Tempers Flare at Faculty Senate Meeting

By: Richard Kerr & Tyler Parks

Discussion at last week’s Fort Hays State University Faculty Senate meeting covered a wide range of topics and concerns, primarily centered around the university’s administration and President Mirta Martin.

As faculty, students, administrators, and reporters crowded into the Stouffer Lounge of the Memorial Union on a the evening of November 1, there was a feeling of tension and unpredictability.

“I know that some of you think that what I’m doing is improper,” said Faculty Senate President Carl Miller in his opening remarks, “I understand that. And I know that perhaps some of you are here today hoping to see me ridden out of here on a rail. We’ll see whether that happens.”

Miller presented a letter before the Kansas Board of Regents last month, a letter detailing the grievances and complaints held by 17 departments and department chairs at FHSU.

One FHSU employee expressed discontent with this presentation, as well as the ensuing media coverage.

“Based on this information [presented], the Hays Daily News published two articles that contained false conclusions based on this study,” said Gary Brinker, professor of sociology. Brinker is also director of the Docking Institute of Public Affairs, and served as the principal investigator for the Faculty Senate in conducting a survey that was sent out to faculty last month.  The survey asked faculty their opinion on a number of university policies, namely caps and overloads.

The survey revealed that 66 percent of respondents indicated if “they could find a comparable job, they would leave FHSU.”

Brinker is now under scrutiny from the Internal Review Board, and the study has officially been closed.

“They informed me I was forbidden from discussing the study with anybody publicly for the rest of my life,” Brinker said.

Brinker explained during standing committee reports how the survey was conducted, and what went wrong.

“I worked directly with President Miller as a liaison… to a group of people under our [Faculty Senate] president’s supervision, developed a questionnaire which they delivered to me. I made some minor edits to make it more objective and sent it back to President Miller who approved it. I administered the study and it went very well. There was a very high response as you may know.”

Brinker then generated a report of quantitative data and raw qualitative data, and delivered it to Miller.

“I apparently mistakenly assumed that the people using this understood the ethical constraints – and to President Miller’s credit, he did go through a redaction procedure before he distributed that out – but the fact is that the IRB accused me of giving him de-identified data.”

The Faculty Senate also determined that he was a conflict of interest, since his position at the Docking Institute answers directly to the university president, according to Brinker.  Another point of contention that Brinker brought up was a complaint that Miller spoke at the KBOR meeting on behalf of the Faculty Senate.

“Dr. Miller did in fact state that he was speaking for himself,” said Tony Gabel, associate professor of business law at FHSU and lead negotiator for FHSU’s AAUP bargaining unit.

While the survey has been thrown out of the evidence pile for FHSU Faculty, others presented their case against the FHSU administration, detailing cases of abuse, mismanagement, intimidation, and even shoe throwing.

Miller started by explaining the events leading up to the reading of the statement presented to the KBOR. [Statement provided below]

Rumors and concerns about course caps and overloads were shared from faculty to Miller initially led the philosophy professor to start asking questions to the administration.

“How much would this cost?” Miller said, “The response was, well, we don’t entirely know. We haven’t done the calculations. I can’t impress upon you how alarming I found that. That an administration would be talking about doing these things in a way that led deans to mark this on their agendas that they discuss with their faculty without having done the basic preliminary step of determining the cost

“The second question we asked, how will this affect students if we raise these caps and if we employ adjuncts to teach them, what will be the effects on students? And there were no indications that they had looked into it.

“The third thing we asked is, how will this affect the faculty? How many people will be harmed, how much money are people making, how long have they been doing this? And the answer to that, again, was, ‘well we don’t know because we haven’t looked into that yet’.

“This was becoming, to me, fairly alarming. There were no data, no arguments, no evidence, no calculations had been done.

“Now, the president seems to operate according to two basic models. One is a kind of business model, that is financially sound decisions based on good data. And the second is a kind of family model, that we’re all family and we’re all supportive of each other.

“Well, the way this was being handled, seemed not to fall into either category. It wasn’t good business because they hadn’t done any calculations, and it wasn’t much of a family because they weren’t consulting the family. So if it’s a business, it’s not being run well. And if it’s a family, it’s dysfunctional. So this didn’t seem like a good plan to me.”

Dangerous and Divisive Leadership

Miller continued by explaining the administration had given three main reasons for the limiting of overload classes: to be a good steward of the state’s resources, to save money by hiring adjuncts rather than faculty, and that it was necessary to save jobs.

“They did eventually do the calculations on the overloads to determine how much they’d save,” Miller said.

The savings would have been less than a thousand dollars per overload class on average, according to Miller; savings of about $300,000 total from the $150 million budget, accounting for around 0.002% of the total budget.

The calculated savings for shifting overload classes from faculty to adjuncts using Martin’s proposed plan. Data created by Mike Barnett, FHSU Vice President for Administration and Finance.

“That amount is about one-third of what the administration has increased in administrative spending in the past two years,” Miller said, “In other words, three times as much has been spent on administration increases than if we replaced every one of the overload classes.”

“AAUP asked Mike Barnett who is the Vice President of Finance to come to their last meeting,” Miller said. When Miller asked about caps and overloads, “He answered, specifically, explicitly, no, it’s not necessary.

“This argument has been bandied about since the beginning. What that means is that the administration was essentially trying to scare us into accepting their claims by telling us that our jobs were on the line

“And I know that there are people who believe that, and I’ve seen it in emails going around, that ‘this is a question of overloads or jobs’ and its just not true.

“And so what that says to me is that the administration is not really interested in making good arguments. They’re interested in scaring you into believing what they tell you, and turning us against each other so that we start calling each other things like ‘privileged elite’, ‘selfish’, that we are not concerned with other people. They created that environment by telling you things that weren’t true, and scaring you into believing them.

“That strikes me as poor leadership, dangerous leadership, the kind of thing that this administration is doing that we should not have.”

Caps And Overloads Are Just “The Tip of The Iceberg”

While course caps and overloads are off the table, according to Miller, there are a lot more complaints.

“If this proposal, caps and overloads, was so dramatically bungled and so incompetent and so misleading, what other stuff might they be doing this in.”  Miller admits for most of his career at FHSU, he’s had little idea of what goes on in administration. “I’m a philosopher after all. We don’t know anything about what’s happening outside our philosophical discussions.”

“So we began asking questions and going to people who knew things… and people in confidence started telling us things.”

“These abuses were just the tip of the iceberg. There were lots of other things going on that I and probably many of you don’t know about.”

“There are lots of other people on this campus who do know about these things, that are working on them, and are concerned about them.”

“We suspect that the Board of Regents was taking this seriously and maybe that had something to do with why the held the meeting with us.”

“So my goal in doing these things is not to force Dr. Martin to resign.  My goal in doing all of this is to give you all the evidence so that you force her to do so.”

“I recently reviewed an eleven page letter that someone wrote cataloging examples of malfeasance, corruption, misbehavior. They had seven different categories of abuses and examples in each one of those categories. They included abusive and unprofessional behavior, including the president throwing a shoe during a meeting and verbally abusing other faculty members during small meetings. Restrictions on free speech, including student media.  Cronyism in hiring and promotion with seven different examples of that within different departments.  Lack of transparency and accountability, which began at the very beginning of her administration with the  re-engineering proposals. Lack of shared governance. Failure to make decisions based on sound reasoning and data. Financial mismanagement.”

Faculty members have also been writing letters and emails to KBOR. Miller explained some of these letters have also been shared with him.

“Some of these letters include allegations that illegal behavior has occurred with respect to things like hiring practices.”

Within about eight hours, over 100 faculty and staff signed onto the statement presented to KBOR, according to Miller. The following is the statement presented to the Kansas Board of Regents.

The following statement has been supported by well over 100 faculty and staff from 17 departments in 4 of the 5 colleges at Fort Hays State University. Unfortunately, not all departments or colleges were approached due to the time constraints of today’s’ meeting. Given the current climate at FHSU, these departments, faculty, and staff have asked to remain anonymous due to the potential retaliatory behavior by upper administration. Individuals welcome the opportunity to talk with the Kansas Board of Regents privately should they wish for additional feedback and Carl Miller, Faculty Senate President, has been granted permission to initiate a meeting.

Understanding that no single statement could adequately capture the chain of events that has led to this moment of disquiet, and that other senators must speak on behalf of their departments, the faculty in the aforementioned departments offers the following statement of deep concern to the Kansas Board of Regents: Today our university is clouded by anxiety and dread, much of it generated and exacerbated by the statements and actions of President Mirta Martin.

Dr. Martin has repeatedly and publicly spoken with heightened emotion, supported only by anecdote, about the threats to the job security of staff and faculty if we fail to support her plans for the university. The fact that we all understand the financial challenges faced by state government revenue shortfall only intensifies the sense of despair many feel when our own leadership implies the financial exigency of the institution.

We do not have faith that the President is committed to shared governance or evidence-based leadership. We experience her leadership as a refusal to share information, impulsive and emotionally driven decisions about programs and personnel, cronyism in hiring practices, and a loss of the autonomy and creativity necessary for faculty and staff to thrive and take joy in our work. Further, she demonstrates a habit of later denying what she has said to our faces, as many in this Senate can attest. We have great concern that Dr. Martin can regain the confidence and collegial purpose of increasing members of our university community and the community of Hays.

We urge the Kansas Board of Regents to take actions to address fully the conditions of employment at Fort Hays State University.

“So people say to me, why are you stirring up this trouble? People want to know what I’m doing and what other people are doing. So let me try to answer that. I think it’s a fair question and deserves a fair answer. First off, let me say that this is no longer at all about caps and overloads. It’s my understanding after the meeting we had with Dr. Martin last week that caps and overloads are essentially off the table now.

“As Dr. Martin has said recently, ‘this was a conversation’ and as a conversation it’s not supposed to be acted upon.

“When I was in law school, the question was: can you make a case for the position you are defending. And so what I am doing, what I am trying to do, is to carefully, methodically and patiently assemble the case that what is going on is something that should deeply concern us and the things that are happening are things that should not be happening and leave it to the rest of you to decide what should be done with that.

“So my goal in doing these things is not to force Dr. Martin to resign.  My goal in doing all of this is to give you all the evidence so that you force her to do so.

“And I want to acknowledge it up front. There are things that we can publicly share with you. There are data we can show, there are public documents. But a lot of these things are things that depend on witnesses on coming forward or our exposing their identities. And we are reluctant to do in fact we’re not going to do that.

“The challenge that we face is getting to you the information that you need in order to determine that what we’re saying about these abuses is true.

“I have no doubt that we will prevail in presenting that evidence to you, but it is a challenge.

“Throughout this I’ve been accused of selfishness, sexism, elitism – this is my favorite – being ‘worse than an idiot’, not caring about untenured faculty, misrepresenting the faculty, overstepping my authority, ignoring the consequences to the university, being corrupt.

“The point is there’s lots of these criticisms of me, and it sounds bad, it sounds like I’m a bad person, but I hope none of that is true, I know that people believe it.

“I know what some of you think that what I’m doing is improper. I understand that. And I know that perhaps some of you are here today hoping to see me ridden out of here on a rail. We’ll see whether that happens.

“But I genuinely want to tell you that my reasons here are not because I don’t like President Martin or because I don’t want to work for a woman or it’s not because I’m corrupt or I’m benefiting in any way from this. In fact, I haven’t seen any benefits coming from this. I’ve seen a lot of sleepless nights, lots of late nights working in the office, but I haven’t seen any benefits that I’m getting.

“I’m convinced that based on what I know… I’m convinced that if you knew these things, you wouldn’t trying to pillory me you would be joining me. And I’m convinced with a moral certainty that there is one person in this room who can share with you a particular case by itself one instance that we can document, clearly document with papers and emails and so forth, that if you knew that one thing by itself, this would all be over. Honest to goodness, I really believe that.

“My motive here is that I’m convinced based on the evidence and documents that I’ve seen and the testimony of people who are corroborated by other people, that this is a serious problem.”

The Provost Returns Fire

Once Miller was finished, Provost Graham Glynn returned with his own statements.

“Carl has made a lot of statements that in all honesty, as a scientist, I would say are innuendo and are not backed by evidence.

“I only know based on my interactions with the president the character of her and to me she has always been ethical in her behavior. I have never seen any practice of intimidation.

“Yes we had not done the analysis on overloads and its impact. We made a mistake, she brought it prematurely to this body for input. We had asked for the data and because of our work day issues… it just took an awful lot of time to finally get that data.

“It’s very hard to defend against claims of letters, lists, and objections and so on. In any competent court of law, a person would hear what the accusations are against them and have an opportunity to defend against them. I seriously object to those kinds of statements in this body.

“Claims of illegal behavior? That has to be decided in a court of law.”

Glynn said the concerns addressed at the meeting were the first time the administration has heard of them. This was countered by Senator Tony Gabel who claimed the administration was aware and has been aware of these allegations for awhile.

“We’re not perfect, we’re both new in our positions and we’re learning as we go,” Glynn added.

Curt Brungardt

Curt Brungardt, Professor of Leadership Studies, had asked to speak to the faculty senate and was added to the agenda before the meeting commenced. Brungardt, who has strong ties to the university, addressed his concerns for the future of the university if the current status quo remained unchanged. Several attempts to interrupt or dispute Brungardt’s claims by Provost Graham Glynn proved ineffective as Brungardt stood his ground and made sure his message was heard.

“I am a real old timer. In fact, when I look around this room there are professors that were former students of mine. I’ve served under Gerald Tomanek, Ed Hammond, and now Mirta Martin.

“I think it’s important that I speak to you today, because I represent one of the 17 departments and department chairs that drafted and supported the statement that Dr. Miller read to the Board of Regents two weeks ago.

“I speak for myself and for the center for civic leadership which I chair and direct. But I will share with you what I’ve been told am free to say by other department chairs.”

Brungardt reiterated that faculty are now sending their complaints to the KBOR through emails on the KBOR contact page.

“Most of these department chairs that I’ve worked with have kept these concerns private.

“Many department chairs have shield their faculty from these issues. In hindsight, I think many of us believe that was a bad practice. Over the last two and half years, much of what I call middle management, deans and chairs, have recognized that many of these concerns with Dr. Martin and upper management. And that’s why they supported the statement read to the Kansas Board of Regents. Because these positions serve at the pleasure of the president, many of these fine people will not speak out publicly for fear of retaliation by Dr. Martin or whoever represents her. Past history illustrates that they had every reason to be afraid of that retaliation. My comments today and the letter I wrote to the board of regents are based on my own direct interactions with Dr. Martin and my observations and my involvement in departmental, college, and university committees.  In the past three years, I’ve served on the provost council, the grand council, and a arts, humanities, and social science committee.”

Brungardt then read an excerpt from his letter to the KBOR.

“In summary, I believe our university is crumbling from within. Poor leadership on behalf of upper administration and Dr. Martin has created an environment that cannot be sustained and will only result in organizational failure. It is my belief that if there is not direct intervention by the board soon, this damaging culture will have a negative impact on our students and the entire state. While our conflict with Dr. Martin may seem to be about overloads and course caps, which I personally benefit from, it is not what upsets these 17 department chairs. I acknowledge that caps and overloads are important, but that’s not what concerns us and concerns me about Dr. Martin. I’m going to talk about 7 areas of concern that most of us and many of us shared with the Kansas Board of Regents.

“A lack of interest in shared governance and a lack of transparency, mismanagement of the re-engineering and strategic planning process and university’s financial resources, questionable hiring and promotion practices, unethical use of Fort Hays State University property, concerns about the growth and cost of new administrative positions, strong administrative control over information.

“The top administration has created systems and structures for the purpose of controlling nearly all information. They have developed, in my opinion, an informal censorship office which first started with logos, and now starts with changing and correcting and removing content from the things we want to print, and I’ve personally experienced that.

“Finally, number seven, which I believe the greatest concern of all of us and our university culture, which she calls ‘family’. It is extreme bullying tactics.  As an old soldier in organizational life, I have seen many supervisors bully their employees. But Dr. Martin takes it to another level. In both public and private meetings and even public spaces, Dr. Martin will insult people in front of others. She is well known for her ability to intimidate, demean, stare down, and even threaten retaliation against FHSU employees.  I know of one situation which I would describe as workplace violence, where Dr. Martin perpetrated actions for the purpose of physically harming a Fort Hays State University employee. And this was witnessed by many people. In the family environment, we call that domestic violence, and I’m very familiar with that.

“In closing, let me say that there is no one here that wanted Dr. Martin to be more successful than my wife Dr. Christie Brungardt and myself. But folks, that is just not happening.  My word to the faculty and our students: because you haven’t seen it, doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. As scholars, I ask you to do your research and learn about these issues and these claims. Everyday we ask our students to support their comments with facts and research. I ask each of you to do the same.

“As I stand here today, I have become a target for retaliation. You should see Dr. Glynn stare at me right now. I understand that I’m a target, and I accept that. As a leadership professor, I ask students everyday to put themselves out there for the good of the organization and what’s good for the community. How can I not do the same?”

The Infamous Shoe Throw

Immediately after Brungardt’s address to the senate, Glynn interjects, “Who was the shoe thrown at?”

“I think it was you,” Miller said.

“Me. Me,” Glynn said, “It was an absolute joke. And we were both laughing. By the way she’s a lousy thrower and she missed, but-”

“-Victims of domestic violence often not claim they are victims of abuse,” said Brungardt, co-founder of Jana’s Campaign, a nation-wide organization that advocates against domestic violence.

“Aww come on! I’m six three! Come on!”

“Doesn’t matter. Is that behavior of a president?” Brungardt asked.

Glynn then explained the shoe throwing in its full context.

“I made a statement in a meeting that, a mistaken statement in terms of saying the university was ‘cheap’ rather than ‘inexpensive’,” Glynn said, “She laughed, President Martin rarely wears her shoes because her feet hurt and she picked her shoe up and threw it toward me. She did not hit me. I was not intimidated. This is an example of the type of information this body is using to condemn a president. I think you all need to think very carefully about the information that you’re getting. I will swear – I’m not religious I can’t swear on the Bible – I will tell you that I absolutely took it as a joke. I was laughing.”

The meeting was scheduled to end at 5:30 p.m. but was extended after a motion to add five minutes was voted on and approved. After those five minutes had lapsed, a motion was made to adjourn the meeting and was seconded. This motion could not be discussed and passed, with some resistance.

The next Faculty Senate meeting is set for December 6, at 3:30 p.m. in the Stouffer Lounge in the Memorial Union.

Please stay tuned for more on this story as we will continue to bring you information as our investigation continues.

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