On Chicago, Hillel and the JDC

The bitter controversy in Chicago involving University of Chicago Hillel may be off the front page, but isn’t going away. We’re told the Jewish Federation simply does not care – they continue to have the support of local donors and apparently this is where their interest lies. But what the good folks over at the Federation are missing is the concern expressed by many a national organization that partners with Federation on local programs – if it happened with Hillel it could happen with them. And, this is not such a good reputation to have.

Over at JDC, life is also interesting these days. Friday’s unexpected announcement that Steven Schwager, the organization’s Executive Vice President and CEO, retirement has raised more questions than answers. Schwager, who led many to believe he would stick around until 2014, is mum – even privately – other than to indicate his health is ok.

The board, which had concluded a regularly scheduled meeting just days before, was kept in the dark. In fact, Penny Blumenstein’s (JDC’s president) letter to the members went out just 16 minutes prior to the official press release – leaving more than one board member unaware when contacted by the media.

The rumors are flying fast and furious – and many point directly to the countries of the former Soviet Union where more bad news is expected to surface. Though one board member, aware of some of the ongoing problems, indicated this would not be enough to cause Schwager’s abrupt retirement. This individual is putting his/her money on conflict between Schwager and senior lay leaders.

At this point, two things are clear: JDC’s well-oiled and well-disciplined media messaging of control – which, as a result, says nothing – is somewhat responsible for the rumor mill flourishing. Madoff (and Komen) should be a lesson to all – especially in today’s 24/7 news cycle – that silence really is deadly. The ironic thing is, JDC actually understands this.

Second, based on what we (including their own board) know, JDC has famously failed governance 101. JDC – like many organizations of all sizes – apparently did not have a succession plan in place. If they did, at the least, we would have already seen an announcement of an interim CEO.

update 11:50 EDT: The JDC has this morning named Darrell Friedman interim CEO of the organization effective July 1, 2012. For the last nine years, Friedman has served as in-house senior consultant to JDC’s CEO. JDC has indicated they will shortly appoint a CEO Search Committee of JDC Board members with Friedman serving as its professional advisor.