College president’s leadership questioned
In a controversial and divisive move, the Academic Senate of Lake Tahoe Community College has charged President Guy Lease as incompetent in leadership in an attempt to invoke change at the small campus.
The resolution stated Lease has “demonstrated a significant lack of skills in the internal leadership of the district, fostering a climate of distrust and suspicion” as well as inflicting “damage to specific academic programs and academic services as a result of decisions made without proper consultation with the Academic Senate.”
A letter, dated June 20 and signed by Academic Senate President Scott Lukas, notified Fritz Wenck, president of the college’s board of trustees, of the resolution.
The resolution was authored by math teacher Bruce Armbrust.
The letter’s first paragraph noted a majority of the college’s instructors passed the resolution earlier this month with 23 in favor and 12 opposed. There were two who abstained from the vote.
Lukas said the resolution did not call for Lease’s removal and was not malicious in any way. Lukas would not divulge how he voted, only saying he voted opposite of his first intention.
“I will say everyone is identifying there is a problem at the college and we need to address the problem, and we need to address the problem collectively, not as individuals,” Lukas said.
Lease described it as an “internal family squabble.” Already a summer retreat has been scheduled to provide an opportunity for administration and staff leaders to talk and hammer out differences.
“I don’t see anybody out there trying to make it not work,” Lease said. “I see people who might not agree with the outcomes (of decisions).”
At a Tuesday night board meeting, almost an hour was spent discussing the resolution. While Kenneth Rollston was absent, the remaining four trustees, and others, threw their support behind Lease.
Some were angry at the timing of the resolution since most faculty members are away for summer. Another sentiment was the strategy of the resolution to get the board’s attention. Director of Fiscal Services Judy Breza hoped it wouldn’t prompt Lease to leave the college.
Breza acknowledged no-confidence resolutions have ruined careers.
Political science instructor Steve Adams, who voted for the resolution, said he was “appalled” no other faculty members appeared at the meeting and was upset about the lack of planning about what happens after the resolution. He repeated several times he did not agree with everything stated in the resolution.
Adams said dissatisfaction has been brewing for years. Salary increases, or the lack thereof, is one area of displeasure, he said.
“Again it’s important to understand these are long-term issues. It’s nothing new,” Adams said.
Other gripes include micro-managing at the top level, cutbacks at the cafeteria and the process of possibly dismissing a physics instructor because of budget cuts.
Earlier this year the board had a rare 3-2 vote in intending to give a layoff notice to physics teacher Brendan O’Neill, thus eliminating the program, due to budget cuts prompted by declining enrollment. The controversial decision was made with the caveat of investigating the matter more thoroughly before making it official.
But O’Neill found another job and resigned. His position will likely be filled by adjunct faculty thus ensuring physics’ survival for at least another year, according to Christina Proctor, the college’s spokeswoman.
“The physics program was never officially cut,” she said. “It had not gone through all the steps that would have been required to actually cut the program.”
While the process roused displeasure from physics students and instructors in the science and math fields, Lukas would not attribute that as the catalyst for the resolution.
“If you ask nine faculty members they might give you seven or eight different reasons,” he said.
Gayle Bradshaw, who on July 1 will become president of the classified employees union, said she was unable to speak for the employees since no formal meeting was held before Tuesday night. But a casual “brown bag lunch” meeting was held last week and the consensus was not aligned with the Academic Senate.
“People were quite upset that this was done by the faculty,” she said.
“To say he’s incompetent is unfathomable to me,” Bradshaw added.
In order to ensure all members of the Academic Senate could participate on the resolution, an e-mail vote was taken. The strategy went against the Brown Act, California’s open meeting law, since the vote was not conducted in public.
Lease said he was requested by a board trustee to contact the college’s counsel on whether the vote was legitimate. Lease believes the vote isn’t invalid.
“It expresses a definite sediment on campus, but at this point doesn’t enjoy the prestige, or whatever you call of it, of an Academic Senate resolution,” Lease said.
Lukas noted the results of how instructors voted are available to the public and, if need be, another vote on the resolution will be taken at the senate’s next meeting on Sept. 15.
“It could go either way,” Lukas said. “People could change their votes.”
The idea of the resolution was ongoing during the school year and modified several times, Lukas said. Notices of the resolution’s formation were posted in areas such as the student commons, Lukas said in relaying it was not done in secret.
An attempt to obtain how faculty voted from Academic Senate secretary Treva Thomas was not successful. Armbrust, the author of the resolution, could not be reached for comment.
The authenticity of the e-mail vote is not the issue, Lease conceded.
Trustee Roberta Mason offered she would attend Academic Senate meetings to open one line of dialogue.
“If they want communication they’re going to get communication,” she said.
Mason was disappointed faculty didn’t take advantage of board meetings to voice their displeasure. Lukas, who referenced the outcry on the physics topic, said “other avenues had been exhausted.”
Lukas, attending a human rights seminar in New York, admitted he didn’t think the resolution would pass, and if it did, it would be by a close margin. An action plan to resolve grievances weren’t included in his letter, or the resolution, because it might limit solutions, he said.
“I don’t feel that the individual who crafted the resolution really intended we would have to hold the board to some strict guidelines,” Lukas said.
Wenck, the trustee president, had perhaps the harshest words against the Academic Senate. He criticized the character assassination against “one of the finest (college) presidents in the state” and shared his first reaction was retaliation.
“I want the faculty to know my esteem of them is almost zero,” Wenck said.
Wenck directed the administration to devise strategies to either open or restructure communication lines.
Lease, only the second president of the college which opened in 1975, said it’s time to “heal some of the hurt.”
“There are certainly opportunities here to address problems,” he said.
– E-mail William Ferchland at firstname.lastname@example.org.