At the request of several lawyers representing concerned Garden City Community College faculty and community members, GCCC Attorney Randy Grisell released a statement last week on behalf of the college and its Board of Trustees that says no participant in the current investigation of claims made against college president Herbert Swender would face retaliation from GCCC for their involvement.
At the board’s May 8 meeting, the GCCC Faculty Senate submitted to the trustees a 28-page report filled with faculty accounts that accused GCCC President Herbert Swender of bullying, intimidation, retaliation and sexual harassment against college employees.
After reviewing the report, the board elected to seek out a third-party investigator to look into the claims made in the report. On June 4, trustees selected Kansas City attorney Greg Goheen to carry out the investigation.
An alleged culture of administrative retaliation at the college has made faculty members fear speaking out publicly about frustrations at the college, with some choosing to do so anonymously in the Faculty Senate report.
Attorneys Jean Lamfers, Robert Lewis and David Eron have been representing and advocating for faculty and community members who have spoken out against the college administration over the past several months. Lamfers said it was due to this fear that she and her colleagues asked Grisell for an assurance that no retaliation would befall their clients, or anyone else, for participating in Goheen’s investigation.
Grisell emailed the statement to Lamfers, Lewis and Eron, Swender, Wichita attorney Christopher McElgunn and all GCCC trustees on June 28. Lamfers provided a copy of the statement to The Telegram.
The statement, Grisell wrote, was an assurance that “no one participating in the investigation related to the Faculty Report of May 8, 2018, will be subject to any retaliation as a result of his or her cooperation and participation.” As a representative of the college and the Board of Trustees, Grisell said that neither the board nor GCCC administrators would take any “retaliatory employment action” against GCCC employees for participating in the investigation.
Grisell defined participation as speaking to or providing evidence or information to Goheen.
“I believe there may be sufficient state and federal laws to protect each of your clients against retaliation. However, if this assurance will advance the investigation and provide a level of confidence to participants, then it can be relied upon by you and your clients,” Grisell wrote in the email.
He said he had not spoken to the board, but was confident all members would support his statements.
Faculty Senate President Phil Hoke said he was reassured by the statement, but was concerned that the board had not officially signed off on the statement. He said he believed if the board affirmed the assurance at its meeting on Tuesday it would go a long way for faculty who want to come forward.
“I honestly don’t know how to respond to it. On the face of it, I think it’s a good faith effort, but it just depends on what actions are taken by the board during the Tuesday meeting,” Hoke said.
Social science instructor Leonard Rodebur said that he had heard several colleagues talking about the statement with largely positive responses. Personally, he said, he felt more cynical about the assurance, and that it would have meant more to him if the board put Swender on paid leave at the beginning of the investigation or made an effort to meet and speak personally with concerned faculty members. To him, making such a statement at this point felt late.
Reading instructor Holly Chandler said in a text message that she had not seen the statement, but a stance against retaliation from the trustees “would go a long way to encourage all college employees to rest easier.”
Trustees Terri Worf, Jeff Crist and Leonard Hitz said they stood by Grisell’s statements, though Crist and Hitz said the board had not had an opportunity to meet and discuss how they would ensure the assurance was carried out. There was currently no plan to address the assurance in an official capacity at next week’s meeting, Crist and Hitz said.
“I’m for the people that are working out there,” Hitz said. “I want them defended. You shouldn’t have to go to work every day stressed that you’ll lose your job and your family security because you might say something wrong.”
Grisell and Trustees Steve Martinez and Merilyn Douglass did not return calls seeking comment. Trustee Blake Wasinger could not be reached for comment.
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