The suggested firing of a top administrator this week was the last straw for faculty members at Edison State College who called for the immediate resignation of President Kenneth Walker at an impromptu faculty senate meeting Thursday.
They cited a laundry list of complaints, saying Walker needs to leave before they can rebuild the institution’s reputation and alleviate a growing fear among employees. In April, faculty took a vote of no-confidence in Walker.
Walker wrote to the school’s board of trustees Tuesday recommending they fire Steve Atkins, vice president of academic affairs, citing insubordination and lack of collegiality.
Atkins was a whistleblower in a course swapping scandal that erupted this spring. He resigned and was brought back at faculty’s urging over the summer.
Since Walker’s recommendation to the board, two staff members in Atkins’ office resigned. No interim vice president has been appointed.
“They did resign, but they were asked to stay,” college spokeswoman Teresa Morgenstern said. “We’re working on determining an interim.”
Maureen McClintock and Roberta Buczyna, the staff members who resigned from the academic affairs office, could not be reached for comment.
Having just learned of the senate’s statement, Morgenstern did not feel comfortable commenting on faculty’s demands for Walker’s resignation.
Atkins was acting as a liaison to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) for Edison’s upcoming reaccreditation review in November.
Faculty worry that process could be in jeopardy.
“Steve has been guiding us all the way through it,” librarian Frank Dowd said. “Now there’s no living, breathing human being in charge. It’s a bunch of papers now. Is all this work moot?”
English professor Marty Ambrose said the academic affairs office is black — no lights are on and the locks have been changed. Morgenstern could not confirm or deny the changing of locks in the office.
Faculty Union President Ellie Bunting said she hopes SACS is understanding in awarding accreditation given the turmoil top administrators have caused recently.
“Dr. Atkins was our academic leader,” she said. “That office is closed. It’s locked. Everything goes through that office.”
Bunting said faculty fully support Atkins for shedding light on the course-swapping scandal, under-qualified teachers in the classroom, discriminatory hiring practices, and issues with accreditation at the nursing school this year.
“He saw violations that needed to be reported,” she said.
Faculty Senate President Don Ransford said he feels the academic integrity of the college is still intact.
“That’s only my opinion, and I’m not the accreditation body,” he told the 50 faculty members gathered at the Lee Campus. Faculty from the other three campuses joined by video conference.
Ransford said a student approached him Thursday asking whether his degree would still be valid upon graduating from Edison after hearing of Atkins’ firing. Faculty agreed the academic office on campus has been paralyzed and will begin to affect students.
Student Mike Clark of Cape Coral said he’s glad faculty took a stand.
“Walker has demonstrated that he’s far more interested in his own legacy and turning a profit,” he said. “And he had an honest and loyal person in Dr. Atkins.”
Walker’s annual salary and benefits total $832,000. He promised to take a pay cut this spring in an attempt to stave off faculty’s no-confidence vote.
Faculty have reached an impasse in contract negotiations with administration and say Walker has withheld raises in retaliation for the vote.
In June, the board of trustees approved wage increases for salaried non-teaching staff members for 4 percent, and 5 percent for hourly staff members. Faculty have been denied their initial request of a 5.5 percent raise. The college has offered them a 2 percent, one-time bonus.
Some faculty worried they’ll be targeted for agreeing with the senate’s statement that Walker should resign.
“This is the opportune time to say whatever we’re going to say,” Ambrose told fellow faculty members.
English professor Jennifer Grove said the domino effect of staff resigning triggered the senate’s action.
“That grand chess game that’s been going on for two or three years, I think it’s a sign we have to act,” she said. “Don’t we have to do something?”