November 2019 Advocate: Concerns raised about administrator’s intimidating comments
AFT and CSEA raise concerns about administrator’s intimidating comments at Skyline public forum
At the Skyline Presidential Hiring public forum on October 15, a faculty member who expressed her concerns regarding the College culture and operations was publically called out and intimidated by an administrator. Representatives of both AFT Local 1493 and CSEA Chapter 33 (classified employees union), read messages of concern regarding this incident at the Board of Trustees meeting on October 23.
An abbreviated version of the following message was read by AFT 1493 Executive Secretary Paul Bissember. (The author of the statement wishes to remain anonymous due to fears of retaliation.)
[In photo below, Paul Bissember reads statement of concern to the Board.]
I make this statement on behalf of the Executive Committee of the faculty union, AFT 1493.
On October 15, 2019, the SMCCD invited all Skyline College employees to a Town Hall meeting to discuss the search for our next College President. In his welcoming remarks, Interim Chancellor Claire encouraged all attendees to speak with candor about the attributes the attendees most wanted in a new president and the challenges the new President would be face upon joining Skyline.
Subsequently, several employees stepped forth to say that the new President would need to be ready, willing, and able to address a campus climate which has some real positive aspects and also is characterized by a fears of bullying and retaliation by supervisors against employees, experiences of a lack of inclusion, and an obvious lack of transparency and democratic decision making. It is important to note that all but one of the non-managerial employees who had the courage to speak up were women, most were women of color.
Next the Executive Director of the Equity Institute, responded to these comments in way that has been described by attendees as “aggressive”, “targeted”, “vitriolic”, and “unprofessional”. In his lengthy retort, after voicing his strong disagreement that bullying or silencing occurs at Skyline College, he specifically and loudly singled out two of the prior speakers by name, both of whom were women. He criticized their comments and suggested that their comments were off the mark and/or part of a pattern of complaints by the speakers. He also used the phrase “first world problems” to describe his opinion of the comments raised by employees. The effect was harmful, hurtful, and immediate: no non-managerial spoke up again at the meeting. This is unsurprising – few people will volunteer to be insulted or yelled at in the workplace. Furthermore, none of the upper level administrators present at the time intervened and in the week since there has been no communication about the incident.
As this District is well aware, it is a violation of a California law for an employer to fail to take all reasonable steps necessary to prevent discrimination and harassment from occurring at work. We believe, given the tenor, tone, and words used by Executive Director Hotep, that the events of October 15, 2019, created an unsafe work environment and present a potential legal violation. Even if you disagree, we are confident that you seek the same end as do we: that all employees of the District, regardless of high pay or high title, will be held to account for basic standard of respectful, civil, and collegial communication.
This confidence is built on the foundation you have built, specifically: The Board’s Employment Philosophy which states:
“The Board subscribes to the principles of equal treatment and fairness”, the Board’s “unwavering belief that universally all humans have inherent value and every person should be treated with dignity and respect”, and the Board’s “expectation” that the “District’s colleges be community focused institutions where students, faculty, staff and the general public participate without fear or concern for retaliation or intimidation.”
Thus, the Executive Committee of AFT 1493 respectfully requests that the District and the Board of Trustees fully investigate this matter and commit to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the Board of Trustees’ Core Values and Principles guide your response to this unfortunate and ugly incident.
The following message was read to the Board by Linda Allen, CSEA Chapter 33, 2nd Vice President, Skyline.
[In photo below, Linda Allen,with CSEA supporters, reads statement of concern to the Board.]
I am here today on behalf of several classified staff at Skyline College.
On Tuesday October 15, 2019 during the Skyline Campus Town Hall Meeting, several individuals had expressed their personal thoughts and concerns on various issues from a hydration station and air conditioning in Building 5 to concerns about Building 12.
In response to these comments, the Executive Director of Equity erupted into a profanity-laced rant putting down the ideas and personal thoughts of individuals who had spoken during the forum.
There was an online article from the Palo Alto Daily Post which garnered 84 mostly negative comments about the management of this District and Skyline in particular, and this administrator continued to verbally strike out against anyone who had posted an anonymous comment. During his loud, demeaning and profanity-laced rant none of the administrators in attendance: The Interim Skyline College President, Skyline College Vice President of Instruction, Director of Human Resources, Cañada College President and Interim Chancellor, interceded and asked that comments remain professional or respect the voices of our colleagues. It was only after a faculty member tried to calm the situation (she was verbally attacked as well) that the Skyline VPI also spoke up. This is the exact type of offensive behavior that has created fear among classified staff, silenced their voices, and why people felt the need to make anonymous comments online.
It is concerning that once this administrator completed his rant, the Interim Chancellor thanked him for his passion and again did not remind the group to be professional or respectful of others or do anything to signal this behavior was not ok.
I was contacted by several classified staff at Skyline College who related to me they feel even less comfortable speaking up now. Board Policy 4.45. 6 (h) Discourteous, offensive, or abusive conduct or language toward other employees, students, or the public is reason for Dismissals or Disciplinary Action.
CSEA has similar language for disciplining our members who engage in this sort of offensive conduct.
We hope we can count on the Board to hold administrators to the same standard of conduct the rest of our District employees are held to, so we don’t continue the bullying, intimidation and feelings of retaliation your frontline employees feel right now.