Kutztown U Faculty Union President Removed from Search Committee; Provost Warns Against Further Whistle-blowing

Editor’s Note: A version of this article was posted earlier today on the APSCUF-KU XChange blog. The first article in this story, detailing the faculty union’s vote of no confidence in the University Presidential search process, can be found HERE

In an email addressed to the “University Community” yesterday morning, John Wabby, Chair of the KU Presidential Search Committee and KU Council of Trustees, announced that he was removing APSCUF-KU President Paul Quinn from the Presidential Search Committee. The move comes two days after Quinn called an emergency meeting of the union’s Representative Council to bring forward what he called “serious problems” with the presidential search process. At that meeting, union representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution of no confidence in the search process (see more here).

In the email, Wabby stated:

I was disappointed when Dr. Paul Quinn, a member of the search committee, chose to breach the confidentiality of the search process on Tuesday by publicly disclosing information about the committee’s deliberations and about potential candidates. While I know he is deeply committed to the university, his action was a clear violation of the confidentiality section of Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education policy 1983-13-A—provisions that all participants in our search process have been well aware of from the beginning of our effort. Accordingly, I have removed Dr. Quinn from the search committee, and an APSCUF alternate will take his place on the committee so that we can ensure forward progress.

Wabby makes a case for “respecting the committee’s choices”:

Not everyone will agree with every decision made by the search committee, but it is important to respect the committee’s decisions rather than work outside the process. No single member should have the ability to cast aside the hard work of a duly appointed and fully representative committee.

On the surface, there is nothing surprising about what Wabby says. That is, generally, most people would agree with Wabby’s take here when it comes to basic procedures of a search committee. However, Quinn did not simply decide willy-nilly to start broadcasting his personal thoughts about the Presidential Search. Quinn went public because there were “some serious problems with how the Presidential Search Process is being conducted” and that he believes that “the process has become deeply flawed.”

WhistleBlowerThe question at stake here is this: if a member of this committee (or any such search committee) is alarmed about a process that has grown unethical, flawed, or biased, should that member of the committee “respect the committee’s decisions;” or, should that member of the committee blow the whistle? Let me take that one step further. Let’s now say, that a committee member who is alarmed about the process, follows the official procedure for filing a complaint. But, instead of the complaint being treated objectively and professionally, the committee member is subjected to intimidation and denied the right to union representation. Then what? What if, despite the fact that a serious complaint has been filed, the search is allowed to proceed before a determination is made about the substance of the complaint? Does that committee member simply “respect the committee’s decisions?” If that committee member becomes increasingly concerned that somehow their complaint is being dismissed due to personal or political motives, should she or he just kick the dust, say “ah shucks, guess there is nothing I can do,” and walk away?

Yes, I just proposed a hypothetical situation. But that very “hypothetical” situation is the ACTUAL situation in which APSCUF-KU President, Paul Quinn, finds himself in at this very moment. Since John Wabby kicked Quinn off the committee, the faculty union has been scrambling to find an APSCUF member to replace him on short notice – interviews begin today at Philadelphia Airport Marriott.

While the concerns Quinn discussed with faculty union representatives on Tuesday about problems with the Presidential Search are deeply problematic, the fact that PASSHE investigators and lawyers denied him union representation at an intake meeting is alarming, especially when you consider Quinn’s description of that intake meeting. After Quinn received a three sentence response from PASSHE lawyers about his complaint and his discomfort with the intake process, Quinn decided to write an email to PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan, PASSHE Board of Governors Chair, Guido Pichini, and PASSHE Chief Counsel, Andrew Lehman. In that email, Quinn detailed his treatment by PASSHE lawyers and being denied union representation:

Standard practice at Kutztown University is that when a complaint is filed from a faculty union member about an individual in a position of authority, a union representative is permitted to accompany the “complainant” to the meeting. The role of the union representative is to serve as a witness, a note taker, and to be an advocate for the faculty member filing the complaint.  The primary purpose of these functions is to provide protection for the “complainant” who is reporting potentially inappropriate behavior from his/her supervisor, and to ensure the protection of faculty member’s rights and interests.  The union representative is bound by confidentiality and cannot share the results of the meeting.

As a matter of fact, when I first filed my complaint with Jesus Pena, I brought the local APSCUF-KU Vice-President Helen Bieber, and she served as my union representative.  It is my belief that  union representation was necessary due to the sensitive nature of the complaint and because quite frankly, it was very intimidating to file a complaint regarding the presidential search process which involves the Council of Trustees, and a PASSHE member, Peter Garland.  Though I have a good working relationship with all of them, they clearly have authority over me, and I feared the potential of retaliatory actions against me.

After filing my complaint, I must stress that I found the actual investigation procedures to be problematic and very contrary to the above detailed practices. My experience began with a process in which I was seemingly treated as a hostile witness.  An example of this is when I was scheduled for the intake with the private investigator Chris Jones, and attorney Suzanne Williamson, I was denied the right to have a witness present.  In particular, Ms. Williamson, was adamant about how this was not necessary because I was the “complainant.”  Her refusal to allow me union representation demonstrated an unwillingness to consider that the very nature of my claim could have ramifications on my professional career.  It was further aggravated by the fact that she personalized my request for a representative as evidenced by her comment:” I feel personally insulted that you do not trust me”.  Despite my requests and explanations for needing union representation, I was told that the proceedings would not take place unless I met with both of these PASSHE investigators –alone. Although uncomfortable with this decision, I requested that this denial be officially noted on the record.   Following the interview, I was allowed to read her notes, but was informed I would not be provided copies or photocopies of the intake transaction for my own records.

Another concern with this investigation was the fact that the presidential search process continued, despite the serious allegations brought forth.   The search firm, acting in an egregious manner, scheduled interviews and continued the search before I received any information discussing the status or outcome of the investigation.  To my knowledge, it is not standard procedure to notify candidates of search results while an investigation as to the fairness of the very process that has been used to select candidates  is pending.  To underscore my point as to the manner in which equity investigations are conducted, it is my experience as union president that our own social equity officer, Mr. Pena, would not conduct an investigation in this manner.  Subsequently, I inferred by the continued forward progress of the search firm, condoned by PASSHE, that my complaint was irrelevant and the process would continue no matter the serious nature of my complaint.

Pennsylvania law ensures a union employee the right to union representation if the employee reasonably believes she or he might face disciplinary action as a result of their participation in a meeting with superiors. The law gives gives the employee the right to determine whether she or he believes disciplinary action might result. However, Quinn received an email response from PASSHE’s Chief Counsel, Andrew Lehman, in which he seems to believe that he and PASSHE Chancellor Frank Brogan get to decide whether or not Quinn is “reasonable.” Lehman wrote,

The Chancellor received your email and asked me to provide a response. Even though your complaint was filed locally with Kutztown University’s Office of Social Equity, the matter was appropriately referred to my office for guidance and, ultimately, investigation.  We reviewed the matter in a timely manner, gathering documents and interviewing several members of the search committee, including you. This complaint did not involve any potential action against you, but rather you raised issues related to conduct of other members of the search committee and of the search consultant. Board of Governors’ Policy requires members of the search committee maintain confidentiality.  Expanding the universe of individuals involved to include a union representative would not have been appropriate during your interview as part of the investigation related to the search.

Really? My boss gets to decide whether or not I have a reasonable concern about retaliation? That’s not a world in which this union member or ANY WORKER, in my mind, should live. Unless, of course, you long for the days of the Company Town.

As it turns out, Quinn seems to have been right to be worried, especially once he made his concerns plain to faculty union representatives. Not only was Quinn kicked off the committee, yesterday he received a veiled threat of managerial retaliation from the Acting Provost, James Mackin, if he continues to raise concerns about the Presidential Search process:

 

Mackin Email to Quinn

Yes, “so long as no information is shared that would violate the referenced Board of Governor’s Policy.” Since the Chancellor and his legal team are already working from an interpretation of that policy that led to Quinn being kicked off the Presidential Search Committee – despite going to pains NOT to disclose any specific information about the search – it’s pretty clear what this says: say another word about the search and I will begin “infringing upon your rights to communicate with faculty,” or some other form of sanction.

What started as an attempt to ensure an ethical and sound search for the next president of Kutztown University is quickly turning into something else entirely. More to follow.

 

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