FORT MYERS — The likely firing of a top Edison State College administrator and his subsequent filing of an employment complaint with the federal government could further jeopardize the college as it seeks reaccreditation this year.
President Kenneth Walker recommended Tuesday that the board of trustees fire Steve Atkins, vice president for academic affairs and liaison to the college’s accrediting body. In a letter he sent to Atkins, Walker cited “a complete lack of collegiality” and “insubordination.” Atkins is on paid leave pending the results of the Oct. 25 trustees meeting.
Atkins resigned in March during a tumultuous time for the college, which was being investigated for discriminatory hiring practices that Atkins had voiced concern over. Popular among faculty, he was brought back in April at his same salary of $141,000 with back pay to continue overseeing the college’s ongoing reaccreditation process.
But in his letter, Walker listed eight instances of insubordination on Atkins’ part since his return, three of which involve the college’s reaccreditation process. Walker wrote that Atkins ignored deadlines for completion of a report to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and wrote emails to SACS members without first telling Walker.
One of the findings in a SACS preliminary report in June expressed concern regarding the high turnover of top leadership positions after Walker fired his senior vice president, James Browder, in April.
Walker also wrote that Atkins failed to fully inform him of all significant developments according to an administrative leadership agreement, complained about Walker’s leadership to other staff members, and ignored repeated requests to visit Walker and establish a professional rapport.
Atkins’ attorney Patrick Geraghty said his client will file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission against Walker and the college.
“Hopefully they will find Dr. Walker and Edison State guilty of retaliation,” Geraghty said, referring to complaints Atkins made regarding the discriminatory hiring practices back in March.
“I thought all along after we got his reinstatement that it was only a matter of time before he was terminated,” Geraghty said.
Atkins complained of increased hostility in an email he sent to the school’s human resources department Oct. 8, Geraghty said, claiming he had experienced more harassment and intimidation from Walker since his return and was planning to file a grievance with the college.
Geraghty said Atkins met with a SACS official regarding reaccreditation at the college Tuesday morning. Walker recommended he be fired “as soon as they put (the official) on the plane,” Geraghty said. Atkins filed a final report with SACS Oct. 2.
Faculty Union President Ellie Bunting said four teachers stopped her in the hallway Tuesday afternoon to tell her about Atkins.
“Faculty are shocked and upset,” Bunting said. “I’m questioning, what now?”
The board’s next meeting is Oct. 25, and Bunting expects trustees to side with Walker and fire Atkins.
“They’ve never spoken their minds otherwise,” she said.
Faculty have long questioned leadership at the college and voted no-confidence in Walker in April. Bunting anticipates a meeting of the faculty senate this week in response to the announcement as faculty have been supportive of Atkins in the past.
“He’s always has been well respected in the nine years I’ve been here,” adjunct professor William Coughlan said. “But I’m not surprised. It’s just one more example of (Walker’s) incompetence in managing competent people.”
Both Coughlan and Bunting worry Atkins’ firing will affect reaccreditation.
“I would hope the accreditation body would give the college some time to get their act together,” Coughlan said.
“He came back because he is the SACS expert,” Bunting said.
Atkins and Browder were known to butt heads. Faculty say Atkins resigned back in March to avoid working with Browder, who was second in command to Walker.
Browder was also unpopular among faculty and staff and offered to take a pay cut to avoid faculty’s vote of no-confidence in the administration.
In his letter, Walker told Atkins to ask permission from human resources to visit any of the college’s campuses before the Oct. 25 trustees meeting.
The college will appoint an interim vice president for academic affairs to replace Atkins in the next several days, according to the press release sent Tuesday.
University Spokeswoman Teresa Morgenstern said she could not comment on personnel matters regarding Atkins or any employee.