Former Edison State College president Kenneth Walker will charge ahead to contest his recent firing, the college’s trustees learned on Tuesday.
In a letter sent to Interim President J. Dudley Goodlette, Walker and his attorney requested a hearing in front of an administrative law judge to dispute the claims that Walker failed to provide leadership in 10 instances and could be fired with cause, according to a law firm hired by the trustees.
The move was expected, and the tone of Tuesday’s meeting was upbeat despite the announcement. Several trustees applauded the college’s moves toward stability and progress in its reaccreditation efforts, and made no comment about the hearing during the meeting.
“It’s a routine, legal next step,” Goodlette said afterward.
Edison’s legal counsel will review the petition to decide if it is sufficient and can move forward to the state Division of Administrative Hearings, where the case would be assigned an administrative law judge, college spokeswoman Teresa Morgenstern said. The board of trustees and Walker will have to option to accept or reject the recommendation made my the judge.
Should either side reject the offer, the next step could be an appeals court.
Walker plans to refute all 10 claims listed in the report by the law firm Fowler White Boggs that said Walker interfered with investigations at the college into discriminatory hiring practices and a course swapping scandal, hid information about his salary from trustees, and knew about problems at the college but failed to report them to the accrediting body.
The letter from Walker’s attorney, Richard McCrea Jr., reads: “Petitioner contends that no lawful cause exists for the termination of his employment, and no legal justification exists for the agency’s failure to honor its obligations to the petitioner under his written employment agreement and the agency’s policies and practices.”
Trustees are moving forward on their own front, approving the creation of a 13-member search committee to aid in narrowing a pool of presidential candidates in the coming months. Trustees hope to hire a new president by the beginning of the fall 2012 semester.
A representative from Academic Search Inc., the Washington D.C.-based firm hired to conduct the search, recommended a 12-member board including community members, students, staff and faculty to be headed by the chair of the board of trustees. Chairwoman Anne Berlam will head the committee, but trustees voted to add a 13th member so a community representative from both Hendry and Glades counties could be included.
In other Edison news, Goodlette and three trustees attended a week-long conference in Tallahassee and shared a report on their visit.
Trustees Berlam, Chris Vernon and Pamela Seay said they as well as the college as a whole were well received during the trip. They met with officials from other Florida colleges.
“They were very pleased to see us,” Seay said. “You cannot put a value on this because they saw that we were engaged; they saw that we were involved.”
Trustees also heard an update from Erin Harrel, interim vice president of academic affairs, who along with Goodlette, went to Atlanta recently to meet with representatives from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools regarding Edison’s reaccreditation.
Harrel said accrediting body officials were sympathetic to recent turmoil at the school but said they were “100 percent confident (the college) can get back on track.”