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Faculty unrest simmers at Green River College (courtesy of the Kent Reporter)

As a new school year begins at Green River College, faculty members have not buried their old frustrations with the college’s administration.

More than 50 faculty members attended the Sept. 17 Board of Trustees meeting. Among the attendees was former auto body technology instructor Mark Millbauer, who recently accepted a buyout from the college to end his employment after college officials in July, citing low enrollment and a budget shortfall, cut the auto body program.

Millbauer, who served as president of United Faculty, the faculty union, addressed the board before he turned the floor over to the new union president, Jaeney Hoene.

“Today when I came to realize I was going to have this opportunity (to address the board) tonight, I thought about what does one say to their employer upon being dismissed,” said Millbauer, who worked at the college for 22 years... “As I thought about that, I realized it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter what I say. And therein lies the problem with Green River Community College. I think the signs on the wall back there (expressing faculty’s frustration) are just a teeny bit of the evidence of the atmosphere of … malaise, low morale, distress and unrest. And it has been going on for about five years.

“You as a board always have, and you do have, the power to change that. You and only you. You have not done that at this point. ... You have a lot of challenges to face, and if you rise up to those challenges, you can change the atmosphere of this college.”

Some faculty members held up black-and-white pictures of Millbauer as he spoke or at any mention of the new trades building, which would have housed the auto body program in addition to other trades programs.

Tension on campus has been high ever since late April when the college announced the potential elimination of auto body and three other programs. Parent-child education and carpentry were spared when faculty came forward with cost-saving measures. Geographic information systems was also cut owing to low enrollment, but instructor Sabah Jabbouri will remain at the college as he teaches out the program for students already enrolled.

Millbauer said he was appalled by the decision to cut the auto body program, just as the new trades building was slated to open.

“It was a gross waste of taxpayer dollars that went into designing the perfect auto body training facility and equipping it,” Millbauer said.

Four other trades programs use the facility, and college officials have said they will insert another trades program into the space that the auto body program was to have used.

Faculty claim that the cuts targeted Millbauer. Faculty and college representatives have been in contract negotiations for more than a year.

In May, faculty filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint with the Washington State Public Employees Relations Commission. The complaint was withdrawn Sept. 14 as part of the agreement reached in Millbauer’s buyout.

No specifics

Neither college officials nor Millbauer would disclose details of the buyout, citing a confidentiality agreement.

“We came to a very satisfactory agreement,” Millbauer said.

In her first report to the board as union president, Hoene expressed her frustration with the board.

“Your lack of seriousness, your lack of abdication, your lack of scrutiny has allowed this and other acts of egregious mismanagement to persist at this college, despite attempts by employee groups and students to alert you to the serious problems plaguing our institution,” Hoene told the board. “The president of the college answers only to you, who she refers to as ‘her board.’ You are the college’s Board of Trustees. You are entrusted with holding the president accountable where others cannot.”

Faculty presented the board with two votes of no confidence in college president Eileen Ely, one in 2013 and one earlier this year. The board has stated it stands behind Ely.

“I will not address you as trustees,” Hoene told the board. “If you ever had my trust, you have lost it. Like me, a majority of faculty here has lost faith in your willingness to meaningfully take on the serious business of this college, the foremost of which for you is the evaluation and oversight of the president.”

Hoene said the faculty decided to implement its own evaluation system for Ely, which will be conducted similarly to student evaluations of faculty.

“We consider this a critical service to our membership and to the college itself, which deserves an honest, fair and thorough assessment of its leadership,” Hoene said. “I regret we had to take this step, but we saw no other alternative until such a time as you undertake to fulfill your duties as a Board of Trustees.”

Hoene ended her report to the board by stressing that faculty will not step down on this issue.

“And to be clear, you may believe that in removing Mark you have silenced this faculty, but me let me clear that where Mark once stood, the rest of have risen,” she said as faculty members stood up behind her.

Faculty concerns about prioritization

Despite the recent cuts, college officials anticipate additional cuts in the next year, as enrollment declines and the state changes the funding allocation for colleges.

The college announced earlier this year that it would implement a new program prioritization process to identify areas where cuts can be made in three areas - instructional services, student services and institutional support on campus.

Leslie Kessler, Instructional Council chairwoman, shared faculty concerns with the new process during the board meeting.

“It seems to be an evaluation and ranking of programs with the end result being the elimination of programs and faulty and people in different departments rather than being a process where we look at how to improve programs and to use the resources we have to help those areas that maybe aren’t doing as well,” Kessler said.

Kessler said faculty members are concerned the proposed time frame for the evaluation process is too short.

“We have found evidence that supports our feeling that six months is just not adequate to do a thorough job,” she said. “Most colleges, the ones we have looked at, have spent at least a year, and some have spent two years to complete this process.”

Kessler said she and other faculty would like the college to take the time to do things correctly.

“Let’s use the expertise of the faculty, staff and administrators on campus and make it a collaborative, collegial process that brings people together rather than pitting one program against another, which is a big concern of the faculty. And that is what we see this as, that you are competing against each other to not be in the fifth quintile, which you know you are in trouble if you are in that one,” Kessler said.

Ely responded during the president’s report later in the meeting.

“When you look at his new program it will involve people, Ely said. “I hope that faculty realize because there are pillars and one of the pillars is instruction, we are looking at faculty being intricately involved in identifying how that criteria is measured. It’s not that we are pitting one program against another; it’s that we are looking at the programs and doing program assessment.”