For two of the eight candidates on the November 4 ballot, the biggest issue is making tuition more affordable for more students. For one, it’s improving “collaboration between the faculty and local employers” so graduates can get better jobs.
But four of the eight cite the relationship between the faculty and the administration. And three of the others list the tensions between president Rose Bellanca and the faculty union as the second-biggest issue. Last year, faculty members packed a board meeting to protest Bellanca’s staff changes and failure to consult them; this past May, 148 of them voted “no confidence” in her leadership.
Three of the seven trustees’ terms are expiring this year. Two incumbents, including board president Anne Williams, are not running for re-election.
“We have the standard issues, like a large but limited budget,” says Mark Freeman, forty-eight, a WCC grad and the only incumbent seeking re-election. “Right now the biggest issue is communication [between Bellanca and the faculty]. I want to see that resolved, but being a board member, it’s hard. Because we’re not involved in the day-to-day operations, I can’t put a finger on exactly what it is that’s the problem.”
“The major issue is transparency,” says Ruth Hatcher, sixty-six, a retired WCC faculty member and former union president. “The board and the president haven’t been as forthcoming as they should be with respect to the faculty and the budget.”
“There are two important issues facing WCC,” emails Alex Milshteyn, thirty-one, a WCC grad who currently serves on Washtenaw Technical Middle College’s board of directors. “The first is the current conflict between faculty, staff, Board of Trustees, and the administration, and the climate that creates on campus. The second is declining enrollment and how that affects WCC finances in providing excellent education.”
“The board is out of balance with a lack of faculty and student voices,” emails Christina Fleming, thirty-nine, a WCC student. “There are too many distractions associated with the problems between faculty and the administration. We need to resolve this so we can move on to more important matters.”
For the other candidates, however, those other matters take precedence.
“I am a strong supporter of making post-secondary education more economically accessible,” writes Dave DeVarti, sixty-two, retired publisher of Current magazine, who is now taking art classes at WCC. “It is more economically within the reach of lower and moderate income students than any of the state 4-year institutions. WCC may well be the cornerstone for ensuring broad access to education for county residents.”
Former part-time WCC teacher William Campbell, fifty-seven, says his overriding concern is that “the school doesn’t have an effective method for evaluating teachers”–an issue that, he suspects, may also underlie “the rift between [WCC’s] teachers and president.”
“The troubles WCC is having with the staff is manageable compared to the troubles young people are having becoming productive citizens today,” writes Eric Borregard. Fifty-eight and the father of a WCC student, Borregard believes that tuition should be free. He blames rising costs on “35 years of disinvestment by the State of Michigan. Militarist police state legislators have repeatedly plundered tax resources for greedy corporations or to fight endlessly futile wars.” He’d also like the college to seek a state license “to grow and research hemp products here in Washtenaw County … with an eye towards offering specialized degrees at WCC in the future.”
Former Ann Arbor city councilmember Tony Derezinski, seventy-two, says the key issue is not faculty relations but improving “collaboration with faculty and local employers.” As for Bellanca, he says, “I can only judge her by how well the college is doing, and we’re seeing favorable results on the whole.”
While DeVarti writes that he comes to the “race without preconceptions,” he faults the current board “for allowing the situation with the faculty and the president to come to the point where the faculty felt no recourse short of passing a resolution of no confidence and calling into question aspects of the college’s accreditation.”
Current trustee and candidate Freeman won’t say what he thinks of the job Bellanca is doing because “that’s something we’d need to address as a board.” But he says that under the president and the current board, “a lot of good things have been started, and a lot of good things have happened.”
Asked what he’d do to bring the faculty and the president together, Freeman replies, “one of the things I can do is to get out and have contact with people and let them know we’re listening.”
Hatcher believes listening isn’t enough. “They have to start talking, and talking doesn’t mean [the president] tells them what’s going to happen.”
“My first order of business [if elected] would be to ask Dr. Bellanca to address the formal complaints put forward by the faculty,” writes Fleming. ” If we can open up the communication that will go a very long way to ease this strife.”
“My first step would be to bring in a professional mediator to meet with all the parties to the conflict, including faculty, staff, Dr. Bellanca, and the Board of Trustees,” writes Milshteyn. “Once the current conflict is resolved, I would encourage the Board to monitor the relationship and ensure that communication remains open and productive.”
The faculty union hopes the election results in a more sympathetic board; it’s endorsed Hatcher, DeVarti, and Freeman.