Faculty vote stirs tensons at TVCC

By Scotta Callister
The Enterprise

ONTARIO – Simmering frustrations roiled to the surface last week at Treasure Valley Community College as the faculty announced a vote of no confidence in the college’s board.

In a statement at the board’s June 21 meeting, the faculty cited concerns about business transactions between board members and the college, disputes between board members that go unresolved and play out “in an unprofessional manner,” and an atmosphere in which “the state of the college is largely ignored by the board” in deference to presenting a positive image.

“It is time for the College to begin rebuilding its integrity by honestly and openly addressing the very real problems which it is encountering, by not protecting individuals or perceptions but rather making decisions based on what’s best for this institution, all of its personnel, the students, and the community it serves,” the statement said.

It was the third no-confidence vote by the Treasure Valley Education Association, the faculty union, in less than three years.

Administration and board officials linked the faculty move to coming contract negotiations.

In an email statement to the Enterprise, TVCC president Dana Young noted the current contract expires in June 2017, and contract talks are expected to begin at the end of 2016.

“I don’t disagree there are areas we can all improve in, but communication with our faculty, especially as they prepare for new contract negotiations, often makes these conversations and the relationship between the board and the union more complex,” Young said.

Young, who has been TVCC president since 2010, also said she’s committed to “working collaboratively” with the faculty.

Mark Wettstein, board chair, suggested the vote is a strategy used by the union.

“They do this every time contract negotiations come up,” he said.

In an interview, faculty association president Christina Trunnell rejected any link to contract talks. She said vote came after about a year of discussions and was not a comfortable decision.

In fact, she said, the discussion went longer than expected because some faculty members worried it would hurt, not help, them in negotiations. Some also worried they would face retaliation.

The vote passed by a three-fourths majority, although Trunnell declined to specify the tally.

Wettstein was displeased with the surprise presentation, saying he wants to see the board restructure how it conducts meetings as a result.

“It didn’t reflect a spirit of cooperation,” he said.

He also was unhappy with the faculty’s criticism at the president.

The faculty charged that board members are asked to make decisions based on biased information from Young and her administration.

The statement questioned how leadership could be trusted when “all decisions by this board are made not by consulting the stakeholders but rather by obtaining information strictly through formally requesting said information from the president.”

Wettstein countered that the board has had vigorous discussions and is “very well informed.”

He lauded Young for assembling a strong administrative team.

“We’re happy with her, and think she is doing a very good job,” he said.

The faculty statement invited the board to meet and talk with them, saying there are “some very big issues here that you aren’t hearing about.”

Trunnell said enrollment, which has declined over the past five years, is a huge concern for the college and the community. She said the losses have the faculty fearing not just for their jobs, but for the future of the college.

Wettstein said enrollment has dropped as it does at most community colleges when unemployment rebounds after a recession.

Young said the board has two new members, suggesting an opportunity for improved relations.

“I am optimistic that some of the concerns can be easily resolved and that the new board members will give us all a chance at forging some new relationships – on the board and with our faculty,” she said.

Young said members of the board have expressed a willingness to discuss some issues with the faculty.

“When we sit down together, I truly believe we have more in common with each other than differences,” she said.

The association contends such communication has been lacking long-term.

Trunnell said there was little response to the faculty statement at the meeting. One board member thanked them for speaking, she said, but Wettstein seemed angry, indicating the board would be “united against us.”

“We have not had a conversation with the board for many years,” she said. “I hope they will respond, but there’s been nothing yet.”

This week Wettstein said he will be talking with board members about a possible meeting with faculty members. As chair, he added, “I can say we are interested in sitting down and talking with them about the issues.”

Wettstein, who noted he had asked two board members to resign over differences in the past year, said he feels the board will emerge from this situation more unified than ever before.