor George Gale believes that sort of lost time is devastating to junior faculty who have yet to gain the insurance of tenure.
"The problem is an awful lot of young folks got into it because, jeez, it really appeals to them," Gale says. "But this kind of thing can eat up your prime years and your tenure years. The unofficial advice in the College of Arts and Sciences now is 'Keep your young people out of it. They have more important things to do right now.'"
Since Gordon Starr's arrival, people on UMKC's campus have been forced into one of three categories: those who support the chancellor and her methods, those who oppose her and those who seem to be going through the motions of support in order to stay on her good side.
Biology professor Alfred Esser is in the second category. He has yet to take a blueprint class. When it comes to the blueprint, the way Gilliland writes about "terrorists" and the way people are being asked to sign on, the 61-year-old, German-born Esser makes a dark comparison. Esser likens the August 27 progress meeting to a famous Nazi propaganda film directed by Leni Riefenstahl called Triumph of the Will. The procession of speakers emerging from the dark to introduce themselves reminds Esser of a sequence in the film during which loyal Nazi party workers introduce themselves.
But dental school Dean Mike Reed believes it is Esser and other faculty members who are trying to protect their empires. "UMKC, like a lot of other universities, consists of a set of silos," Reed says. "What is being created through this process is a breakdown of those silos."
"Silos" is a Starrism. It refers to the way some departments isolate themselves and avoid working with other departments.
Reed sees the blueprint process as a way to expand his efforts to provide dental care to poor people, particularly uninsured children. The school already offers periodic clinics to Missourians in Nevada, St. Joseph and Theodotia.
And he argues against Esser's notion that the blueprint is being forced on anyone. "Some people are comfortable in silos.... There's plenty of room for all of those people here," Reed says. "If people are truly against this process they certainly have a forum to voice their opinion, but I hope they won't stand in the way of others who want to participate."
Patrick Peebles, meanwhile, is doing his best to straddle the fence, trying to advocate for his department with administrators while maintaining the respect of his colleagues.
Peebles, who teaches world history, has been serving on a breakthrough project called the "Ideal Learning Environment." The team's ambitious goal is renovating each classroom by 2006 -- some with projection screens for computer-aided lectures and Internet wiring for each desk. Other rooms require less technology, such as a math room that the team just wants to fill with blackboards.
"The blueprint is the means by which money is being allocated now," says Peebles. "It seems that projects need to be part of the blueprint to be funded."
So Peebles is working on a breakthrough team even though he is skeptical about the blueprint's effectiveness, based on his experiences with estlike programs in the '60s and '70s. (He says he knew many married couples who went to encounter sessions in hopes of fixing their relationships, but the technique never worked. "Even then it was very destructive to people," he remembers. "They believe that you can articulate feelings that should be private and then overcome them.")
His team's planned first step was to get three of the university's biggest lecture halls renovated by the start of this semester. But two weeks into the school year, two of the three lecture halls remain untouched. Students in the third are enjoying new chairs and tables but none of the other promised amenities.
In the partially refurbished hall, Peebles points to empty holes where a pair of data ports may one day be mounted in the laminated tabletop. He and his fellow committee members underestimated the time it would take to install the wiring that would allow each student a place to plug in a laptop. But Peebles expects the room to be finished for a September 18 demonstration.
In one of the rooms that didn't get done, an instructor is putting two images up on the screen, one from an overhead projector, the other from her own laptop and a portable projector. Above her, unused, is a machine that was supposed to hook up to laptops but never quite worked right, Peebles says. The relic is evidence that preblueprint renovations went no more smoothly. Smaller classrooms are equipped with television monitors that likewise never did what was promised -- their resolution didn't allow Internet displays, and attaching them to VCRs requires a complex assembly of wires. In the corner of nearly every classroom remains a reliably low-tech overhead projector.
Peebles says his breakthrough team is trying to keep from repeating such mistakes. His team includes technicians who know what's possible as well as faculty members who know what they want.
But Peebles' work on the blueprint has come with a price. "If you are trying to improve something on campus by working through this process," he says, "then you get accused by your colleagues of selling out."
Blueprint critics say the process is an extreme example of a national trend toward applying corporate techniques and philosophies to higher education. In March, UMKC even hosted a conference called "Education for Democracy: Fighting the Corporate Takeover," where presenters said colleges were adopting more corporate strategies, choosing competition over cooperation, dropping liberal arts programs because they weren't profitable and hiring part-time teachers to replace tenured professors.
Gary Baker, program director in the Bloch School of Business and Public Administration, believes some of those trends are beneficial.
"I don't think it's inappropriate at all for an academic setting," Baker says. "We still are first and foremost a learning environment. We still have this absolutely wonderful thing called academic freedom."
Baker says the blueprint sessions remind him of corporate strategic planning. Though he's been a UMKC faculty member for the last seven years, most of Baker's experience lies outside academia. For twenty years he was CEO of Crittenton, the children's mental health facility, and he spent five years as a director at the Kauffman Foundation. He fully supports Gilliland's mission and methods.
"Any CEO of any organization ... has and should have the ability to align an organization with a set of future strategic directions that they and we believe in," Baker says. Until Gilliland arrived at UMKC, he says, that clearly defined vision had been missing.
Martha Gilliland has earned the blessing of key community leaders such as retired advertising executive George Hicks, a past president of the alumni association. Hicks believes the tension at the university is the inevitable price of change. "Some deans get kind of stuck into their job to where they think they are autonomous," Hicks says. "They couldn't do the things necessary for the university to run on the right track and absolutely refused to bend and be part of the university."
And Gilliland retains the support of University of Missouri system President Manuel Pacheco. In June, Pacheco sent a letter to the faculty and staff of the School of Biological Sciences, declaring his support of Gilliland: "The Blueprint process is generating energetic participation from individuals representing all corners of the university family as well as the community," he wrote. "I am satisfied that the Chancellor is on the right course to position UMKC to achieve new heights as a strong and innovative leader in teaching and research."
Baker thinks that, as more people take the introductory course, the transformation of UMKC will pick up speed. "At some point you have enough of a critical mass of folks that really supports the change," Baker says. "I think Gilliland set a realistic five-year battle plan, so to speak.
"A CEO in a corporate environment can and would lock and load," Baker adds, suggesting that if Gilliland were operating in the business world, she could use layoffs and demotions to weed out critics. "In a university setting, that basically doesn't occur, so you end up being slower, harder to change."
But comparisons with big business amount to blasphemy to academic purists, who fear the corporatization of higher education.
"Faculty members are not employees in the ordinary sense a corporation has employees," Gale says, noting that universities traditionally allow faculty members an extraordinary amount of independence. "That's why we have freedom of speech called tenure. Ordinary corporate employees don't have freedom of speech."
They might, however, have the basic supplies they need to do their jobs.
While Gilliland is asking everyone associated with the university to think big, some of the details have been overlooked.
Two weeks into the semester, many of history professor Carla Klausner's students still don't have textbooks. (She had requested eighty books, but the bookstore stocked fewer than sixty.) None of her graduate seminar books has arrived. Other faculty members have reported similar problems. Peebles says the number of book problems this year is unusually high.
"If the blueprint process was working, this might have been handled better," he says. "Everything we do is supposed to be a breakthrough. The breakthrough teams are not supposed to be dealing with the practical problems. The question is: Is anybody dealing with the practical problems?"