Edison State College president says retirement may come earlier

Edison State College President Kenneth Walker

Edison State College President Kenneth Walker

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Facing constant criticism from faculty and students, and fearing it may be too late to repair those strained relations, Edison State College President Kenneth Walker has decided to “take the high road” and propose an earlier end to his 20-year career at the school.

Walker said Friday he has given thought to the controversy that in recent months has divided Edison, as well as the impact it’s had on students and his family. He said he is doing what he feels is best for students.

“I have served this school faithfully and with total dedication for 20 years,” he said in an announcement at the end of Friday’s board of trustees meeting. “The record of achievement speaks for itself, and I have deep feelings of gratitude for all my colleagues who have worked so diligently to expand opportunities for a college education to thousands of students.”

“As members of the board, administration, faculty and staff have changed over the years, one thing has remained constant: We always do what is best for our students.”

Without providing a timeline of when he might leave his position, Walker said he plans to propose changes to his succession plan — including an earlier retirement date — during the board of trustees’ next meeting on Nov. 22.

Under his current succession plan, Walker would serve as district president through June 30, 2013. His retirement plan would be submitted on or before June 30, 2012, and his contract — which includes a 12-month sabbatical leave — would end June 30, 2014.

Walker’s announcement came before a new board that includes four newly-appointed members, who were urged by faculty and students to take steps to repair problems at the school.

“We’re broken down, we’re exhausted and we’re demoralized,” Professor Marty Ambrose said during Friday’s meeting. “We’re looking for the leadership of the board members.”

Walker’s decision to expedite his retirement was seen as a step in the right direction by some board members, but “too little, too late” by student Alan Redfield. Others have said that the school needs his continued leadership, and that his departure will do nothing to help.

It follows months of controversy at Edison, with a course-swapping scandal, under qualified teachers in classrooms and miscommunication about the school’s unaccredited nursing program.

That controversy has only grown in recent weeks, with one vice president put on leave and two others fired, as well as the departures of two deans and two staff members overseeing the school’s reaccreditation process. Many students and faculty have put the blame on Walker.

In the spring, a majority of polled faculty members voted “no confidence” in him, and students have launched groups and websites decrying him.

They’ve shown up in scores at board meetings, during which they’ve stood up and demanded that he resign or be fired. The board twice considered motions to discuss his employment during their last meeting.

The unrest has been especially concerning because the school will be visited by a reaccreditation team on Monday.

All of this has taken a toll on Walker, who said the great majority of assertions against him are mistaken. Because they’ve been played out in the media and in public comments at board meetings, he said he hasn’t been given the chance to respond and the misinformation has been accepted as truth.

“I have found it impossible to get ahead of these types of things,” he said.

Walker said no one has taken the time to sit down with him to address the concerns. The criticism, he said, has impacted him and his family.

“It’s just a continuous barrage of criticism,” Walker said. “It can’t help but have an effect on you.”

Though many students and faculty members have been accusatory, several previous board members have stood by Walker and said he’s needed as the school goes through the reaccreditation process and beyond.

Former Trustee Mahlan Houghton said Friday the issue is more complicated than it may seem. He said Walker’s leadership is needed at the school, especially with a new board.

“It’d be very difficult to have him gone and all the sudden bring in someone else,” Houghton said. “We’ve got four new board members, an interim vice president of academics — there’s a lot of changes going on. For us to lose our leader at the top of the list is not a healthy thing to go on.”

But to Redfield, a student who is attending the school on the GI Bill and fears for the future of his education, Walker’s time at Edison can’t end soon enough.

“Termination is the only viable option that will show that the college is serious about wanting to fix things,” he said.

Trustee Pamela Seay — one of the four members appointed Wednesday by Gov. Rick Scott — said resignation is the right step.

“It’s a healthy step toward resolving some of the issues,” she said, while still acknowledging Walker’s long history of achievements with the college.

“You can’t take that away from him,” she said.

It’s that list of accomplishments — with milestones including the addition of thousands of students, new campuses, charter high schools, a foundation and baccalaureate degree — that Walker is focusing on as he looks back at his time at the school.

“The good things that have been achieved for the college still stand and speak for themselves,” he said.

“Those things are not going to be tarnished. Those things are alive and doing well. They won’t fade and they won’t be tarnished. They’re top quality.”

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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