Long-simmering tensions between the Triton College’s faculty and the administration over the issue of “shared governance” have boiled over publicly the past two weeks.
In the wake of the termination of a popular dean of students, the Triton College Faculty Association voted unanimously in mid-June to a no-confidence vote for Patricia Granados, Triton’s president, and Ileana Rodriguez, vice president of academic affairs and student services.
Triton Community College District 504 serves all of Riverside and North Riverside and the northern half of Brookfield.
The faculty asked for the resignation of both officials and gave a vote of confidence to the ousted dean of students, Edmund Forst, an eight-year veteran at the school. The action came after the Triton board voted 6-1 to terminate Forst, who was escorted off the campus on May 19 and asked to resign. Forst said he was presented with a written agreement that offered him three months of salary and health benefits.
Forst, who has a new one-year employment contract, refused to sign the agreement.
“There was no remediation at all,” Forst said in a June 23 interview. “[Suddenly] one day, I’m on administrative leave.”
Forst said he’s currently on administrative suspension with pay. While he expects the school to honor his contract, he notes that they have yet to make a decision on that issue.
“If they don’t, then I’m going to take the next step myself, because that’s wrong,” he said.
Saying that public employees should not be treated the way that Triton administrators have treated him and others, Forst added, “I think at some point somebody has to stand up and say, ‘This is not how you treat people.'”
Ellen O’Connell, a River Forest resident and 31-year veteran of the Triton faculty who is both chairman of the Triton Math Department and president of the Academic Senate, called Forst “probably one of the best deans they had there.”
O’Connell said she received more than a dozen phone calls from concerned Triton staff after Forst’s removal and noted that some students and staff at the school’s May 19 graduation wore purple arm bands in support of Forst.
In a two-page press release, the Triton administration responded that the school’s faculty had overstepped their authority in a “misguided attempt to discredit the president.”
Expressing “complete confidence” in Granado’s leadership, the release stated that “the faculty has taken issue with decisions made by the board and the administration which are not within its purview.”
The release continued, “The board and administration do not interfere in the classroom, and we would expect the faculty to reciprocate by not interfering with administrative decisions.”
O’Connell said it is the college’s administration?”not the faculty?”that has overstepped its bounds.
“This is run more as a micromanaged ‘My way or the highway’ sort of operation,” said O’Connell.
Forst and other Triton faculty contend that school administrators pay only lip service to the concept of “shared governance,” in which faculty has input into the selection and appointment of key administration officials.
“There’s things that go on there that make you think that [shared governance] is not a high priority in practice, as opposed to the abstract,” said Forst.
O’Connell said that neither the current president nor the vice president was selected with any faculty input.
“Instead of a search committee for president, we appoint one,” said O’Connell, who added that Granados dismissed a selection committee earlier this year that was searching for candidates for the vice president of academics position. Granados then appointed Ileana Rodriguez to fill the vacancy.
O’Connell said it’s not only the faculty that is suffering.
“It’s creating a climate that’s not healthy for the students,” she said.
Longtime Triton College Trustee Merrill Becker, a Riverside resident, said that the board does not interfere in the day-to-day operation of the school and that they back the decisions made by Granados.
“The president runs the school, and if the president wants to hire someone, she can hire them If she wants to fire someone, then that’s it,” Becker said. “The board can hire and fire the president, and if she turns out to be a bad president we can get rid of her. But we’re solidly behind her.”
Both O’Connell and Forst said that the issue of shared governance will play an important role in Triton’s accreditation process by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association (NCA) of Colleges and Schools. That process will take place over the next school year, culminating in April.
Ingrid Walker, an NCA staff liaison to Triton College, said that she was unable to comment on any specifics regarding any ongoing process.
“As an accreditor, all I can tell you is if they’re accredited or not, and they are accredited,” she said.
O’Connell said that the Triton faculty members will continue to voice their concern over the administration’s tactics and attitude regarding shared governance.
“All we can keep doing is putting the issue on the table,” O’Connell said.
Bob Uphues contributed to this report.