University of Cincinnati Arts and Sciences dean resigns abrupty after rocky tenure

CINCINNATI – After a tumultuous 16-month tenure, the dean of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Arts and Sciences abruptly resigned Tuesday.

Dr. Ronald Jackson, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication from UC, arrived in July 2012 amid high hopes but lost the confidence of early supporters and other faculty members through a leadership style that some called detached and secretive.

“I’ve already talked to a number of people in the college, and almost everyone feels a sense of relief that we’ve moved on to a new interim dean,” said Christopher Campagna, an assistant professor in the Department of English & Comparative Literature.

Jackson sent an open letter of resignation to faculty and administrators in which he pointed to accomplishments during his tenure – instituting a supplemental term called Maymester, hiring the college's first Assistant Dean of Recruitment and Retention and Chief Diversity Officer, among others -- juxtaposed against challenges that included fixing a budget deficit and enduring an anonymous, racist cartoon that lampooned him last spring.

“While I stood proudly as dean I along with the UC community endured racist cartoons and public mischaracterizations aimed at me,” Jackson wrote. “I find this not only unfortunate but also indignifying for anyone.”

Jackson, who is African-American, earned a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and a master’s in organizational communication from UC before earning a doctorate at Howard University and launching a career in academics.

Immediately prior to becoming dean, he was professor of media and cinema studies and African American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

He was the victim of a crude racist caricature in a flyer that was distributed on campus in September. Beverly Davenport, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, said Tuesday that the author of the rant has never been identified. She said UC asked Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’office to investigate the incident and that DeWine’s investigators determined that no law was broken, however crude and hateful the content.

While the campus community rallied to Jackson’s defense during that incident, some felt he was a bad fit for the dean’s job.

Dr. Jana Evans Braziel, professor of Africana Studies, resigned as associate dean for academic affairs with a public lambasting of Jackson in a open letter to him.

She said in the letter that she was an enthusiastic supporter and advocate during the search process and immediately after his hiring. But she soured on his leadership to the extent that she wrote, “I unequivocally feel that you have failed as the leader of the McMicken College.” Braziel accused Jackson of rarely, if ever, participating “in a substantive or meaningful way in the major duties related to the Dean's Office.” She said he “typically regarded the associate and assistant deans as clerical workhorses, not (sic) as intellectual peers. And she said he “had not been forthcoming about details absolutely pertinent to the health and well-being of the college and its functioning.”

Contacted Wednesday, Braziel struck a conciliatory note, wishing Jackson “only the best in all of his present and
future endeavors.”

“This is a difficult and challenging moment for the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences -- for our staff, our faculty, and especially our students,” she said.

Kristi Nelson, senior vice provost for academic affairs, was named interim dean while a national search commences. Davenport said UC will convene a search committee and move as quickly as possible, with the goal of having a dean in place for the start of the 2014-15 school year.

Davenport and Nelson spoke to students, faculty and staff from the college of arts and sciences in an open forum Tuesday morning.

Davenport declined to elaborate on Jackson’s resignation letter. She thanked him for his dedication to the school.

Jackson plans to remain a teacher in the college, UC officials confirmed.

“We have plenty to celebrate, and we also have some work to do as a university and college,” Jackson concluded in his letter. “I am confident we will get there. Until then I look forward to working alongside my colleagues, finishing a few book projects, and contributing to the vibrant intellectual enterprise within A&S.”

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