The Garden City Community College Board of Trustees met a request of the Faculty Senate at their meeting Tuesday, ensuring no retaliation would come against any college employees for their involvement in an ongoing investigation at the college.
The motion followed the meeting’s Faculty Senate Report, during which Senate President Phil Hoke opened with a statement of appreciation for the board.
“You folks all represent several different walks of life. You’ve dedicated yourselves to professional services, which requires a lot. And then on top of that, you’ve taken the additional responsibility to serve as trustees to this college. That means a lot. The faculty holds much in common with you,” Hoke said.
Hoke referenced a statement GCCC attorney Randy Grisell previously made in an email to lawyers representing several faculty members. In the statement, Grisell spoke on behalf of the board, promising no GCCC faculty or staff member would face retaliation from the college for participating in an investigation by Kansas City lawyer Greg Goheen. Grisell said he had not spoken to board members about the assurance, but was certain they would agree.
The board retained Goheen for an investigation into allegations made in an extensive report the Faculty Senate presented to the trustees at their May meeting, detailing faculty members’ accounts of an alleged toxic work environment at GCCC. The report accused GCCC President Herbert Swender of bullying, intimidation, sexual harassment and retaliation against employees and called for his termination.
Hoke said he appreciated Grisell’s statement, but said if the board officially acknowledged it, it would encourage more faculty members to come forward.
After Hoke finished his report, Trustees Chairman Steve Martinez asked Grisell if they could ratify Grisell’s statement Tuesday night. Trustee Merilyn Douglass made a motion for the board to officially stand behind the statement, which passed unanimously.
Hoke said he did not expect trustees to pass the motion Tuesday, but said their cooperation was a huge step forward.
“I was elated with the response from the board … Tonight was a good night,” he said.
During the senate report, Hoke also discussed what the faculty and Faculty Senate had focused on at its June meetings, including a letter that Hoke presented to the board. Hoke said he had attempted to send the letter to the “trustees” group set up on GCCC employee email, but when he opened the group, it only listed GCCC President Herbert Swender and Executive Assistant to the President Debbie Atkinson as recipients. Instead, he handed the letters out in person during his report.
The letter asks the board for a line of communication between faculty and trustees beyond the board’s meetings in order to benefit both parties. It said the faculty was committed to the college and the HLC accreditation process that would ensure its doors stay open, but felt like faculty members currently were not being heard by trustees. It asked for more flexible and frequent communication with the board, granted in a manner that would not violate the Kansas Open Meetings Act.
“We feel that by having more information and hearing different viewpoints, the board will be able to make informed decisions on the critical issues confronting the college,” the letter stated.
Hoke said after the meeting that he thought the board could elect one member as a liaison between the trustees and faculty or schedule open retreats with faculty members to open a more comprehensive dialogue. Registering GCCC emails for trustees or receiving employee-wide emails would also be a step in the right direction, he said.
Martinez and Trustee Leonard Hitz said they were open to considering more options for communication with the faculty, and Trustees Jeff Crist and Terri Worf said board members had always been accessible. Douglass said she will read Hoke’s letter and move forward from there, but appreciated Hoke’s more amicable tone.
Following a 20-minute closed session at the top of the meeting, community members Kent Williams and Dick Fankhauser addressed the board during the public comment portion.
Williams, speaking as a local resident and parent, expressed doubt that the board would effectively address future ethical concerns with Swender or future presidents. Before the trustees approved Grisell’s statement, Williams asked that they do so, and also asked that they offer the community more transparency and place Swender on paid administrative during the investigation “to allow due process to be upheld.”
Fankhauser offered his support for Swender and the board, saying the negative criticism of both would “do nothing good for the college.”
More than 40 GCCC staff, faculty and community members attended the meeting, including Justin Smith, director of the Kansas National Education Association Southwest UniServ. Smith said the KNEA stood by GCCC faculty and what they stood for, particularly transparency, free speech and faculty rights. He said he came to provide faculty with assistance, guidance and legal services going forward.
In other business:
• Vice President of Instruction and Student Services Ryan Ruda updated the board on the college’s HLC report, saying program reviews had recently wrapped up and that the college’s federal compliance report will be completed ahead of schedule within the next couple weeks. He said his team is addressing systematic processes of GCCC’s academic and non-academic programs to ensure they are performing as intended.
• Martinez said the board was in the process of scheduling meetings with public and private institutions to offer childcare options for employees.
• The board approved the 2018-2019 budget for publication. The proposed general fund mill levy was kept at 19.983 and the capital outlay fund mill levy at 1.009, no increase from last year. The public hearing for the budget will be Aug. 14.
Contact Amber Friend at firstname.lastname@example.org.