Update 2/26/13: This morning, Inside Higher Education (a national trade publication) featured Gene’s story — more evidence that an angry groundswell cannot be silenced. In the interest of transparency, I cooperated with the reporter — something I hope every faculty member in a School of Journalism would do.
The story, titled Succeed and Lose Your Job, is damaging to Kent State, but it provides an important lesson about listening to one’s stakeholders. We teach these sorts of case studies all the time in our classes. Now we’re one of them. More on that in a future post.
Once in a while you meet someone who flat-out gets it. And if you’re lucky enough to work with that person, you can’t help but soak up some of his genius.
For the past 30 months, I’ve been fortunate to feed on the intellect of Eugene Sasso – the architect and the “vision guy” behind Kent State’s Online PR Master’s program. I’ve come to admire Gene for his brilliance and for the measurable results he produces for our university.
We’ve also become good friends.
In his short time at Kent State, Gene has met every objective set for him. His bottom line: a program with 260+ students, $6 million in revenue, and a student retention rate of 90%+. It’s a track record that, in the “real world,” earns you a huge bonus.
But, alas, I post this “Ode to Gene Sasso” on the occasion of his dismissal. The Kent State administration has opted not to renew Gene’s contract for 2013-14.
Academic politics and academic decisions have mystified me for 21 years now. Those who ordered Gene’s dismissal aren’t telling us why, nor are they telling Gene why. That’s how it works in our little ivory tower.
But I don’t write today to generate angst or to point fingers. What’s done is done. This post is to celebrate the most productive 30-month performance I’ve seen in my 38-year career, and to salute the person responsible.
Gene came to Kent State to guide the start-up of what’s become the most successful graduate program launch in school history. He exceeded goals in every category – recruiting, enrollment, tuition revenue, and student retention.
Gene created the vision for the program and summed it up in 3 little words: Support Student Success. Working with Dr. Bob Batchelor, Gene built the complex machinery that helped us fulfill the vision. Sure, we helped him do it. No leader gets there alone. But everyone associated with the program knows who led us to the Promised Land in record time. Moses could learn a thing or two from Gene Sasso
Excellence in Teaching
Given his administrative load, teaching is only about 25% of Gene’s work. And he’s exceptionally good at it. With the start-up work behind him, he was looking forward to expanding his role in our classrooms, online and on campus. Gene particularly loves working with our large contingent of Chinese students, who have come to revere him as adviser, mentor and father figure.
Through all of this, Gene never took his eye off the prize: supporting student success. Yeah, he stepped on a few toes to maintain the integrity of the program, But we all did. Pushing back is what responsible managers do.
We’re all proud of what we achieved here, and our school is a better place as a result of Gene’s work and dedication.
Quality trumps quantity
Gene’s greatest attribute remains a steadfast refusal to sacrifice quality for quantity. And that requires a willingness to challenge authority. As an accomplished marketer, Gene understands that when you cheapen the brand you almost always kill it.
Our program won’t be as good without Gene Sasso, and my own work won’t be as rewarding or inspired. But Gene is well positioned to help another college or university light up the Internet with quality online education.
Because he flat-out gets it.
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Disclosure: I’ve known about the decision to fire Gene for a little over 2 weeks but have postponed this writing in the hope we might arrive at a sensible compromise to keep him here. Since my diplomatic efforts have failed, it is appropriate that this salute be published.