Mediator plans second visit to Northwest College

Posted 9/16/10

Fisher visited the campus for the first time on Aug. 18 and 19.

NWC President Paul Prestwich said those meetings went well.

“I think (her visit) was very productive, a positive way for us to start our academic year,” he said. …

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Mediator plans second visit to Northwest College


A mediator will return to Northwest College on Friday for another round of talks with groups and employees on campus.Pamila Fisher of Bozeman, Mont., was hired by the NWC Board of Trustees last spring to help identify issues behind ongoing tensions at the college and find resolutions for them.

Fisher visited the campus for the first time on Aug. 18 and 19.

NWC President Paul Prestwich said those meetings went well.

“I think (her visit) was very productive, a positive way for us to start our academic year,” he said. “She did lots of listening, then worked with the cross-representative task force on identifying top issues.”

In a telephone interview earlier this month, Fisher said her first step in any facilitation is to learn as much about the college and issues of concern as possible.

While listening, she said, she tries to determine if there are other underlying issues — “Is there more at the source of what's being said?”

Fisher said the first step in the process is to agree on issues of concern or need; second, to decide on a plan for addressing them; and third, to identify strategies to help in the future: “What would we have to do as an institution to make it better?”

“The process really involves a lot of listening and reading,” she said. “I identify issues, and, depending on the issues, I meet with a cross section of leaders, work with them, share my insights and listen.

“The process of having a broad-based support is the central piece, and what is really needed here,” she added. “I'm not really finding any indication that what has been happening has been affecting student learning at all, but it's causing angst amongst the staff.”

Before leaving last month, Fisher left assignments for them to campus groups to work on before her return visit this week.

Since then, the Trust, Respect and Understanding Support Team — the TRUST team — has identified issues in a draft document.

Fisher said she received good ideas and suggestions as a result of last month's meetings.

Recently, the TRUST team released a draft of those issues.

They are, in order:

• An immediate need for a college code of conduct that is widely accepted and governs behavior.

• Communication should be timely, accurate, honest and easily available. The President's Advisory Council and constituent representatives should communicate in ways that will short circuit the rumor mill.

• The college should reach a collective understanding of what shared governance means in practice at Northwest College.

• A review and update of the college vision and mission and the addition of core values.

• The college community should be more informed and involved in the budgeting process, and planning should be collaborative.

• A collaborative review of employment handbooks to clarify or change policies as needed and distinguish between board policies and administrative procedures. Alternatives for conflict resolution should be identified.

• Leadership and professional development opportunities should be available to all.

• College leadership should work immediately to enhance the college's positive image in communities it serves.

One desired outcome of addressing the listed issues, the team said, “would be a campus characterized by a positive working and learning environment, excellent communication, trust of one another and respect for the contributions of all members of the Northwest College community.”

Another would be improved credibility of the college in communities it serves and within the larger academic community and accrediting agencies.

Employees and groups were asked to send any reactions they had to Fisher or a member of the TRUST team by Monday, Sept. 13.

Much of Fisher's time on Friday will be spent continuing her work with the task force, Prestwich said. An all-college workshop will take place from 1-3 p.m.

Once her work is complete, Fisher said, “the final outcome is to make a set of recommendations to the president, and that could include the board, about what consensus is needed to do things a little bit differently, to create a climate that is more respectful and civil, with a higher level of trust. One that is better for employees, and of course, for students.”

Prestwich said he believes most employees and groups at the college are interested in solving the problems on campus.

“Most of the people I've talked to seem to have very much a desire to help our campus improve,” he said. “I've talked to lots of people who've said, ‘I want to be part of the solution.'

“That's the great thing about this process. Part is identifying where we can improve. Much of that we knew, but now we're working toward coming up with some real solutions.”

Fisher said she believes problems at Northwest College can be solved.

“Everybody I spoke to is really anxious to put this behind them and avoid it happening in the future,” she said.