Letter Sent to Higher Learning Commission

Now that HLC has received the complaint, it has 30 days to respond. We will let you know more as we get information. This letter served to introduce a packet of information that all faculty members received via email.

June 16, 2014

Dear Higher Learning Commission:

We are reaching out to you to investigate the alignment of our institution (Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan) with our stated mission, our board-specified policies and procedures, and the accreditation requirements of the Higher Learning Commission. It is our position, as faculty leaders at Washtenaw Community College (WCC), that we are currently operating outside of these parameters in a number of areas and have reached a crisis point due to the lack of administrative leadership. Our desired outcome is to hold the WCC Board of Trustees accountable to address our problems and ensure that the college is under capable leadership.

We have three major areas of concern:

Loss of Institutional Leadership and Knowledge. WCC has experienced a significant and continually worsening loss of institutional leadership and knowledge during the course of President Bellanca’s tenure at the College. The issues and concerns include the following:

• Lack of a Permanent Vice President of Instruction. The College has been operating for the last fourteen months without a permanent Vice President of Instruction (VPI), the previous VPI having been dismissed in the middle of the last academic year with no explanation. This year the College’s president rescheduled the search for a permanent replacement to a future date and, as a result, we will be operating for at least another year with an interim VPI.

• Loss of 80% of Academic Deans and Replacement with Interim Deans. During the course of this academic year, four of the five academic deans have resigned, retired, or have been removed and have been replaced with interim deans. One of these interim deans has neither experience as a dean nor any expertise in the highly technical fields he will be supervising, and there appears to be no plan to replace the Dean of Distance Learning. The sole remaining dean with any experience will be in their second year as an interim dean, having taken the place of the person who is the current Interim VPI.

• Significant Turnover in Administrative Leadership. The College is also experiencing a generalized crisis of leadership that has grown only more severe with time. Many administrators and support staff have been demoted, involuntarily transferred, forced to retire or resign, or been fired during President Bellanca’s time at the College. In particular, the departure of several key personnel from the administration has caused a severe loss of institutional knowledge that is crippling the effectiveness of the college.

 

Absence of Joint Governance. The Higher Learning Commission places a high value on joint governance. That value is explicitly supported by WCC Board Policy 5085 “Staff Collaboration and Governance.” Since President Bellanca’s arrival, there has been minimal joint governance or collaboration at WCC, a concern raised repeatedly by faculty leadership with no improvement occurring. The issues and concerns include the following:

• Lack of Academic Input and Support for Department of Labor Grant. The College administration sought, and was approved for, a $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor without the support of the academic deans and the faculty involved and without incorporating their feedback.

• Expansion of Administrative Leadership and Corresponding Increase in Unilateral Administrative Decision-Making. In the last three years, WCC has also gone from two Executive Vice Presidents to eight, with double-digit pay raises in the last three years for these administrators. This administrative growth has occurred as collaborative governance has faltered, with more and more decisions being made solely by administration while ignoring faculty input (if such input is even sought). As just one example, the WCC Board Policy regarding student conduct was revised recently without any faculty input. Faculty leadership had specifically requested that there be a process by which faculty could become involved, and that request was ignored.

• Construction of a Center for Advanced Manufacturing. President Bellanca recently announced that the College was going to undertake the construction of a $12.5 million Center for Advanced Manufacturing. Not only was this the first time that any faculty members had heard about the initiative, but in the announcement she told the faculty to “get on board or get out of the way,” a clear threat to the faculty and a statement fundamentally at odds with the principles of joint governance.

• Deficits and Failures in Top-Down Communication. The budget for the next academic year offers an excellent example of how communication is absent or deficient. As of this writing, the College is two weeks from the start of a new fiscal year, and the new budget is yet to be released. No one at lower levels of the College knows what their operating budget will be two weeks from now. Important decisions and initiatives are frequently communicated as announcements to the campus, with no input from direct stakeholders. The result is that the College is unsettled, unaware, and uniformed.

• Unwillingness or Inability of the WCC Board of Trustees to Enforce Policies. When the faculty brought concerns about joint governance to the attention of the College’s Board of Trustees and asked that it take steps to ensure the enforcement of its own policy, one of the Board members remarked that the College cannot be expected “to dot all of the I’s and to cross all of the T’s.” Another Board member has stated, “Our job is to support the president and what she does.” It is apparent from these statements and the lack of Board action that the Board of Trustees is unwilling and/or unable to enforce its own policies.

 

Dismantling of Academic Structure and Processes. There has been a systematic dismantling of the academic structure on our campus, our academic chain of command has been compromised, and increasingly non-academic Vice Presidents are moving forward with credit courses, credit programs, and agreements involving outside parties.

• Sidelining of Academic Leadership and Faculty Leadership in Academic Matters. Faculty members, department chairs, deans, and in some cases, the Vice President of Instruction, have not been respected, consulted, or empowered regarding academic matters. Our academic chain of command has been isolated, ignored, and shifted into a perpetual interim status, which puts us in a holding pattern and disempowers the faculty. In such an environment it is perhaps not surprising that faculty members are being told what courses and programs they must develop or change, how they must develop them, and under what conditions they must develop them with little to no input from the faculty affected.

• Non-academic Vice Presidents Creating and Managing Credit-based Courses and Programs. Non-academic administrators have been creating, running, scheduling, and supervising credit-based courses and programs with little to no consultation from the academic chain of command. This is a significant change from three years ago to now.

• Non-academic Vice Presidents Entering into Agreements Involving WCC Academic Resources without Academic Consultation. An example of sidestepping established academic procedures is an agreement signed in April 2013 by the College’s administration in which the College committed WCC’s Foreign Languages department to creating Spanish and sign language courses for the Ypsilanti Community Schools district. The sole purpose of these courses was to fulfill high school credit, not college credit. The agreement was discovered through faculty investigation (no one was ever formally informed) in late fall of 2013, over seven months after the signing. The Foreign Languages chair was called to a meeting this spring where she was told by a non-academic Vice President to create these courses. It was presented as a fait accompli, with no reference to the signed agreement (making matters worse, this agreement also violated WCC Board Policy and had serious legal and ethical problems).

• Initiating Academic Assessments/Evaluations without Notifying Faculty or Staff. The College recently brought in a private consultant to evaluate its Distance Learning processes. Neither the Distance Learning staff nor the faculty received any notification that the evaluation was happening until the day before it occurred. What was being evaluated and the findings have yet to be disclosed.

We feel that the examples provided, as well as additional examples not documented here, reflect violations of:

• The Higher Learning Commission’s Assumed Practices Criteria (Number: CRRT.B.10.020) B.2.c.a., which states: “Faculty participate substantially in (the) oversight of the curriculum—its development and implementation, academic substance, currency, and relevance for internal and external constituencies.”
• The Higher Learning Commission’s Core Component 2.C.4, which states: “The governing board delegates day-to-day management of the institution to the administration and expects the faculty to oversee academic matters.”

• The Higher Learning Commission’s Core Component 5.A.2, which states: “The institution’s resource allocation process ensures that its educational purposes are not adversely affected by elective resource allocations to other areas or disbursement of revenue to a superordinate entity.”

• The Higher Learning Commission’s Core Component 5.A.4, which states: “The institution’s staff in all areas are appropriately qualified and trained.”

• The Higher Learning Commission’s Core Component 5.B.1, which states: “The institution has and employs policies and procedures to engage its internal constituencies—including its governing board, administration, faculty, staff, and students—in the institution’s governance.”

• The Higher Learning Commission’s Core Component 5.B.2, which states: “The governing board is knowledgeable about the institution; it provides oversight for the institution’s financial and academic policies and practices and meets its legal and fiduciary responsibilities.”

• The Higher Learning Commission’s Core Component 5.B.3, which states: “The institution enables the involvement of its administration, faculty, staff, and students in setting academic requirements, policy, and processes through effective structures for contribution and collaborative effort.”

The faculty has repeatedly reached out to the Board of Trustees, both publicly and privately, with our concerns. In February 2013, the department chairs and the faculty union board held a retreat to begin to address the issues we were facing. The retreat culminated in a summary report of the areas that we felt violated the college’s policies and/or needed immediate attention. The faculty shared this report with the administration and with the Board of Trustees. The department chairs and the faculty union board held a second retreat in February 2014, noting that conditions at the college had not improved (see Documents 2 and 3 in the Appendix).

To date, the Board of Trustees has demonstrated little interest in investigating the faculty’s concerns. Their public replies, both at Board meetings and in the press, can be described as disdainful and disrespectful. After repeated attempts by dozens of faculty to convince the board to investigate our concerns, four of the Board members suggested that it might be a good idea if an outside entity looked at the situation at the College; three of them specifically stated that it would be a good idea if HLC were to come to campus. This very small change in some Board members’ attitude appears to have been provoked by a Vote of No Confidence in President Bellanca conducted by the faculty on May 1, 2014. With 83% of the full-time faculty participating, the vote was 158 to 22 in favor of the vote of no confidence.

We are a College in crisis and therefore seek your intervention. We thank you in advance for taking our complaint seriously. We will cooperate in any way possible for the betterment of Washtenaw Community College.

 

Randy Wm. La Hote
Professional Faculty
Chair, Social Sciences Department
Anne Heise
Professional Faculty
Co-Chair, Life Sciences Department

Carrie Krantz
Professional Faculty
Chair, English Department

Kristine Willimann
Professional Faculty
Co-Chair, Digital Media Arts Department

Jason Withrow
Professional Faculty
Co-Chair, Digital Media Arts Department
WCCEA Occ. Ed. Area Representative

Marvin Boluyt
Professional Faculty
Co-Chair, Life Sciences Department

Kathy Butcher
Professional Faculty
Chair, Physical Sciences Department
WCCEA Treasurer

Michelle Garey
Professional Faculty
Chair, Foreign Language Department
Chair, Assessment Committee
WCCEA General Education Representative

Kelley Gottschang
Professional Faculty
Digital Media Arts Department
Chair, Curriculum Committee

Maryam Barrie
Professional Faculty
English Department
WCCEA President

Breege Concannon
Professional Faculty
Physical Sciences Department
WCCEA 2nd Vice President

David Fitzpatrick
Professional Faculty
Social Sciences Department
WCCEA Chief Negotiator

Julie Kissel
Professional Faculty
English Department
WCCEA General Education Representative

David Wooten
Professional Faculty
Biology Department
WCCEA General Education Representative

Stephanie Gelderloos
Adjunct Faculty
English Department
WCCEA General Education Representative

Mike King
Professional Faculty
Mathematics Department
WCCEA Representative Assembly Delegate

Tom Zimmerman
Professional Faculty
English Department
WCCEA Secretary

Robert Hatcher
Professional Faculty
Mathematics Department
WCCEA General Education Representative

Michael Duff
Professional Faculty
Automotive Services Department
WCCEA 1st Vice President

Allen Day
Professional Faculty
Automotive Services Department
WCCEA Occ. Ed. Representative

Justin Carter
Professional Faculty
Automotive Services Department
WCCEA Representative Assembly Delegate

Jennifer Baker
Professional Faculty
Digital Media Arts Department

Bonnie Arnett
Professional Faculty
Reading Department

Bradley Hoth
Divisional Advisor
Advanced Manufacturing and Public Service Careers
WCCEA Professional Service Representative

 

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One Response to Letter Sent to Higher Learning Commission

  1. Pingback: Washtenaw Community College faculty union reaches out for help, puts college’s accreditation on the line « The Washtenaw Voice

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