JCCC Board of Trustees candidates on the issues: Improving faculty-administration relations

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of the August primary. Based on the (ample) input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for Johnson County Community College board of trustees.

Today we share the candidates’ responses to question two:

There has been a good deal of animosity between the administration and the faculty in recent years. What steps could the board be taking to address this issue and reestablish more positive relations

Mo Azeem

I personally trust that the faculty and the administration has its heart at the right place which is to serve the students and the community by providing excellent education. The manifestation of animosity is a failure of the board. The root cause behind poor relations is the board’s inability to maintain a balance of power and rubber stamping administration’s plans while ignoring faculty and students in the decision making. This balance of power is the board’s job through collaborative policy making where each stakeholder not only has a seat at the table but a voice that is part of the decision making process and not merely a lip service. Trustees are supposed to modify the policies through listening to faculty, students, administration and the community at large and not getting involved in the day to day running of the College operations.

Val Baul

Respect is something you have to earn. I have been appalled by the behavior of some of the current board members in their dismissive attitudes toward the educators at JCCC. When trustees audibly sigh into their microphones, or ask the faculty association questions which imply they are being dismissed, it is no wonder the faculty and students feel as though they do not have a voice in the process. The decision to prevent board members from engaging in discussions with the community which happened this year was another sign of disrespect.

If elected, I believe we have to treat the faculty and staff with respect from day one. We work cooperatively. We don’t sigh when they talk, we don’t dismiss their arguments, and we don’t attack them in the press.

Respect is earned. I plan to earn it from Day 1 by building a collaborative approach to all decisions.

Lori Bell

I attended the last board meeting where the results of a recent employee engagement survey were read aloud. I am certain that the Board approved the cost of completing such a survey and yet some board members dismissed the results. These surveys cost tens of thousands of dollars in direct cost, and the indirect cost of time spent evaluating these surveys can be significant. If the board approved this study to later ignore the study results, it is a significant waste of taxpayer dollars.

With President Sopcich stepping down as president of JCCC, I believe the board has an opportunity to begin building bridges with the faculty. We can do so by respecting their time and work, allowing them to be part of the process, and listen to the members of the faculty when they try to talk to us.

Colleen Cunningham

There have been quite a few potential steps to address this animosity discussed during Faculty Association and Board of Trustees meetings, and they seem to boil down to improving and increasing communication between faculty and administration. One specific suggestion which seems relatively easy to implement would be for faculty members to attend administration meetings, and administrators to attend faculty meetings. On a related note, there were recently two town hall meetings scheduled to discuss the findings of the HLC report, but both meetings were scheduled during prime teaching hours, limiting opportunities for shared governance. Neither faculty nor administrators can successfully work together on issues if they can’t find common ground on when and where to meet to do that cooperative work. It also seems that putting into place formalized processes for information-sharing would be useful. At present, faculty have said that the information that they are privy to varies, depending on who is above them in the chain of command. Finally, administrators should be actively asking for, and giving consideration to, faculty input before decisions are made. I was really struck by faculty describing what “felt like a betrayal” when their program reviews were shifted from taking place every three years to being an annual event. Addressing this relationship is among my top priorities. The notice that Dr. Sopcich will be leaving JCCC presents an opportunity to show the faculty that they are part of shared governance, by giving the faculty association representation in the search committee and interview process. The incoming board, which will be tasked with this important responsibility, can help rebuild this relationship by making sure the faculty is welcome at the table to participate in this important task.

Jameia Haines

Shared governance requires commitment by all parties in order to interact in the spirit of partnership. Utilizing communication channels that create productive dialogue and strengthen alignment across Johnson County Community College is key.

Nancy Ingram (incumbent)

t is not the nature of the trustees to become involved in disagreements between administration and faculty.

Both have their respective duties and responsibilities to perform, and given the opportunity to discuss their differences, it would be my expectation they leave discussions with greater understanding of the perspectives of one another, as well as respect for one another.

If I were to provide an opinion, it would be to put “student success first” as a starting point to any conversation. Additionally, it would be a recommendation to make certain representation at the table for discussions is broad, and that everyone really listen to one another. Accountability, transparency and better communication should be themes that become natural, expected and understood in the context of
the work we do. Adversarial relations do nothing to promote growth. Typically, they only drive any communication in a negative way. There has to be genuine give and take by everyone in order to find common ground, and as such, begin to move forward.

There is much to look forward to as we begin our next 50 years. The opportunities are not without challenges, but I am excited about the future. Being willing to come together with positive expectations. and a willingness to create solutions to moving forward, will go a long way toward working together…for student success.

Greg Musil (incumbent)

The Board has an obligation to represent all stakeholders.  Certainly some members of the faculty have been concerned about certain policy decisions of the Board and the actions of the administration in implementing policy choices.  It is important that we always review decision-making process to ensure we have the best information from the involved persons on campus.  Unfortunately, there appear to be occasions where almost regardless of the amount of transparency or inclusion someone is disappointed by the decision.  Some faculty members continue to cite the administration’s and Board’s support of legislation that would have allowed JCCC to decide its own tenure/due process policy.  That decision was based solely on our support for local control and our faculty ended up with double-tenure protection – by statute and in the master agreement.  Yet it remained a source of friction. Similarly, the Board believed a contract with the faculty union offering a 3% annual raise for three years was fair and reasonable.  The faculty negotiators started at 6%, ended up at 3.5%, and the Board would only agree to a 3% raise each year for three years.  That amount is fair and reasonable, yet it remains a source of friction.  I will continue to reach out to faculty for frank and candid discussions about improving communication and inclusion and appreciate those faculty who offer me that opportunity.

Chris Roesel

Transparency, inclusion, and beneficial impact for students and the community, including the faculty, would improve relations with faculty… the students, staff, and the community. Let me explain.

When I did a national evaluation of a US Department of Agriculture program, the first thing we did was identify what information we needed and develop survey questions to get the answers. The second was to identify how we would respond to each of the alternative answers to the questions. What the college administration does, per my observation, is conduct surveys and collect answers, analyze the data, and do nothing with it. As a student, I have seen that done with the course evaluation surveys done at the end of courses. As a Board meeting attendee, I have seen nothing done with surveys nor input from the floor. Not knowing information is called ignorance. Not using information is stupidity.

Let me explain what I would do. First, planning and evaluation need to be 360-degree processes, not just top down. Doing a survey and then top administrators taking it away from the people who offered the information and planning or evaluating in isolation is dysfunctional. All key stakeholders, faculty, students, staff, and business, civic, ethnic, gender, and geographical communities need to be recruited to the table, not barred and not even just invited. We need their perspectives, so we need to get them to the table. Second, their say needs to be respected. It needs to have equal weight as that of the president and Board. If not, they will stop making suggestions.

Again, I learned how to do whole systems, large group strategic planning in business school and practiced it in other states and countries. When I planned this way, participants were jubilant, not just not angry. When I ran meetings this way, staff and customers were pleasantly pleased.

The Board needs to stop using antiquated methods of management and come into the 21st Century. If they did, faculty, staff, students, and the community would be delighted, not just not angry. I plan to get the Board and administration to use inclusive, transparent, beneficial methods to facilitate good decision-making and relations.

Cassandra Peters

The 2019 Employee Engagement Survey for JCCC showed a disappointing percentage of faculty feel undervalued.  A student’s success depends on the effectiveness of their teachers.  Administration should support a collaborative environment where faculty’s voices are heard, and their ideas are valued. We need to be transparent about long-term goal development for JCCC and recognize the work professors put into ensuring their student’s success. As far as specific steps that could turn the relationship around, I’d want to hear more directly from the faculty on what they need.  I think that’s the first step, listening with the intent to understand.

Laura Smith-Everett

It’s pretty simple: open two way communication. I have had extensive experience with these issues throughout my career. It often comes down to the unwillingness of one group to openly listen or seek feedback from the other. As a trustee, I would take the responsibility of actively seeking feedback and communication from the faculty and staff. It takes time and requires long term planning, but when people are heard they feel more appreciated by an institution. When the trustees do find out about significant issues we must actively respond to them. When you watch the June JCCC Board of Trustee’s meeting, you see a distinct defensiveness about the Faculty Association’s President’s concerns. The majority of The Board is currently held by lawyers, so perhaps it’s a handicap of their profession that creates defensiveness. Contrarily, I would work to investigate why the JCCC Faculty feels at odds with the JCCC Administration. It is not the job of the JCCC Board of Trustees to be on one side or another, but instead to offer oversight and support for resolutions between groups that provide the best outcomes for the college as a whole.

Farha Azaz

I find it very disturbing that the relationship between faculty, administration and the Board of Trustees is so tenuous. When I attended the last JCCC Board meeting, I sensed the animosity. Later when I reviewed the employee engagement survey, my worries and concerns were confirmed. The employee engagement survey reports reflect the lack of foundational trust in the Board of Trustees. I think about this issue often as it limits JCCC’s potential to achieve its mission and promise to the students and the Johnson County Community.

I commit to taking the following steps to reestablish more positive relations:

  • 1. Deploy the tactics I learned in my experience as a consultant in the healthcare industry to bridge the gap and mend the broken trust compassionately and collaboratively.
  • 2. Build a results-oriented organizational framework including all stakeholders to study the problem and create a basis for action and feedback. By focusing on core values and shared principles, we will find solutions that are acceptable to both administration and faculty for the greater good of the JCCC community.
  • 3. Revive and rebuild a collaborative and supportive coalition between the administration and faculty for mutual benefit to every stakeholder with the principle of inclusion and equity.

Trust built by face-to-face discussion will nurture relationships and allow for productive conflict. Our commitment to accountable leadership will point to a path of resolution to this essential partnership that deeply affects the student experience.

There may be competing agendas, bureaucracies and increasing internal demands upon leadership, but we need to leverage these pivotal relationships so that the administration, faculty, students and the Board of Trustees can do more and achieve the win-win mindset necessary for our Johnson County community to succeed.

Tomorrow we’ll share the candidates’ responses to question three:

JCCC has dozens of advisory committees for its various academic and technical education programs. Have you been involved in these committees in the past and how would you use these advisory committees if you are elected?