The Garden City Community College Board of Trustees has named one of its vice presidents, Ryan Ruda, acting president amidst a search for an interim replacement after former GCCC President Herbert Swender was removed from the position Monday.
Ruda, vice president of instruction and student services, will fill the role, said Trustees Chairman Steve Martinez. Ruda said he will assume the day to day operations of the college for the sake of continuity as the board finds an interim president.
Glendon Forgey, GCCC CFO and vice president of business affairs, said he, Ruda, and Emily Clouse, vice president of administrative services, are performing Swender’s former duties during the process.
Martinez said the board was still weighing options regarding the search for an interim president, deciding whether they wanted to promote a GCCC employee, ask the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees to provide a list of candidates or pursue other avenues. The board has no set timeline, he said, though trustees want to find an interim president as quickly as possible.
“We’re just still kind of in the thought process on how we want to approach this. We want to make sure we make a good decision … That’s our first order of business, and then we can move on with the process of hiring a president. We've got to get this short-term deal going first, that way we can get to the bigger picture,” Martinez said, adding that as of Wednesday, the board did not have any candidates yet.
Swender was removed from his role as president in a mutual agreement between him, the college and the board, effective Monday. The agreement demoted Swender to a consulting position at the college with his normal salary and benefits through the end of the year, granted him a lump sum payout of $278,600 to be paid by January 2019 and dictated that neither Swender nor the board could pursue litigation against each other pertaining to Swender's time at the college.
Trustee Leonard Hitz said Monday that Swender’s consulting position would be on an “as-requested basis” and was likely included to justify Swender’s continued paycheck in 2018. The agreement said the college would not provide Swender with an office on campus or elsewhere.
The mutual agreement meant Swender was not fired and did not resign, and the parties involved determined the settlement payment through compromise. The lump sum payment is a one-year value of Swender’s salary and benefits, including approximately $21,000 in health insurance, $1,600 in life insurance and $12,000 in accrued vacation days, among many other benefits. GCCC attorney Randy Grisell said the original amount was closer to $284,000, but the board negotiated for a lower payment.
Settling on the agreement, which leaves Swender with a larger lump sum than if he were fired for cause but does not grant him the family health and dental insurance through the end of 2023 that he could have received had he voluntarily resigned, was done with Swender’s three-year contract in mind, Grisell said.
Grisell said if the college had terminated Swender for cause and the former president sued the college for wrongful termination, he could have been entitled to the value of his salary and benefits over three years, or potentially over $830,000.
Grisell said the board and Swender decided the terms of his exit mutually, and trustees never reached a point where they had to discuss possible causes for termination. Grisell said the initial agreement was drafted by Swender’s attorney, Christopher McElgunn.
The former president’s departure will not affect an ongoing investigation by Kansas City attorney Greg Goheen into a report the GCCC Faculty Senate submitted to the board in May, which raised concerns about several departments, partnerships and employees at the college, including Swender. Grisell said Goheen will still complete the investigation and prepare a final report for the board.
“That faculty report of May 8 was about more than just Dr. Swender. There may be findings about Dr. Swender that can’t be acted on at this time because Dr. Swender’s no longer there, but there’s some other issues that may need to be looked at,” Grisell said.
Should Goheen’s report find any evidence of misconduct by Swender, the agreement bars the board from pursuing any legal action against him.
“The ultimate remedy that the board might have had if there was adverse finding against Dr. Swender would have been termination of his contract, and that has taken place. The board … is not going to pursue any claim for damages against Dr. Swender,” Grisell said.
Goheen did not respond to an email requesting comment.
Forgey, who oversees the college’s Information Technology department, said, to his knowledge, Swender’s removal would not affect an investigation into the college’s IT department, nor the suspension of its three employees, Andy Gough, Andrew Knoll and David Larsen. The college opened an independent investigation with the help of IT services provider ConvergeOne on July 20, after a GCCC employee reported discovering a breach of several employee email accounts, to include irregular monitoring of emails. Gough, Knoll and Larsen have been suspended ever since.
All three employees said no one from the college had contacted them in the aftermath of Swender’s removal on Monday.
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