In Part I of this series I examined questions about the recent spending at Georgia Perimeter College by the interim president Rob Watts. I also questioned how Rob Watts as well as Hank Huckaby ever rose to these positions of both power with extremely high salaries given their extremely mediocre qualifications and uninspiring résumés. Neither individuals seem suited to those jobs and both appear to be two peas in a pod and a possible resentment of people who were selected based on their intellect and doctoral degrees.
In Part 2 I want to look at the person that Rob Watts replaced Dr. Anthony Tricoli.
“He did what he was supposed to do,” said Erroll Davis about GPC’s former President Dr. Anthony Tricoli.
For 90% of Dr. Anthony Tricoli’s nearly 6 years as the president of Georgia Perimeter College, Erroll Davis served as the USG’s Chancellor. During that entire time Davis praised Dr. Anthony Tricoli for his leadership in governance and strategic planning, customer service and team building, and the implementation of Lean Six Sigma principles of which Davis presented before the Georgia State Legislature.
Then even after Davis’s departure from the USG’s Chancellor position, he continued his support of Dr. Tricoli in a letter that clearly communicated Dr. Tricoli did what he was supposed to do as GPC’s leader and that Dr. Tricoli was failed by those below him, and by the University System Office for their weak budget oversight procedures.
Davis selected Dr. Tricoli from among 44,000 USG employees as the top customer service provider in the entire system; he was Davis’s top college president on his customer service leadership initiative, and many others it appears as well.
Davis made it clear that Dr. Anthony Tricoli was doing exactly as the former Chancellor directed him. Then when Chancellor Davis left the USG in late 2011, it was just a few short months before Tricoli was told his contract was not being renewed by Davis’s replacement, Hank Huckaby.
In talking about Dr. Tricoli past leadership as the president of West Hills College in California, here is what Davis had to say, “His [Anthony’s] understanding of leadership and relationship building became increasingly more evident with each person we interviewed. His successes in governance and collaboration, student recruiting, team building, and community outreach were the strengths we desired in the next president to lead metropolitan- Atlanta’s five campus, Georgia Perimeter College. In addition, Campus Compact had honored Dr. Tricoli and his college with five national best practices in ‘Engagement’ and ‘Leadership’ during his last year as the president of West Hills College –Coalinga.”
Regarding Dr. Tricoli’s first major challenge as GPC’s new president (the closure of GPC’s largest campus with 7,000 students) this is what Former Chancellor Davis had to say: “It was predicted that this closure would result in a loss of 7,000 students, $30 million in revenue, and require a layoff of 350 college employees. Dr. Tricoli pulled the college team together and developed a plan to prevent the loss of jobs and increase student enrollment; and he eliminated the loss of $30 million in income to the college.”
Former Chancellor Davis continued, “Nine months later, Dr. Tricoli and his team had enrolled 10,000 new students. There was no loss in revenue, nor were there any layoffs. This is a testament to the aggressive leadership of Dr. Tricoli. From a base of 6,000 students when he arrived, enrollment at GPC continued to grow past 27,000 students this past year.”
In addition to pulling the college from a certain $30 million dollar deficit and a loss of 7,000 students, Chancellor Davis shared, “Dr. Tricoli built a model shared governance plan which in 2011 was identified by the AAUP as the best in the nation. With Dr. Tricoli’s leadership, GPC was able to attract more dual enrollment students, more military students, and more online students than at any of the other 34 institutions in the USG. He and his college team also set the high mark in my customer service recognition program in 2009 and 2010 respectively winning Gold level awards for top leader and the top college in customer service for the entire University System. In 2010, Dr. Tricoli was one of the Governor’s top three customer service leaders in Georgia.” Chancellor Davis further said that Dr. Tricoli restored trust at the college because of the work he did early on to engage the college community.
Chancellor Davis praised Dr. Tricoli’s leadership across all aspects of the college saying that he improved “…academic excellence, college-wide communication, the utilization of data in making good decisions, strengthening the enrollment management process, and making transfer seamless into 4-year colleges…” The Chancellor was so pleased with Tricoli’s college engagement and shared governance work in which Dr. Tricoli used Lean Six Sigma methods that Chancellor Davis used those Lean Six-Sigma teamwork and outcomes highlights of GPC’s work in the USG budget proposal that Chancellor Davis delivered to State Joint Appropriations Committee in 2009.
Dr. Tricoli was also lauded by Chancellor Davis for “understanding of the value of applying classroom theory to real world application…” Davis said the students’ education “was enhanced greatly with the development of the Atlanta Center for Civic Engagement and Service Learning, and the Southern Institute for Sustainability.” Davis continued that it was Dr. Tricoli’s “work ethic which has earned him a leadership spot at the front table with national organizations such as ACE, AAC&U, and the AACC, on international boards, academic and workforce commissions, and LEAP & the select President’s Trust group.”
Regarding the “budget issue” that is now overshadowing Dr. Tricoli’s good work, Chancellor Davis said, “It is clear that Dr. Tricoli did what he was supposed to do as a leader and exercised the appropriate level of fiscal oversight and diligence. Sadly, in response to his legitimate queries, he was given misleading and incorrect information.” Chancellor Davis pointed out that the USG’s own internal audit indicated that Tricoli was misled by certain members of the college’s budget team “…the former President, and both the President’s Council and the Strategic Budget Committee were provided incomplete and inaccurate budget presentations made by the CBO and the Budget Director at various group meetings.” “It is clear from our review that GPC’s CBO did not provide GPC’s President with timely and reliable financial information for the President’s use in managing the institution.”
Davis continued, “Dr. Tricoli did trust and he did seek ongoing and reasonable verification. He was failed in both areas by those who were responsible for daily management of the college budget, and by those with budget oversight at the system level.”
In our research preparing for the writing of this report we found some startling information. Immediately following notification that Dr. Tricoli’s contract was not being renewed the University System completely changed their budget oversight and review process. The holes in the University System’s internal budget review process smelled and looked like Swiss cheese. Here is what Davis had to say about that, “The June 5, 2012 complete rewrite of the University Systems’ budget oversight process and its attachment to the final audit findings published on September 17, 2012 adds credence to the concerns expressed that the System’s processes were not up to the standard they needed to be in order for GPC’s situation to have been avoided. And for that, I must accept some responsibility, as well.”
So, former Chancellor Davis take responsibility for some of the USG’s internal weaknesses, which the new Chancellor, Hank Huckaby and his henchmen who conducted the internal audit work to move attention away from the USG by blaming the issue on Dr. Tricoli. Here is what Former Chancellor Davis had to say about that, “This is an unfortunate and certainly tragic situation for a man who has always acted quickly, aggressively and transparently to eliminate any problem which crossed his desk. Knowing Dr. Tricoli as I do, I have no question he would have addressed this issue had he been informed by those who had the responsibility of doing so.”
If ever there was any question about Davis’s thoughts about Dr. Tricoli’s leadership, he sums it up with this next quote: “It was under Dr. Tricoli’s leadership that the image and culture of GPC positively changed. It was no longer seen as a last chance college, but a college of first choice, a gateway into the University System of Georgia, transferring thousands of students each year into the USG’s senior institutions. In 2011, GPC enrolled over 15,000 freshman students, a great change from the 6,000 freshmen that enrolled in 2006 prior to Dr. Tricoli’s arrival. In the five years under his leadership, the image of the institution was unquestionably transformed for the better, locally, nationally, and internationally. The college’s international composition has grown to nearly 160 different countries. It has become one of, if not the, most diverse colleges in the University System, and it graduates more students of color than any in the USG.
The final test always comes when one is asked if you would rehire that person again. Here is what Former Chancellor says about Dr. Tricoli before he was even asked, “If I were given the opportunity to hire Anthony Tricoli to lead an institution of higher education or otherwise, I would not hesitate for a moment to make that offer of employment again. Dr. Tricoli possesses the skills, abilities, attributes and experience to lead at the highest level. He is a man of integrity, strong moral and ethical character and behavior. I was pleased to have him as a member of the leadership team while I was the Chancellor of the University System of Georgia.”
It is clear by Chancellor Erroll Davis’ letter that he believes that Dr. Anthony Tricoli did exactly as he should have done in his leadership of GPC from 2006-2012. The specifics shared here by Davis also lead us to believe that Dr. Tricoli was absolutely provided with inaccurate budget details at the college level, that he was misled by his budget manager and EVP (Ron Carruth) below him and by his supervisor at the USG (Rob Watts) and that the USG had inferior budget review oversight process in place which would have enabled people with bad intentions to harm Dr. Tricoli (which they obviously did).
The question I keep asking myself is why did they do this and who had the most to gain? Well, you don’t have to look far to get the answer to both questions….just look at the man sitting in the Office of the President at GPC today. Rob Watts the man who had coveted this job for decades but his lack of credentials, experience, and lack of degrees had kept from his grasp.
I am not making any direct accusations. I have no inside knowledge of what transpired in any back room conversations between Huckaby and Watts or anyone else. I am simply saying that Watts had the most to gain from the removal of Dr. Tricoli and on this point I think there is little dispute. Watts had the motive and certainly had an opportunity to poison the well if he chose to do so and push for Tricoli’s removal even though audits seem to confirm his entire team of financial advisors and budget “experts” had given Tricoli erroneous data on the GPC budgets and had hid the shortfall from him. I have found no indication that Watts ever spoke in defense of Tricoli and quite a bit to the contrary. The fact that Huckaby instituted massive changes in budgeting throughout the USG shortly afterwards suggests this was simply a deflective maneuver to remove the focus of their role in the debacle that had gone unnoticed for many years. The entire system was broken but they had to choose some sacrificial lambs for the slaughter to stop further scrutiny of their role. Note that many other universities also had budget shortfalls as well which were only revealed thanks to changes made after the GPC budget made the news and safeguards implemented.
Did Rob Watts take affirmative actions to secure the removal or Tricoli and secure himself as the replacement? It is certainly a question many are asking in the blogosphere, academics, and journalists across the state as well they should. Rob Watts has been the perennial bridegroom without a bride when it comes to becoming a university president. Without the doctorate degree he is like a mayfly that secures this job temporarily every so often then reluctantly has to return to his lair. Perhaps he should just get his doctorate so he can secure a less ephemeral stewardship as president. I am confident Hank would love to oblige and reward his chief and most loyal henchman if he could. But loyal sycophants are often more valuable in lairs than in presidents chairs so I wouldn’t get your hopes up Rob.
Many are also asking how Hank Huckaby was chosen over eminently more qualified candidates for chancellor. Rob Watts has been linked to at least three USG college presidents who have stepped down during his time at the system office as the supervisor for the two year schools which include Georgia Perimeter, Georgia Coastal, and Georgia Gwinnett College. I am not sure if two of these were voluntary or involuntary, but I am certain Dr. Tricoli’s removal was not voluntary. (Note that Dan Kaufman was possibly Huckaby’s main rival for chancellor and “stepped” down at president of Georgia Gwinnett soon after)
Here are a few articles which demonstrate the power of the rich and connected when it comes to electing presidents and chancellors in Georgia. It also demonstrates how closely coordinated decisions are made among a very select group. This is a very tight knit group that certainly seem to understand the concept of scratching each others backs.