Dear Members of the Board:
On October 9th, the day after the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) concluded their accreditation visit, the president of Laramie County Community College (LCCC) stunned the campus by announcing the removal of the vice president for academic affairs from office. More shocking was the simultaneous announcement of the replacement and the duration of the “temporary” assignment. The director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching (CET) is to replace the ousted VP, for an appointment that could last up to June 30th, 2021. This is almost a two-year interim appointment! The president’s email has thrusted the college into turmoil. The ousting of the VP is an unacceptable scapegoating solution to a systemic degradation of checks and balances at the college that the president and a handful of his proteges are responsible for.
Given her lack of appropriate experience as dean and a lack of educational credentials appropriate for the VP position—especially at an institution that will soon be offering four-year degrees—the director of the CET is hardly the best fit for the interim position. More importantly, her appointment to VP is an antagonistic move toward the faculty. Before becoming the director of the CET, she was a faculty representative on College Council. Those who have been at the college long enough recall that she cast the deciding vote against the faculty’s overwhelming position, in a matter of grave consequence for the college. Up for vote was a new employment procedure that divided the employees (including the faculty) into a two-tier system: Legacy employees and new employees. The new faculty were to work at the pleasure of the administration for an extended period and could be fired for no cause, up to their fourth year at the college. The procedure narrowly passed in College Council, the Center for Excellence in Teaching was created, and she eventually became its director (in addition to being nominated/appointed by the president to all kinds of other bodies). Outside vetted procedure, and without transparent involvement of the faculty at large or even oversight by Faculty Senate, the CET has been informally in charge of “certifying” new faculty over a period of four years, regardless of their previous experience. The fortunes of new faculty were at the whim of the upper administration, and the CET was at the center of deciding those fortunes, with no oversight from appropriate bodies. As a result, the CET’s track record has been one of high turnover among new faculty.
The ranks of legacy faculty have not been immune from upheaval. Over the past few years, the college has lost many of its experienced employees. Many experienced instructors have been driven out through sudden program closure, with complete disregard for the established program evaluation process. This turnover among the experienced faculty severely hinders the role of the faculty of maintaining continuity in curricular matters and upholding the quality of the curriculum. And as if the lack of reasonable employment protections is not enough, a new employee evaluation system was hurriedly put together, at the direction of the president. The system includes new performance evaluation criteria, which effectively redefines the contractual obligations of the employees and hence requires modification of procedure through the proper shared governance channels. But that is not what happened. Instead, despite all the concerns that were expressed by a vast majority of employees (especially regarding a new and troublesome behavioral component), the new system has been adopted outside of policy and procedure. Starting this fall, all employees are evaluated according to the new criteria, some of which could easily land the college in legal murky waters.
The president’s announcement of the sudden removal of the current VP and his replacement with the director of the CET for an extended interim period is not a unique incident. It is an episode in a string of appointments and fake searches that together have led to the peculiar makeup of the current administration. First, there is no racial diversity in the ranks of the upper administration anymore. Second, the deans are not appointed for their qualifications in the areas they supervise; some deans are not even qualified to teach in the schools they lead. Third, all current deans worked at the college prior to becoming deans, which provides no space for an outside perspective. The president has been consistently hiring temporary administrators, even when there is ample time to carry out a proper search. The president’s brazen attitude in this matter has progressed from one-year appointments that were renewed to now two- and even three-year appointments without a competitive search. The temporary appointments are often converted to permanent status through fake searches. The process works like this: Favored employees are appointed to positions for which they are not the best qualified, then—having gained “experience” which they did not have—continue in their new roles if their loyalty to the president proves to be unshaken. Sometimes internal searches are conducted. The selection committees are too small, carefully handpicked, and often the relevant stakeholders are not represented. For example, some selection committees for dean positions did not have any faculty on them. Since temporary administrators have been used as hatchet people, the morale at the college is low and the fear is palpable.
Promoting local talent might be a good thing, however this is only sound if the selection process is open to all, merit-based, fair, and involves the relevant stakeholders for the position at hand. Unfortunately, the president has been using a system of rewards and punishments based on loyalty rather than merit, a system that favored a few proteges and repeatedly marginalized others who wanted to expand their experience into other domains of service at the college. Speaking up about workplace issues lands one on the president’s blacklist, which means that their hopes for promotion or even continuation of work at the college are highly jeopardized.
Before their visit, the HLC found the college’s report to be lacking in some critical areas. One central issue was a lack of clarity of how the faculty are in charge of the curriculum. In her presentations across campus, the director of the CET has downplayed the importance of this issue. The issue was presented as a lack of elaboration in the submitted report. However, the issue is deeper than that. Unfortunately, the faculty at LCCC are not in charge of the curriculum in the way other institutions of higher education and the HLC expect the faculty to be in charge of the curriculum. In the last few years, the college has undergone a systemic degradation of the role of the faculty in curricular matters. Now, the major components of the curriculum are dictated by a non-representative small group of handpicked employees (some not even faculty), and the faculty’s role is reduced to adding details. This is what happened for example in the Guided Pathways project. Before faculty were summoned to provide the details, the pathways were predetermined. And even when the faculty argued for more natural divisions of the pathways, there was no flexibility in the matter. Before faculty got together to work on the project, the pathways were rigidly prescribed beyond the essential requirements set in the Pathways Model Description document of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), which could be found on their website.
Another troubling trait of this odd version of the Guided Pathways pushed by the administration is the simultaneous cancellation of programs with good career prospects for the students. This is antithetical to the overarching goal of the AACC’s Pathways model: “[The] attainment of high-quality postsecondary credentials and careers with value in the labor market.” Bypassing the program review structure in place, the faculty are simply informed that the program must be terminated or placed on hiatus. The direct effect of this hatcheting of programs has been the purge of experienced and outspoken faculty. There is also major concern that channeling most of the students into general degree programs will hinder their progress toward specialized degrees, which are still highly prized in the labor market. Without the specialized programs, the pathways at LCCC will not prepare the students for completion of a specialized bachelor’s degree, thus limiting their career opportunities. The director of the CET has been instrumental in pushing this unduly restrictive and counterproductive version of the Guided Pathways on the faculty.
What is more, the president plays a peculiar role in the curriculum at LCCC. When committees or the faculty at large meet to discuss curricular matters, one often hears the following question: “What does the president want?” Sometimes conversations are postponed until someone finds out what the president wants. Then the president’s word is final.
The president’s circumvention of established policy and procedure places the college at risk of losing its accreditation or being placed on probation. The president’s engagement in unfair treatment of employees places the college at risk of costly legal battles and a loss of good reputation. Just imagine the outcome of placing the college under scrutiny by a national team of education lawyers or by a federal agency, if current and former employees file discrimination complaints.
We love LCCC and we’d like to see it thrive, not as a place ruled by fear and one person’s whims and dictates, but as a place where policy and procedure are the product of an inclusive, well-reasoned discourse, where the curriculum—from its broad outlines to its minute details—is truly in the hands of the faculty, and where opportunity is open to all, not only the president’s apostles, who get direct access to all the progression opportunities at the college and the professional development funds. We hope the board of trustees seriously considers the concerns raised in this open letter. We hope the board of trustees stops the bleeding of the college of its established programs and experienced faculty. We also hope the board of trustees will provide independent oversight and restore the faith of the college in the board’s role of providing checks and balances to the president.
The Save LCCC Initiative