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Two Nic Instructors Cry Foul Pair Claim Administrator’s Actions Cost Them Tenure

Two North Idaho College instructors fear they will lose their jobs because, they say, an administrator has a vendetta against them.

One is Dawna Andrea, who last fall was named Idaho’s “Post-secondary Business Education Teacher of the Year.” The other is electronics instructor Brian Coons, whom Associate Dean Barbara Bennett has described as having “a God-given innate teaching ability.”

It was Bennett’s criticisms, however, that apparently kept the board of trustees from granting Coons the coveted tenure status in March. It is Bennett who recommended that Andrea’s tenure not be renewed.

Both teachers show documents suggesting that Bennett either fabricated criticism from students or otherwise doctored their files.

Bennett denies that. On Wednesday, she said she has acted appropriately.

“My primary responsibility and commitment is to students,” she said. “Students must be able to meet the demands of industry when they graduate from applied technology programs.”

Unlike most colleges, NIC does not offer its faculty career-long tenure as assurance against losing their jobs. Tenure at NIC essentially is a five-year contract.

A tenure committee, made up of five teachers, recommended that Andrea’s tenure be renewed. It advised against giving Coons first-time tenure.

The school’s board of trustees has the final say. Members voted in March, denying both requests for tenure. In both cases, the denial was supported by college President Robert Bennett (who is not related to Barbara Bennett).

There is little the administrators can say publicly about the personnel issue, according to President Bennett. However, he defended Barbara Bennett.

“She’s a very fair person,” he said. “She has some genuine concerns.”

The concerns are outlined in documents that Barbara Bennett gave to the school’s tenure committee.

She wrote that Andrea caused polarization in the department and had an “inconsistent, weak knowledge base.”

Bennett said students’ comments about Andrea ranged from “very, very good” to “very, very poor” and that Andrea was defensive about suggestions to improve.

Bennett listed comments made by students in the fall of 1993, such as “she never helps” and “she doesn’t listen.”

But those comments don’t show up on a student evaluation list from that particular course, Andrea said. To prove her point, she provided a copy of the evaluation.

Coons accuses Barbara Bennett of fabrication, as well.

He said Bennett added handwritten criticisms to his personal evaluations after he had discussed those evaluations with Bennett. He showed “before” and “after” copies.

Bennett told the tenure committee that Coons is good in the classroom but argued that his presentations should be more formal.

Her main criticism focused on his performance outside the classroom. She portrays him as unwilling or unable to form strong connections with the business community where NIC students would be looking for jobs.

Both teachers said they were not given adequate warning of their alleged shortcomings, as required by school policy.

“I’ve gone five years thinking I was doing a good job,” Andrea said.

Barbara Bennett apparently is trying to get rid of Andrea, Coons said, because she wants to cut back on the number of full-time business teachers.

Coons said Bennett is unhappy with him because she wants a more academic approach in the vo-tech program. He said he is reluctant to make changes too quickly.

Patricia Vitale, a former student of Coons’, has another theory.

“I think it’s his appearance - the beard, the long hair, the Harley-Davidson and stuff. He’s a bit of a free spirit.”

But she was surprised to hear that he might lose his job. “If Brian was to be let go, I think the whole program would suffer greatly.”

It was Coons who encouraged Vitale not to put off college in 1993 even though she was pregnant with her second child. She’s happily employed by Hewlett-Packard, which recruited her before she even had finished the electronics technician program.

In his decade at NIC, Robert Bennett said he cannot recall any other teachers whose tenure requests have been denied.

Neither teacher has been fired, Bennett points out. Each can apply again for tenure in a year. They have a chance to mend their ways and meet Barbara Bennett’s expectations.

“It doesn’t matter what I do,” Andrea said. “I can walk on water; I can be the most perfect instructor, and I won’t get tenure.”

Andrea is 53; Coons, 43. They say they wouldn’t be able to get other teaching jobs if they lose tenure at NIC.

They have hired a lawyer but can’t say what basis they would have for a lawsuit.

After they protested the board of trustees decision, the college hired attorney Dana Wetzel to write an explanation of why the board had rejected the tenure requests.

That explanation will be presented to the board in a closed session next Wednesday. Wetzel said she will recommend that the teachers be given a copy.

Meanwhile, Andrea reflects on the fact that Barbara Bennett might not be at NIC if it weren’t for her.

“I was on the selection committee that recommended she be hired.”

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