SANTA FE, N.M. — A letter from members of the English faculty at Santa Fe Community College raising concerns about their workloads has resulted in formal reprimands for the teachers.
The school’s Faculty Senate representative has said that, as a result, the SFCC campus is in a state of “crisis” and that members of the school’s staff are afraid to speak out.
The reprimands came after a letter from the teachers explaining why they chose not to attend a strategic planning meeting.
The letter from teachers in the English, Speech and Reading Department faculty – sent to department Dean Bernadette Jacobs and SFCC Vice President Margaret Peters – resulted in written reprimands that called their action “blatant insubordination,” citing portions of the faculty contract that states failure to comply with policies constitute good cause for termination.
The written reprimands were placed in the personnel file of nine faculty members. No individual names were on the letter about workloads, although the letters said it was from the “non-chair members” of the English department.
The letter from the faculty, obtained by the Journal through a public records request, starts by saying members of the English department have expressed “deep concerns regarding workload issues” to administration for two years and have received only directives to “manage our own workloads.”
“Thus, because we have received little support from the administration in managing our workloads, the department has decided as a group to mitigate this issue ourselves,” the letter reads.
The group then wrote that they would be skipping an Aug. 18 School of Liberal Arts strategic planning meeting. “We have chosen to, instead, devote our time and energy to projects that directly impact our department,” the teachers wrote.
The group went on to say they would continue to manage their own workloads as other campus-wide projects arise and communicate with administration about “potential abstentions from participation.”
“Should administration want our department’s participation in such projects, we respectfully ask that our workload concerns be formally addressed,” the letter ends.
Letter called ‘unprofessional’
The Aug. 23 reprimand from department dean Jacobs, obtained by the Journal after the college refused to release it as a public record because it contained “matters of opinion in personnel files,” called the faculty members’ letter “distressing.”
“Your refusal to participate in the August 18 meeting demonstrates blatant insubordination and an unprofessional and discourteous expression of your discontent with your current workload,” it read.
“You are expected to attend faculty and staff meetings as required under your contract. Any faculty who are unable to fulfill their contractual obligations, including participation in strategic planning and other important meetings, will be subject to continued progressive discipline up to and including termination … .”
In an interview Thursday, SFCC President Randy Grissom said there have been administration meetings with the English, Speech and Reading faculty more than once in recent weeks and that progress was being made.
“So we’ve continued that dialogue,” he said. “As a college, we’re always sensitive to issues of concern that may be coming up, whether they are coming from faculty or staff, and we try to address those the best way we can through our shared governance process and other processes we try to get input and feedback.”
Grissom said the Aug. 18 meeting that sparked the dispute was an “Academic Quality Improvement Program” (AQIP) strategic planning meeting that was mandatory for the School of Liberal Arts faculty.
He explained that AQIP is part of the college’s accreditation process, and the requirement to attend the meetings is addressed in policy and employee contracts. “That’s the way we stay working together as an institution, that’s the way we plan our way forward, and it’s also a requirement of our accrediting body, which is the Higher Learning Commission,” he said.
Grissom said he met with the Faculty Senate Workload Subcommittee in April and is considering proposals the faculty made then. While most were too late in the year to implement for the current fiscal year, they were being considered for next year. One request from the English, Speech and Reading faculty to reduce class sizes from 24 to 22 was met this year, he said.
But Grissom stood by the decision to reprimand the employees.
“We have expectations of all employees – it’s either in their job description, their contract and/or policy – and the expectation is they have to fulfill those and, if they don’t, we have to address those.”
Fear and confusion
Faculty Senate representative Xubi Wilson told the SFCC board at its Sept. 28 meeting – as shown on a video of the board’s proceedings – that the response from administration has caused alarm among faculty members campus-wide. He said it has generated fear and confusion over what is appropriate communication and that faculty members feel their ability to communicate effectively has been “hobbled.”
“Morale is not good and I’m concerned that this will be an ongoing problem that will disrupt communication for this semester, and possibly throughout the whole year,” he told the board.
Wilson said he’s talked to about 60 faculty members and all of them seem to feel the letters of reprimand was an over-reaction, and call into question what processes and protections exist for faculty members who have a beef.
The video shows that SFCC board member Pablo Sedillo said he has trouble believing that low morale was as widespread as Wilson described. He also expressed support for the administration’s response. “There are two sides to every story,” he said. “If some members of the faculty or staff member choose not to cooperate, that’s really a disservice to the students and to this institution.”
Wilson told the board, whose members are elected by voters in a community college district matching that of the Santa Fe public schools, that faculty members are reluctant to speak publicly about the matter for fear of retribution.
“Frankly, a lot of people are not here because they are afraid,” he said at the September meeting. “They are not sure … if you can be punished for communication, they don’t know which communication is alright or when they might be written up. It really makes people anxious about speaking.”
Wilson urged the board to address the issue quickly. He said he’s been doing his best to calm fears, but it would be best if administration opened up a dialogue with the entire faculty and look for a solution.
“Damage has been done, but there are opportunities to go back to square one, open up a dialogue and talk about what really is appropriate or inappropriate,” Wilson said. “And, frankly, we don’t think that communication should be met with punishment – ever.”
Wilson also suggested that the letters of reprimand be removed from the employees’ files so all matters could be discussed openly and they wouldn’t have to “dance around” the issue of the reprimands being a confidential personnel matter.
While board member Sedillo said he supported efforts to “reconcile” the matter, he also seemed to suggest that, if disgruntled faculty members didn’t like their work climate, they could leave. “If I felt that there would be retribution for what I say, I would go look for another job,” he said.
Sedillo also said “it would be wrong” for Grissom to have the letters of reprimand removed from the employees’ files.
Board President Kathy Keith took more of a conciliatory tone. “One of the things I heard you say is that there are places in the policy that are very vague, that make employees nervous because they are not well defined, and I think this gives us a great opportunity,” she said. “I think that we’ve established a good shared government process that we can bring those policies up, that we can look at those policies and rewrite them so that, moving forward, we learn from this.”
In an interview Wednesday, Keith said employees still have to live up to the existing polices. “This is not a communication issue, this is not about someone being sent a letter, this is an issue about conduct,” she said. “What happened was we had a group of employees that decided not to come to a mandatory meeting. I think there’s a consequence for that.”
Keith said the role of the SFCC board is to hire a president and establish policies. “We expect the president and senior management to work with faculty and staff on issues like this. But we also expect all employees to fulfill their job responsibilities,” she said.
Wilson, the faculty representative, did not return multiple phone calls and emails requesting an interview. Two SFCC faculty members contacted for this story also declined comment.