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March 18, 2010 3:50 am

Mediator to be hired for Northwest College

Written by Tribune Staff

While debates over any number of issues have been common at Northwest College in recent weeks, everyone at an NWC shared governance meeting Tuesday agreed on one thing: A moderator is needed to help administrators, faculty, staff and students get past their problems.

Problems cited included lack of communication and civility, not following college procedures, lack of trust and fear of retribution.

The meeting included presentations by spokesmen for each of the five constituent groups at the college: organizations for faculty, administrative, professional and classified staff and the Student Senate.

After hearing from all the groups, the NWC Board of Trustees unanimously voted to create an ad-hoc committee to select a mediator. The committee and Board President Jim Vogt determined a dollar amount not to be exceeded.

Money to pay for the mediator's services will come from money set aside in the budget for consultants.
In keeping with recommendations by the college community, the mediator will have a background in higher education, but will have no ties to Northwest College.

During Tuesday's meeting, a few called for disciplinary measures to be taken against three people responsible for last week's campus-wide “Peace Movement” e-mail, but most focused on ways to move forward.

NWC Finance Director Sheldon Flom, speaking for the Administrative Staff Organization, said,
“We have to truly listen to each other with open minds. We have to be comfortable knowing that it is OK to disagree and that there will be no retribution for expressing our opinions. We have to tell people that it is not OK to verbally assault someone when you disagree with them, and that it's not OK to demand that people be fired, including the president.

“If firing the president was the solution, the problem would have been solved two or three presidents ago.”
Flom said, “When we have students that are having trouble in subjects like math and English, we start them out in remedial classes where they start over with the basics... That is what we must do as employees of Northwest College; we need to relearn how to properly treat each other, how to get along and how to handle conflict.”

In addition to a call for mediation to begin as soon as possible, Flom outlined four steps administrators agree are needed:

• “Remember that we are all employees of NWC... working for the common mission of providing the best education possible for our students and meeting the educational needs of our community.”

• Develop mutual respect for all.

• “Stop hasty generalizations, conclusions that are reached based on one incident. When one employee is fired, it doesn't mean more will be, or that there is a conspiracy.”

Because personnel issues have to remain confidential, it may be a surprise, “but in reality, they have been going through the progressive discipline policy for months and even years.”

• Stop operating in the emotional mode. “Take the advice of our mothers: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it.

“By working together, having open communication and mutual respect for one another, the college will once again be a great place to work and a great place to send our children to,” he said.

Faculty Organization President Elise Kimble noted that NWC President Paul Prestwich sent out a campus-wide e-mail earlier Tuesday afternoon with the news that he and Communications Director Duane Fish had worked out a resolution to their differences about how to handle new program proposals.

In the e-mail, Prestwich said, “I am pleased to report that our exchange of ideas — which came in the way of face-to-face discussions and written communication — has provided me enough information to consider the case closed. We have arrived at a satisfactory resolution, and our goal is now to move forward in a productive way.

“I remain supportive of (Fish's) work as faculty member, division chair, forensics coach and facilitator of our accreditation self-study process. His work in those areas will continue to be critical in the success of NWC and our students.”

Kimble thanked Prestwich for that welcome resolution and said it would go a long way toward healing in the NWC community.

Kimble repeated the call for the use of a mediator to resolve problems on campus.

“We feel moving forward cannot happen until we address these problems,” she said.

She suggested that faculty and staff once again focus on the college's vision and mission statements and work together to create a good learning atmosphere for students and working environment for employees.

Dean Bruce, who also spoke for the faculty organization, said many of the college community's problems were caused by a lack of trust and quality communication and by not consistently following policies and procedures.

Faculty organization representative Rob Rumbolz called for “honest, open dialogue (in which) I can say what I feel needs to be said, and I will be listened to,” as well as civility and an immediate cease to anonymous communication.

Classified Staff Organization representative Deb Jacobs echoed the call for a mediator.

She said there has been a genuine fear that speaking up will result in getting written up.

“More than just a few come to work and keep their heads down, mouths shut, do their time and go home,” she said.

Fears include a worry that the current administration would like to ease away from the tradition of shared governance at the college, she said.

Jacobs suggested continued open forums with Prestwich, training on policies to help with rumor control, and more explanation of policy changes.

Members of the Student Senate expressed frustration at the lack of information they receive.

“It is not necessarily the conflict that has upset us, but it's how it's being handled,” said Senate member Laci Kennedy. “That has led to rumors and conspiracy theories. All we hear are rumors and the fears of the faculty, but we don't know.”

Vogt told Student Senate members that the board wants two-way communication with them, including regular updates. But he stressed that communication can't include information about personnel issues, which must remain confidential.

Trustee Marty Coe said board members feel frustrated when they hear rumors they know are false or only partially true, but can't respond due to confidentiality issues.

“Sometimes I'd like to say, ‘That's not the whole picture,'” she said.

Elaine Haberland and Roena Halbur of the Professional Staff Organization suggested the college sponsor an “Acts of Kindness Week” in April in which everyone looked for opportunities to be kind to each other. That effort would help promote a return of goodwill, tolerance and openness and help build a sense of community, she said.
In a message read by Business Office Manager Jo Ann Heimer, Cindy Childs, Project Succeed manager, wrote,

“In every organization, something works. What we focus on becomes our reality... It's easier to focus on the future when we carry parts of the past with us. Those parts should be the best parts of the past.

“A gentle rain can come from these dark clouds,” she said.