A North Idaho College faculty member is blowing the whistle on “questionable management practices” and calling for campus reforms in light of the recent forced departure of Robert Bennett as president.
In a well-documented letter to NIC’s board of trustees, English professor Fran Bahr blasted the administration for allowing part-time faculty and nonteaching positions to balloon, while ignoring lagging salaries, widespread discrimination and harassment of female employees.
“I feel the money spent to make way for a new president is far less than the fiscal and emotional costs had he continued his presidency,” Bahr said. “The rapid downward spiral of faculty and staff morale has put students at risk.”
Interim President Ronald Bell responded to the letter this week by promising an investigation into her allegations, while guarding against a “warlock witch-hunt.”
“She’s a person of good will, and we are taking it seriously. We want to talk to her and in a month or so come forward with an analysis and plan if needed.”
Bahr’s letter recounts verbal and physical intimidation, retribution after attempts to file grievances and administration’s references to a group of women as “the tit patrol,” after they requested administrative action.
Such complaints have been an undercurrent for some time, confirm other faculty members.
“I think it finally came to a head,” said math professor Edwina Stowe. “The opportunity presented itself - since NIC is in the process of getting a new president - to look at some of these things.”
There’s a lack of women on key committees with decision-making clout, Bahr said, inequity between what men and women in similar jobs are paid, and in some cases “outright harassment of female employees” by supervisors and administrators.
She cited the following specific examples, which NIC will investigate before denying or confirming:
There are no women on the administrative council, where key institutional decisions are made, and few women on other key committees, like strategic planning.
Although 55 percent of NIC’s employees are women, they comprise only 30 percent of the administration. For example, only five of 16 directors and three of 10 division chairs are female, Bahr said.
Combining instructional technology with the library earned one female director no additional salary, while combining admissions and financial aid under on male director earned him a substantial increase, Bahr wrote.
Women reporting health problems from working in the Hedlund building were dubbed “the tit patrol,” after requesting administrative action.
Pregnant employees requesting leave under the Family Medical leave Act were granted leave but denied use of sick leave, while a male employee who adopted a baby was granted leave under the same act and also permitted to use sick leave.
One woman, objecting to verbal and physical intimidation from male leadership, attempted to file a grievance and was told she should drop her complaint or risk losing her job. Three days later she was transferred without warning to a job with lower pay, Bahr wrote without naming the employee, where her salary was frozen and she was placed on probation.
“When 55 percent of employees on the NIC campus are women, how can such treatment not eventually filter down to students?” Bahr wrote. “From the way NIC employees speak and conduct themselves, students learn how to behave in the community. Should our lesson to those students be that women can be mistreated?”
NIC’s attorney Dana Wetzel will join the administration in examining the issue, as well as investigating why internal harassment procedures weren’t used.
“Any time there is a letter or anything alleged of that nature, the institution is obliged to investigate it,” Wetzel said. “One of the things we will be looking at is not just the statistics, but what procedures do we have in place and how well are they working?”
Bahr also claims too much money was spent on middle management, administrative secretaries and part-time faculty.
Many of her concerns are echoed by other faculty, said outgoing faculty chair Bill Richards.
“I have a lot of respect for Fran,” said Richards, a geology professor. “Everything she points out is pretty much stuff the board is already aware of. I think maybe the issue of Bennett’s leaving has brought forth the issue of ‘let’s not be complacent, let’s get it in writing.”’
Enrollment of full-time students has doubled since 1986, while enrollment of part-time students increased by 80 percent, Bahr said, citing data from the registrar’s office.
Administrators attribute the enrollment explosion to Kootenai County’s expanding population. But with added students has come more middle management - a 60 percent increase - more administrative secretaries - a 114 percent increase - and a 151 percent increase in part-time faculty, Bahr wrote.
Full-time faculty, meanwhile, has increased only by 38 percent.
Part-timers aren’t paid well and sometimes teach courses outside their primary disciplines, said math professor Stowe. Meanwhile, full-time faculty members get saddled with the additional teaching duties of increased enrollment, like counseling.
While Dean of Instruction Jerry Gee acknowledges the math and business departments may need more full-time instructors, he’s pleased overall with the ratio of full-time and part-time faculty.
“At any college institution in the country, you are going to see the same trend,” Gee said. “It’s one of the ways fiscally you can address educational needs of students within a limited budget.”
Bell said NIC’s faculty is 75 percent full-time, which is a higher percentage than most community colleges across the nation.