Following a closed meeting Tuesday morning between the Garden City Community College Board of Trustees and a team representing the Higher Learning Commission, part of the team’s three-day on-site visit to evaluate GCCC’s accreditation status, trustees and HLC representatives responded warmly.
“People work very hard, it’s clear. And that’s important,” Eric Martin, HLC vice president and staff liaison accompanying the team, said of the college’s stakeholders.
In June 2017, the HLC changed GCCC’s accreditation status to “accredited — on probation,” kicking off a two-year evaluation process, which is scheduled to end in June 2019, that will determine the college’s status moving forward.
The college has since worked to meet the commission’s standards and submitted an assurance filing of data-driven evidence proving such. The most recent step — the on-site visit from a six-person team of members of two-year higher learning institutions outside of Kansas — is taking place this week through Wednesday.
Over three days, the team has or will meet with trustees, faculty members, administrators and students to assess the college’s progress since 2016 and make a recommendation to the HLC regarding the college's accreditation, Martin said.
Site team members declined to comment on the visit or the processes.
Martin, who is not part of the team, said he does not usually attend on-site visits, but came this time in light of the circumstances surrounding GCCC the past few months.
The college has been a focal point of controversy this year, including administrative shake-ups, such as the terminated contract of former GCCC President Herbert Swender following accusations from faculty members of a toxic work environment, athletic sanctions that cost the GCCC volleyball team its 2017 wins, 2018 postseason and some scholarships and sexual harassment accusations against former GCCC cheer coach Brice Knapp.
The site visit and following evaluation was the central argument of a report the Faculty Senate presented to the Board of Trustees earlier this year, arguing that Swender was instilling a hostile culture and neglecting duties and processes that could result in the college being stripped of its accreditation.
“Given the sensitivities around this, I wanted to be here,” Martin said. “My role is really twofold at this point: supporting this team but also supporting this institution, since I’m the assigned liaison for it … I want to see success moving forward through this visit and make sure everybody has good, solid interactions and this team can complete its work.”
GCCC Trustee Jeff Crist said the team’s chair said site team members were pleased with the progress the college has made and impressed by the campus’ facilities. He said the team briefly asked about a timeline of the college’s ongoing presidential search.
“In terms of what I’m hearing from that site team council and the questions that they asked and the responses that we gave, I’d have to say it was very professional, very productive. I come away with it feeling like we have done our due diligence above and beyond,” Crist said.
Trustee Terri Worf and Merilyn Douglass echoed Crist’s sentiments, saying the session was professional and spawned good discussion about many topics, with Worf adding that the team members were perceptive. Trustee Leonard Hitz agreed, calling the meeting very productive.
Moving forward, Crist said he didn’t have reservations about the upcoming process.
“It’s kind of like the referee. The first thing that you need to know and the only thing that you need to know when you’re playing the game is the referee is always right. So, they are always right,” Crist said of the site team. “They’re the referees in this.”
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