Be Not Afraid: The Head is In Charge, Not HR and the Attorneys

Vol. 11 No. 8



There was a fascinating—and deeply disturbing—case in the national media this month involving the termination of a college coach for verbally and physically degrading his players. Many of the reports about the case indicated that certain administrators wanted to terminate the coach when the incidents first came to light, but they were advised by HR and legal counsel that they “didn’t have enough evidence” to do so. While we have no special insight into the veracity of the facts reported (other than having seen the related video, which seems to render the “not enough evidence” claim quite incredible), we wanted to use this example as a means of examining a key leadership issue in private-independent schools today: How much power should the school’s attorney (and HR adviser) have?

Yes, We Still Believe in Corrective Action Processes

Please be assured, ISM fully supports the use of corrective action (aka “progressive discipline”) policies in almost all performance and behavior issues (e.g., Warning 1, Warning 2, Warning 3) prior to terminating or non-renewing an employee’s contract. However, we always include an essential caveat in this advice. That is, the policy should always include a statement to the effect of, “The school reserves the right, in the absolute judgment of the Head, to alter the corrective action process used on the basis of the facts and circumstances involved, in the best interests of the school.” Said differently, this means:

  • We always want to act prudently—not jumping to conclusions.
  • We always want to act fairly—giving the employee every opportunity to change his/her behavior or improve his/her performance.
  • BUT … when push comes to shove and the health, safety, or well-being of our students, parents, teachers, and other community members are at risk, we’re going to do what’s right and what is necessary—and we’ll sort out the paperwork niceties afterwards.

It was this last part that the administrators involved in the college coach’s case may have disregarded. It is one thing to taking wise risk-management counsel into account; it is another to forget that “to serve and protect” is the administrator’s primary role, bar none. Once it was discovered that the coach was degrading players, the lawyers (and HR people) needed to sit down and the Head (or the university equivalent) needed to step forward and take the necessary actions to protect the students and the school.

A very wise, long-time School Head we know is wont to give very valuable advice on this matter. “Surround yourself with the best lawyers, and accountants, (and HR people),” he says. “But … don’t let them run the school.” Wise advice, indeed.

Additional ISM resources of interest
Archived Webinar Corrective Action: Improve Performance and Protect Your School
ISM Monthly Update for Human Resources Vol. 11 No. 7 Ask Michael

Additional ISM resources of interest for Gold Consortium members
I&P Vol. 33 No. 3 Predictability, Support, and Protection: Establishing a Corrective Action Policy
I&P Vol. 37 No. 1 Systematically Attracting, Developing, Rewarding, and Retaining Faculty: A Mission-Based Model for 21st Century Schools
I&P Vol. 35 No. 4 Terminating At-Will or Under Contract: Fairness and Due Process Are What Count
I&P Vol. 37 No. 2 Aegis Academy Faculty Evaluation Sample

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