Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Teacher mutiny at Edison State College?

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Is there a faculty mutiny taking place at Edison State College?

A new memo obtained by Fox 4 shows that might be the case and it's prompting an immediate reaction from the administration.

For seven days, Fox 4 has requested interviews with the college's president Dr. Kenneth Walker and the school's spokesperson Catherine Bergerson. For a week we've been told they were too busy to answer your questions face-to-face.

Now it seems, the school's faculty is fed up.

In a two-page stinging rebuke of the college's top officials, the faculty wrote up a statement calling recent pay hikes a "grave concern."

A top concern: How Vice President of Operations Dr. James Browder could get a $100,000 raise after just two months on the job.

"We were not informed of this directly," the faculty wrote. "And there was no semblance of a normal attempt to include faculty in the decision."

In fact, one board member told us he wasn't notified either after the college quietly moved Browder into a higher paying job, one held by then Executive Vice President Dr. Noreen Thomas, who was given a secret $300,000 buy out to leave and told to keep quiet.

"The situation reflects poorly on the college," the faculty wrote. "Since it gives the impression that Dr. Browder was...silently given the powers and salary commensurate with a position for which he has no credentials and little experience."

But the critique doesn't stop there.

In this rising revolt, faculty are also going after the school's president, Dr. Kenneth Walker, saying he's being paid a lot more than we thought - they quote $860,000 plus a yearly bonus.

"Dr. Walker, who prides himself upon 'Servant Leadership' has a total compensation package that exceeds that of most presidents of major universities," the faculty wrote. "Where is the fiscal oversight?"

Other concerns: That a large number of diplomas were given out to students who didn't meet graduation requirements.

And allegations the college isn't hiring enough minorities.

Fox 4 wanted to ask professors about this letter and their concerns but was told they are not allowed to talk to the media. We were told all questions have to be referred to the very school spokesperson who won't do an on camera interview.

But that could all change Thursday. The faculty will be meeting one-on-one with Dr. Walker and we will be there.

Read the full letter below:

District Statement of Faculty Concern

We, the District Faculty of Edison State College, have crafted this statement to express our grave concern with recent developments and revelations about our fine institution. The following is a list of concerns, both in terms of substance and impact on the image of the college, which we would like to have addressed at a district wide video-conference meeting between the District President of the College and the Faculty Senate on Monday, March 28th at 4 PM in Room S-117 on Lee Campus.

1)      With all due respect to his professional achievements Dr. James Browder was hired at the college in September of 2010 to be the Vice President of Operations. At the same time we experienced the sudden departure of then Executive Vice President Dr. Noreen Thomas without an adequate explanation. Then the President of Lee Campus, Dr. James Martin, who was hired over the course of a year-long process, also left suddenly after only a semester on the job. Again, this took place suddenly and without adequate explanation. Most recently, we have witnessed the sudden departure of the Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Steve Atkins. Dr. Atkins was the leader of our on-going SACS re-accreditation initiative and the campus visit is this year. Furthermore, his letter of resignation clearly stated that he felt he could no longer work with current upper administration and do his job effectively. The attrition in the Administration is most troubling by itself, but it is made worse by all that is on the line for us as an institution this year. In addition, many of us have since discovered in the news that Dr. Browder has been assigned control of many other vital areas of the college beyond Operations. We were not informed of this directly, and there was no semblance of a normal attempt to include faculty in the decision. Crucially this expansion of power includes Student Services, Academics, and Accreditation. Despite his long-professional record, it is not clear what there is in it that would justify his becoming the Executive Vice President and, more specifically, the de facto chief Academic officer of a higher education institution. At the very least, the situation reflects poorly on the college since it gives the impression that Dr. Browder was originally appointed to a post for which he was arguably qualified, and then silently given the powers and salary commensurate with a position for which he has no credentials and little experience after three other top administrators mysteriously and suddenly departed. Both the pattern and the current situation are major concerns.

2)      The above considerations are exacerbated by the fact that a large number of graduates were granted degrees even though it was known that they did not qualify for graduation this past fall and in prior semesters. While the direct decisions were made at the level of the Associate Dean and a number of individuals throughout the institution are aware of the situation, Dr. Browder must have approved the most recent round of inappropriate substitutions of general education and program core classes that led to the faulty graduations in light of his expanded position. The integrity of our Edison State College degrees is of vital importance to our mission. The correct course of action that should be considered is a self-reporting of these violations and a plan for remediation and correction of the problem.

3)      In addition to the above concerns, recent public revelations indicate that our current long-serving District President, Dr. Kenneth Walker, has an annual total compensation package of at least $860,000 with yearly bonuses of 25% of that. Preliminary analysis of the total compensation in his contract suggests he may actually be the most highly paid college President in the nation. For comparison, the President of Miami-Dade, an institution with six or seven times the number of students we have, makes hundreds of thousands of dollars less. In fact, Dr. Walker who prides himself upon "Servant Leadership" has a total compensation package that exceeds that of most Presidents of major universities, including FSU, UF, Auburn, Berkeley, and many others. In fact, so far our research has not found a higher total compensation package anywhere in public education. In the context of recent state budget cuts to higher education and our current standing near the bottom of advisor to student ratios, low pay for staff assistants, and so on, this pay seems incommensurate with the financial picture that has been painted for us by upper Administration. This impression is made worse by recent revelations about the salary increase received by Dr. Browder, even though such increases may be claimed as justified by the above referenced increase in his duties. His total compensation as Executive Vice President is more than many college Presidents nationally. Another approach to the issue can be seen in the Edison budget documents from 2007-2008, the top five individuals at the college accounted for over $2,000,000 in compensations as of three years ago. Yet, in the 2010-2011 budget documents, no actual salaries for these posts are listed at all, and it would appear that formal requests by the press are required for us to see the full extent of the current situation. There is a concern that any numbers we discover through this process may again seem grossly out of line with the idea that we are all sharing the pain of doing more with less at Edison. It is important to note that the District Board of Trustees has oversight on such matters and it leads one to ask some difficult questions, "Where is the fiscal oversight?" and "How do Board Members explain and justify such total compensation packages when so many areas of the college that directly impact students are in need?"

4)      Over the last several years members of the faculty have worked very hard to put into place the bold visions of our District President. Many of us have worked longer hours, taught more students, and taken on expanded roles in terms of college service. While we are, on the whole, positive about our receipt of a raise in the recent academic year, we feel it is a just reward for this work. More specifically, we have worked hard to ensure that our on-going SACS re-accreditation process be as successful as possible by instituting a rigorous self-evaluation portfolio process, adding new avenues of Professional Development opportunities, and helping to coordinate assessment at the levels of our courses, programs, and divisions. Yet, with the departure of Dr. Atkins there is a serious concern that our SACS visit may result in the discovery of key institutional deficiencies. While we do not hope for this, we do want there to be a proper accounting for the sources of any deficiencies that emerge with the recognition that faculty have done their part.

5)      Lastly, there remain a number of other issues that threaten to sully what has been until recently a terrific and growing reputation for Edison State College. Here we will deal specifically with recent allegations of unfair hiring practices in combinations with very low minority representation in the Administration. We take diversity very seriously as a goal at our institution and have recently sought to expand protections. Yet, we have heard nothing about the nature of a thorough investigation from our own Human Resources Department into these allegations.

It is our position that these issues should be specifically addressed in a frank and open manner by the leader of Edison State College so that the faculty may feel confident in the direction of our institution. With all due respect for a long tradition of progress at Edison, this statement made on behalf of the District Faculty Senate constitutes a request that a satisfactory accounting of these specifics be forthcoming at the above mentioned meeting.

CREDIT: Fox 4 Exposes Teacher Mutiny at Edison State College?


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