Community questions state of EWC

EWC Faculty Senate President, Kelly Strampe (front, left) and Staff Alliance President Callie Allred welcomed the community to a public forum to discuss concerns around the school on Thursday. Tyler Martineau/Torrington Telegram

TORRINGTON – The Eastern Wyoming College (EWC) Faculty Senate and Staff Alliance held a public forum on Thursday with the public to discuss concerns around the school.
The meeting was attended by members of the community as well as staff, faculty and students. Chairman of the EWC Board of Trustees Bob Baumgartner was also present as well as fellow Trustees Judith Bartman, Randy Adams, Kurt Sittner, John Patrick and Jackie Van Mark.
Staff Alliance President Callie Allred welcomed everyone to the Fine Arts Auditorium for an update on what is happening at the college as well as answer questions. Allred said the school has faced many challenges in the last two years including the pandemic and being hacked but the staff has worked tirelessly to keep everything going.
“We have a very strong group of people who have rowed and rowed and rowed the boat even when they weren’t really sure sometimes of the destination. They never stopped,” Allred said. “The reason why is because we believe in the college, and we believe in the students that we serve.”
Faculty Senate President Kelly Strampe added the faculty has continued to teach through the challenges by adapting such as moving classes online or advising students without access to electronic records.
Before the community asked questions, Director of Institutional Development John Hansen talked about some of the most important values of the college for the community including being a place to tell families the truth as well as the college’s unique spirit. Hansen added the core business model at EWC is not broken but in fact resilient.
“Our students are still receiving a world class education, we have amazing faculty, and if you want to know the number one thing you can do to be successful in someone’s life it’s to show up,” Hansen said.
The open discussion began with one community member who said the EWC Board of Trustees are the “greatest ventriloquists you will ever see” and added the school is in “a world of hurt.” One reason for the college’s problems according to the community member is because the employees are lowest paid in the state.
A former employee of the college echoed concerns of low wages and also said the lack of respect from supervisors, board and administration toward the staff has led to the “hemorrhaging of employees.”
Hansen responded to the comments of the school’s low wages by stating the current funding model doesn’t positively affect smaller colleges in the state which he said drives him to find ways every day to help the employees.
A former student at EWC asked what plan the college had and how the board will implement it. Trustee Patrick said there is always a strategic plan which have recently run in three-year cycles on the college’s website and advocated the community to go there and read it.
“I won’t say it answers every question, but it sure sets out the broad goals that the college seeks to accomplish in the next segment of that plan,” Patrick said.
Another community member said she went to the website but only saw a plan from 2016. Patrick said he can’t promise it is actually on the website and the board is not in charge of making sure it is.
An audience member on Zoom asked how the school plans to improve on trust and communication. Allred responded on behalf of Staff Alliance by saying they are working toward finding the trust and lending support to one another in order to move in the right direction.
One community member added to the concerns of communication and said the community is rarely informed of what is happening at the college aside from rumors. The community member also said foreign exchange students should be encouraged by the school to become more involved with the community and host presentations about their culture. Allred said it is something they could plan in the future.
Along with open communication, former faculty member Kate Steinbock said in her last year at the school she tried to work with the board to implement Zoom during their meetings for the community and those at the Douglas campus as well.
“At every turn I was told ‘we’ll work on it we’ll work on it’ and it still hasn’t happened, and it needs to happen,” Steinbock said. “People in this community want to be involved and they want to know what’s going on, but it’s almost like EWC is actively trying to keep information from the community and it needs to change.”
There was also discussion about collegewide climate survey which Trustee Patrick said had been done within the last year or two. A question was asked what was done with the information from the survey. According to Steinbock, there was a high rate of participation from faculty and staff with the information then handed to the board who decided not to release the information and nothing was done with it.  
In regard to the school’s search for a new president, one student asked how the search process went from almost 50 candidates to three who toured the campus and why no one had been picked yet. Trustee Adams said the original candidate who was preferred by most of the staff and community was deemed not the best choice after information was presented to the board.
“I want you to know that the members of the board acted ethically and acted in the best interest of EWC in the decision that they made,” Adams said.
In terms of the fourth candidate, Adams said Dr. Jeffery Hawes was on the EWC campus in Torrington on Wednesday and also met with the board before going to the Douglas campus on Thursday. Hawes was originally listed as one of the search committee’s top five choices recommended to the board.
Patrick added there is a sense by the community of an insurmountable problem at the college which he said there is not.
“I want to tell you that’s not the case and I don’t think any board member would agree that’s the case,” Patrick said. “This is not an emergency… the only thing worse than taking a little too long to make the right decision is to hurry to make the wrong decision.”
In response, Barbering and Cosmetology Director Katie Brigham said there is a major problem at the school as the employees are struggling.
“We need [the board’s] support and we need you to listen and we’re trying to get you to listen and for some reason we don’t feel like you are,” Brigham said.
Aaron Bahmer, Instructional Technologist and member of Staff Alliance, said at the board’s regular meeting on April 12 it was stated the board would not look further into candidate number four or five and would not continue to work with Gold Hills Associates in the continuation of the search process. Chairman Baumgartner confirmed on Wednesday, April 27, the college will still pay the search firm’s contract if Dr. Hawes is appointed as the new president. Bahmer asked what had changed since the regular meeting. According to Baumgartner at the open forum, since Hawes was part of the original search, they had to continue with the search firm. Baumgartner said the board thought during the regular meeting the partnership with Gold Hill had come to an end but later on there was discussion to bring in the fourth candidate.
One community member asked if the board felt continuing with Gold Hill was the right decision. Baumgartner said the board’s ethical responsibility and possible legal ramifications requires them to continue with the search firm since the current candidate is from the original search.
A community member on Zoom asked why the other two candidates from the original three were not selected when the top choice was ruled out. Trustee Patrick said the board felt all three candidates were not the right fit for the college.
Karen Posten, who works in Outreach at EWC, asked why only one candidate was brought on as opposed to three as was done with the original candidates. Posten said there is no one else to compare the candidate to as a result.
“I also feel that this person, even if they are the person for EWC, that there will always be a cloud over that presidency because was he just offered the position to quiet the masses,” Posten said.
Trustee Sittner addressed the issue and said there should be no “cloud” over the candidate head because he can be compared to.
“If he were to be the candidate that was chosen it would be because he is the right fit for EWC not because he compares to somebody else good, bad or indifferent,” Sittner.
Posten said many feel they do not have a choice since the first three candidates were not picked despite the preferences from the school employees and the community.
Allred added at the regular meeting staff and faculty expressed criticism toward the failed search and the importance of finding a president as soon as possible.
On community member said a lot of the questions are directed toward the board and used an analogy stating the board works in the crow’s nest of a ship with the responsibilities of hiring a captain and to decide the direction the ship goes in. Another community member said those in the crow’s nest should be listening to the crew if they say there is a hole in the ship.
In terms of the school’s previous president, Dr. Lesley Travers, one audience member from Zoom asked the board members if they thought hiring her ended up being the right decision for the college. Allred said it was not necessary for the board to answer the question despite disagreement from fellow members of the Senate Faculty and Staff Alliance.
Before closing the public forum, Bahmer reminded everyone the election is coming up for anyone interested in running for the board. The filing process to run for the EWC Board of Trustees will be open from Aug. 10 to Aug. 29.
According to a press release from EWC on Monday, the board will hold a special meeting on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. to consider Hawes as the new president. The meeting will be held in the Dolores Kaufman Board Room at the Torrington campus. To join the meeting via Zoom, use the following link: https://ewc-wy.zoom.us/j/99900462975

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