A lawsuit (read it below) seeks to overturn a decision by Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Chancellor Thom Reilly to deny a grievance and states he exceeded his powers by disregarding language in a collective bargaining agreement.
An exhibit attached to the suit quotes Reilly as saying a “lack of trust” between some Truckee Meadows Community College (TMCC) faculty and the administration is “very concerning” and that it “cannot continue.”
The case was filed this month in the Second Judicial Court by Reno attorney Michael Langton on behalf of TMCC Humanities Professor Thomas Cardoza against TMCC and Reilly.
Cardoza had been a department chair at TMCC, which nets him an additional 20 percent compensation with a $5,000 stipend, equating to about $20,000 annually. His chairmanship was removed by TMCC President Karin Hilgersom in August 2017 after a letter of reprimand a month prior.
The reason for the reprimand wasn’t mentioned in the suit, although Reilly ordered it removed from Cardoza’s file. Cardoza remains a faculty member at TMCC.
After becoming Humanities Department chairman in July 2014, Cardoza was re-elected to the post in July 2017. Chairs are elected by the department and approved by the dean.
Cardoza is seeking reinstatement to his chairmanship position with back-pay and benefits retroactive to Aug. 25, 2017, along with attorney fees.
According to the suit, Cardoza filed a grievance with TMCC’s human resource office in September protesting the actions of Hilgersom and Dean Jill Channing, alleging Channing retaliated against him in violation of the collective bargaining agreement. In October, Cardoza filed a separate grievance with human resources alleging violation of a section in the bargaining agreement.
In November, Cardoza appealed to Reilly, who determined each grievance “must be formally denied based on technical deficiencies,” the suit said.
Reilly directed Hilgersom to remove a letter of reprimand from Cardoza’s file due to the “equity, proportionality, and manner” in which the reprimand was carried out. Reilly also expressed concern about the way Cardoza was removed as department chairman and the timing of his removal being “problematic,” although he said it wasn’t appropriate for him to intervene.
“Specifically, I am troubled that your removal was linked to the letter of reprimand without reference to any other facts demonstrating reasons for your removal,” Reilly wrote in a Nov. 8 letter to Cardoza. “Nonetheless, I strongly believe that deans and presidents should have discretion in the appointment and removal of department chairs and I believe your removal was generally consistent with the authority vested to the president…”
Strong beliefs and discretion aren’t stated in the collective bargaining agreement as reasons to remove a department chair. Grounds for removal would be failing to perform duties or being disciplined for reasons set forth in the NSHE Code or TMCC bylaws, the suit says, citing bargaining agreement language.
“Applicant Cardoza never failed or refused to perform the normal and reasonable duties of department chair, nor was he disciplined for any reason set forth in NSHE code or TMCC bylaws,” the suit states.
However, Reilly’s letter to Cardoza said he believed Cardoza’s removal was “generally consistent with authority vested to the president” in the TMCC-Nevada Faculty Alliance contract and in the TMCC bylaws.
Michael Flores, Reilly’s chief of staff, had no comment.
“Due to our policy we cannot discuss personnel matters and the chancellor will not be commenting on this issue,” Flores said.
Elena Bubnova, TMCC associate vice president, also declined comment.
“This is a personnel matter and according to NSHE policy, we are not in a position to comment further,” she said.
Reilly’s comments in his letter to Cardoza highlight some tension between faculty and administrators at TMCC.
Aside from the suit, the Nevada Faculty Alliance (NFA) unanimously passed a resolution at its Feb. 2 meeting stating the TMCC administration hasn’t “acted in good faith in regard to an essential shared governing environment as established in the NFA contract and our bylaws.”
“Sixteen votes for the resolution, none against,” wrote alliance member Lars Jensen in an email to TMCC faculty. “The lopsided vote alone speaks volumes.”
Shared governance refers to faculty and staff participating in decision-making processes in regards to educational policies and budget preparation, among other things.
Hilgersom this week replied to TMCC staff regarding the the Nevada Faculty Alliance resolution, encouraging employees to engage in civil and respectful discourse.
“To set the record straight, we want you all to know the leadership team believes in shared governance, deeply,” Hilgersom wrote in an email. “TMCC depends upon all perspectives on most matters, and when it comes to most academic matters, we expect that faculty work closely with instructional deans and the vice president of academic affairs to ensure and sustain excellent academic programs. We consider ourselves pro-faculty.”
Additionally, a survey conducted by TMCC with results released last fall showed that 37 percent of faculty and staff think there’s effective communication between them and the administration. About one-third said they have opportunities to be involved in budget preparations and roughly half said their input is sought in decision-making processes that affect their work.
Also, most indicated they saw little opportunity for advancement or were satisfied with the criteria for advancement. Surveys were completed anonymously about a year after Hilgersom became president.
“Climate surveys are typically conducted to assess organizational environment and engagement,” Bubnova said in an October statement. “In addition, TMCC’s new president was interested in having a baseline. We are strongly committed to having a positive and highly effective institution and this survey is an opportunity for all campus constituents to participate in shared governance.”