On Tuesday night, about two hours after the Garden City Community College Faculty Senate presented the school's Board of Trustees with a report calling for the termination of college president Herbert Swender, GCCC welding instructor Kurt Wenzel claimed the report did not speak for all faculty.
The report was presented to the board by the Faculty Senate as part of its monthly report. It detailed a variety of faculty complaints, largely directed at Swender and the hostile work environment some faculty members say he’s created for employees at the college, including alleged incidents of bullying, intimidation, sexual harassment and threatened termination of those who spoke against him.
Should Swender stay, the report claims, not only would these actions persist, but they also could threaten the college’s accreditation when the Higher Learning Commission takes them into consideration later this year.
After the meeting, Wenzel sent an email to all GCCC faculty and staff saying the welding department’s faculty, which consists of Wenzel, Devin Wackerla and Norman Wyatt, did not agree with the senate’s report and that Wenzel “frankly (found) it appalling that all faculty were not made aware of this subversion.”
Wenzel told The Telegram in an email that he was not aware of the report until after the senate presented it at the meeting and that he would have opposed it earlier had he been aware. Wackerla and Wyatt also told The Telegram in emails that they had never heard about the report until after Tuesday's meeting.
In his email, Wenzel said the welding department had done well during Swender’s tenure and that the president has consistently supported them.
“I have full confidence in Dr. Swender,” Wenzel wrote in an email. “As of right now I cannot say the same for the Senate that is supposed to represent me.”
The feelings weren’t limited to the welding department. Animal science instructor Clint Alexander did not hear about the report until he read Wenzel’s email, and fire science instructor Larry Pander said he first learned about it Wednesday morning online. Both said they were never asked in any way to speak about their experiences for the report.
While they said all workspaces spawn disagreements or problems, both said they did not consider GCCC to be a hostile work environment.
Wenzel, Pander and Alexander said other colleagues in the faculty felt the same way. Pander said he did not know of anyone in the college’s technical building that had heard about the report before the meeting.
“When the people that presented for the faculty said that they spoke for all faculty, that was misleading because a lot of us were extremely blindsighted by the report,” Alexander said.
After Tuesday's meeting, Faculty Senate President Sheena Hernandez said that while the report does not represent the experiences of all faculty members, it does represent a lot of them.
Later, in light of Wenzel’s email, she and Faculty Senate Vice President Philip Hoke, who presented the report to the board, said they had done the best they could to make faculty members aware of their intentions. Hernandez said that because of the culture of fear created by Swender, the senate had to be careful about the way they shared information.
Hoke said senate representatives first asked faculty members to share their experiences during a well-attended faculty union meeting, though he said the call to action was general.
The senate ultimately decided to use an executive session at its April meeting to let faculty members share their experiences working at GCCC, positive and negative, Hoke said. The meeting was an information gathering session, he said, and senate members didn’t decide to create the report until after the executive session, when they realized the severity of the college’s situation.
Hernandez said the senate sent out an email to all faculty reminding them of the date and location of the meeting, but not any details regarding what would take place. She and Hoke said they did not want to broadcast the purpose of the meeting’s executive session in a faculty-wide email because they were afraid it would lead to retaliation from Swender or his administration should they come across it.
Instead, Hernandez said, she worked with Faculty Senate members and other faculty to spread word of the meeting and its purpose to all departments. She said the intention was always to reach as many faculty members as possible.
“I’m sorry if they feel like they were left out. I’m sorry that we didn’t spread the word far enough, I guess. We got to who we could as we could in the time constraints that we could. And we did the best that we could. I think that’s all anybody can do,” Hernandez said.
Social science instructor Tammy Hutcheson worked with the senate to coordinate the meeting. Because senate members had used the union meeting as a platform to say they were open and ready to listen to faculty members facing difficult situations, she believed all faculty members present at that meeting were offered an invitation to share experiences that would ultimately make up the report. She said she agrees with the report and that it does speak for her.
The meeting was held April 25 at Hutcheson’s house, the location of an end-of-year faculty party that took place after the meeting. Hernandez said there were about 20 people at the meeting, about four of whom were senate members. She said she heard of other faculty members who didn’t come because they feared retaliation.
The Faculty Senate continued to accept faculty members’ testimonies after the April 25 meeting, and met again as a body on May 4. At that meeting, Hoke and Hernandez said, the six senate members present unanimously voted to bring faculty members’ accounts to the Board of Trustees. Hernandez said she met with the seventh senate member after the meeting and that member agreed with the group’s decision.
Hernandez and Hoke both said several faculty members saw the completed report before it was presented at the Board of Trustees meeting, but neither knew exactly how many. They said all senate members were aware of the information in the report, but not all saw a finished copy before the trustees meeting. Hoke said the senate did not tell the entire faculty about the completed report, but not because they wanted to keep anything secret.
“In an ideal world, yes, we would do that,” Hoke said. “This isn’t an ideal world. We didn’t have time to get everything out for everybody to read. Logistically, that just wasn’t something we could have done.”
Hoke said he understands why some of his colleagues are upset and is sorry for that, but added he is not sorry for speaking out on behalf of faculty members who he says are hurting.
“We tried,” he said. “We honestly tried to get as many folks as possible involved in this. And at the end of the day, we could only go with the voices we heard.”
On Thursday, Board of Trustees Chairman Steve Martinez told The Telegram the board was waiting to meet with GCCC attorney Randy Grisell before moving forward, but wanted to address the report as soon as possible.
"The allegations are still under review and we are getting advisement from counsel ... on how to proceed and what necessary steps need to take place now,” Martinez said.
Swender had no comment on Tuesday after the Faculty Senate's presentation, and did not return a call seeking comment Thursday. GCCC Director of Marketing and Public Relations Kristi Tempel referred questions to Grisell, who did not return a call seeking comment on Thursday.
Also Thursday, Hernandez sent an email to all GCCC faculty. She said it was the senate’s mission to advocate for faculty members, and while she recognizes different employees have different experiences, she asserted that the accounts in the report are true. She said senate members never said they spoke for all GCCC faculty when presenting the report.
In the email, she also said the report should not be considered a faculty vote of no confidence because that would require 100 percent faculty participation.
As it stands, the document is a compilation of faculty concerns the senate could verify in the time allotted, with names redacted to protect those involved from retaliation from Swender, Hernandez told faculty in the email.
The Faculty Senate’s last meeting of the semester will be at 2:30 p.m. Friday in the Pauline Joyce Fine Arts auditorium at GCCC. They will continue to hold meetings during the summer.
Contact Amber Friend at email@example.com.