The Garden City Community College Faculty Senate held its final meeting of the semester Friday afternoon, spending most of its time discussing the report the senate presented to the Board of Trustees on Tuesday.
The report catalogued a recent history of faculty concerns, mostly allegations of GCCC President Herbert Swender's bullying, intimidating, harassing and retaliating against faculty members. The report ultimately calls for the trustees to terminate Swender or resign their positions on the board.
Nearly 50 faculty, staff and community members attended the Friday meeting, including GCCC Trustee Blake Wasinger, GCCC payroll coordinator Dallas Crist and GCCC Endowment Association secretary Aaron Kucharik. Faculty Senate President Sheena Hernandez and Vice President Philip Hoke led the meeting, moving quickly through agenda formalities to make time for open discussion.
GCCC welding instructor Kurt Wenzel spoke first. He sent an email to all faculty and staff Tuesday night saying he and his fellow welding instructors didn’t agree with the decision to keep some faculty members in the dark about plans to present the report to the trustees.
Wenzel told those in attendance Friday that he felt the senate left some faculty members out of the report’s compilation and creation. He said he had read the full report several times but thought there were more accusations than hard evidence.
“I’m not saying they’re not true,” Wenzel said. “I, in fact, know there probably (are) some that are true. And everybody’s had a different experience. But, again, I am very hurt as a faculty member that I was not notified about this … My biggest problem with this is not that it was presented. I don’t have a problem with that. I have a problem with we didn’t know about it."
Vocal music director Clay Wright said he believed the report's allegations to be true, but that they should have been presented more thoroughly, with specificity and clearer details about when and where incidents took place.
When asked if they had ever had problems with Swender, Wenzel and welding instructor Devin Wackerla acknowledged they had had issues with the president in the past, but not to the extent described in the report.
On Tuesday, the senate mailed the report to the Higher Learning Commission, or HLC, and the Kansas Board of Regents. Since HLC will decide the future of the college's accreditation later this year, the senate wanted the group to be aware of some faculty members' impressions of the college's culture. When Wenzel asked why the senate had shared the report with the institutions before sharing it with faculty, social sciences instructor Tammy Hutcheson said she felt protected by presenting concerns to higher agencies.
After the meeting, fire science instructor Larry Pander, who has said he felt the senate should have let all faculty know about the report before the trustees meeting, said he didn’t think the senate had a good answer to his, Wackerla and Wenzel’s questions.
Hoke said the senate was purposely vague on some accounts to protect the identities of those involved, but said faculty members had witnessed certain behaviors or events. He asked those in attendance how many people had been present when Swender asked college employees to trade and search their colleagues' phones for a recording of the president sent to a news source, an incident detailed in the report. Many in attendance raised their hands.
Other faculty members asked the senate why they didn’t conduct a vote of no confidence, which Hernandez said requires all faculty participation. Hoke said such a measure is unfeasible because many of the college’s untenured staff would be scared they may lose their jobs if they spoke out, and that a similar vote at Dodge City Community College had been shot down by its board.
Several attendees on Friday shared their own experiences to support what was in the report.
Kucharik said that college administrators had tried to remove him from the Endowment Association’s board multiple times since he spoke out about sexual harassment allegations against former GCCC cheer coach Brice Knapp at the April trustees meeting.
GCCC academic and Student Government Association advisor Micah Koksal said she had faced issues with Swender and Athletic Director John Green. An employee of the college for 10 years, Koksal said she loved the college, but the past year or two had been miserable for her.
“I want to let you know that our students, our cheerleaders, are not the only people that have experienced sexual harassment and gone to John Green about it and been ignored,” Koksal said.
Koksal said she and her husband approached Green in October about a former employee with whom she experienced several troubling incidents.
While Koksal said Green was initially empathetic, she added that he then became skeptical that no one else had told him about the former employee’s behavior and ultimately ignored Koksal and her husband’s repeated attempts to follow up.
“That, to me, was the worst possible answer that I could have ever gotten,” Koksal said. “He immediately ignored all the things that I had gone through and... made it about him and made it about how there was some conspiracy theory against him, and I just didn’t appreciate that.”
Koksal also said she believed she was the target of retaliation and intimidation tactics from Swender, as described in the senate’s report. After Swender cancelled a speaker Koksal and the SGA had booked for a GCCC Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, she emailed him saying she was disappointed the original speaker had been cancelled and asked Swender how the SGA could do better when selecting speakers in the future.
Koksal said soon after she sent the email, she was called to then-Executive Vice President Dee Wigner’s office to meet with Wigner, Swender and Vice President of Instruction and Student Services Ryan Ruda. Koksal said Swender asked if she was trying to start a riot and if she cared about the college and told her he refused to take the blame for the original speaker being cancelled. Koksal said she isn't intimidated easily, but that it was “a rough meeting."
Swender, who has not commented publicly about the senate's report, did not returned calls on Friday seeking comment.
Multiple faculty members on Friday discussed issues with reaching GCCC trustees in the past, or being told by administrators not to speak to them. Wasinger said he couldn’t speak for the entire board, but said when he has been contacted by college employees and community members, he has been happy to answer questions. He said when he gets information, he sends it to Trustees Chairman Steve Martinez and all other board members.
“I do believe that anything that’s been sent to the board has been sent to all of us. That’s to my understanding,” Wasinger said.
In a discussion about the media presence at Tuesday's trustees meeting, specifically that of KWCH TV, Hoke repeatedly said no Faculty Senate members had contacted media about the report prior to the Tuesday meeting. That isn’t accurate; Hoke told The Telegram about the report on May 4 and provided the paper with a rough draft of the report on Monday.
After the meeting, Hoke acknowledged his mistake and said he meant to say that no one from the senate contacted any of the TV stations in advance of the trustees meeting. He said the senate would correct the statement at its next meeting.
“I misspoke. I own it. I’ll stand in front of it. That was a mistake. I didn’t mean to mislead,” Hoke said.
Faculty members, including Hutcheson, talked about why they believed the report was necessary, how it spoke to their experiences regarding Swender’s power over and behavior towards his employees.
Social science instructor Leonard Rodenbur asked Hoke and Hernandez what would come next. As Hoke had asserted both before and during the meeting, the focus was ultimately on securing HLC accreditation. Now that the senate had sent the report to the HLC, he said, faculty need to take charge of their concerns before the commission visits the campus in November.
Hoke said at this point, the ball is in the Board of Trustees’ court.
At the end of the meeting, Hoke said he was glad for the conversation and collaboration from all attendees.
“This is what I wanted to gain. I wanted you to take ownership of the Faculty Senate...” Hoke said. “This is the best damn meeting we’ve had all year. We don’t agree on every issue, but at least we’re talking.”
He said he always wanted the senate to be dedicated to transparency, and urged faculty members to continue to hold the senate accountable. Concerned that faculty members' complaints about the report meant they may want to rescind his position, Hoke asked if any attendees wanted to make a motion for his impeachment as next year’s Faculty Senate president, and the room was silent.
After the meeting, Faculty Senate member Elizabeth Wampler said when the senate had passed a unanimous vote at its May 4 meeting, it was to look deeper into the allegations presented to them. She said she had been unaware of the report until she saw it on The Telegram’s website after the meeting.
Later, Hernandez and Hoke said they couldn’t speak to other members’ interpretations, but that the unanimous May 4 vote was to bring the information they had heard to the Board of Trustees, potentially with supplemental documentation, and that all senate members had agreed on the call for Swender’s termination.
Hernandez said various senate members had discussed the report as it was being made over the weekend before the trustees meeting. They said not all senate members saw the report before the meeting because the compilation and writing process was fast paced and there was not enough time.
Contact Amber Friend at email@example.com.