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Something rotten in the State of Nevada (opinion)


An open letter to NSHE Chancellor Thom Reilly

Submitted by Dr. Kyle Bryant Simmons

Dear NSHE Chancellor Reilly,

I recently read the public comment that you posted online titled: “’I can’t breathe’ – NSHE’s statement on George Floyd’s Death” and I would like to ask you about specific comments that you made/claim about harassment and discrimination and your willingness to listen.

Dr. Thom Reilly, Nevada System of Higher Education chancellor. Image: NSHE.
Dr. Thom Reilly, Nevada System of Higher Education chancellor. Image: NSHE.

First, I am going to extend you the courtesy of believing you when you claim: “We need to take time to listen more.  Racism and discrimination persists because we avoid difficult conversations.”  

I totally agree with you. 

However, this courtesy of believing you is one that you never extended me when I brought matters of harassment and discrimination at TMCC to your attention in numerous emails (January 2018 through May 2018), nor have you extended that courtesy since June 2018 when I wrote an Open Letter written to the NSHE Board of Regents (and yourself).  In fact, you have never extended the courtesy of listening (nor hearing) me, Chancellor Reilly, which is why I write to you in this Open Letter today.

I have a hard time believing you mean what you wrote about taking the “time to listen more,” Chancellor Reilly, especially since allegations of discrimination and harassment by TMCC/NSHE Administrators (such as President Karin Hilgersom, Vice President Marie Murgolo-Poore, former Dean of Liberal Arts Jill Channing, and former Human Resources Director Veronica Fox) have been brought to your attention for years.  

Not only have you not listened, Chancellor Reilly, you have avoided the “difficult conversations” outright by hiding behind technicalities of rules, by twisting of contract language, by violating Codes, Policies, and a Collective Bargaining Contract outright (which allows me Due Process according to NSHE Code), and by refusing to even meet with me at all — claiming it was because I was not in a union; all of which violates Due Process and a right to be heard and to face one’s accusers (which is the most heinous form of not listening you could do, as it undermines a fundamental constitutional right and denies me a voice at all).  

Since you have all of the emails denying your willingness to meet with me, Chancellor Reilly, I will not provide a link to them at this time, but they are certainly direct evidence against your recent public claim that: “We need to take time to listen more.  Racism and discrimination persists because we avoid difficult conversations.” 

So I ask: would you like to meet with me now and discuss the matters I brought to your attention over two years ago?  Back in 2018 when I still had a position in NSHE, before I was retaliated against for bringing your attention to harassment and discrimination issues: a “difficult conversation” that you have yet to listen to. 

Would you finally like to listen to the voices of my tenure committee who reached out to you two years ago about harassment, discrimination, and contract violations by TMCC Administrators? Are these professionals worthy of your time, Chancellor Reilly? How about the voices at TMCC that were intimidated into silence by having the campus police called to a meeting in 2018 to stand in the doorway with TMCC Administrators? Is this the type of thing you were speaking about, Chancellor Reilly?  Or are you advising “Do as I say, not as I do”?

Lest you think I still deserve to be ignored and you decide to deem me to be an isolated minority voice not worthy of listening to, Chancellor Reilly (which goes against the very sentiment of your recent public claim), I would bring your attention to the fact that I am not the only person to bring such matters to light about TMCC Administrators, especially President Karin Hilgersom. A recent article about another lawsuit filed against TMCC for harassment and discrimination comes to mind.

Dr. Karin Hilgersom, TMCC President.

Additionally, here is a letter from May 2018, written to you on behalf of  my colleague Lars Jensen, about the same discriminatory behaviors at TMCC, by President Hilgersom, whom you directly supervise, and her attempts to effectively silence speech (yet another form of not listening). 

Your response letter to Mr. Jensen reveals your true character in such matters, Chancellor Reilly. You illustrate that you do not hear Mr. Jensen at all, as you write off an extremely serious matter (Freedom of Speech) in one sentence and move past it without ever dealing with the very “difficult conversation” at hand; as proven by the fact that you keep recommending TMCC President Hilgersom for longer contracts that will enable her to continue acting as she has in the past, despite letters of serious concerns about behaviors to the contrary.

Apparently, President Hilgersom is not unlike you, Chancellor Reilly (her boss), as she deflects from any criticism about the climate and serious matters at TMCC (the very school she oversees) stating: “These vocal few members of a small local union chapter of the Nevada Faculty Alliance … propagate misinformation designed to distract me and TMCC’s leadership team from the only thing that matters at the moment—helping our community make it through an unprecedented crisis,” she said. “How much longer will the NFA majority accept the tactics of an unethical minority in their midst? And how much longer must the entire TMCC community suffer as a result of the actions of the few?”  

Is calling a group of people “an unethical minority” in line with listening more, Chancellor Reilly?  In fact, the article and survey it refers to notes frequent majorities of people are concerned about the climate at TMCC and about President Hilgersom specifically.  You even noted in Hilgersom’s evaluation of May 2018 that “active-listening skills” was something she needed a coach to help her with, but if she calls people an “unethical minority” and you support her by also ignoring the “difficult conversation” I must ask, do you really mean what you wrote about listening?  

It sounds to me like the insights of vocal minorities (and vocal majorities too, apparently) are consistently ignored by NSHE leadership such as Karin Hilgersom and yourself. It also sounds like Hilgersom needs more than a coach to me; she needs to resign from her job and quit blaming others for her inability to listen. 

Yet I read recently that you are recommending a new contract for Hilgersom despite all of these issues. How tone deaf can one Chancellor be, Thom?  Don’t you think you should actually spend more time actively listening to and addressing the problems of harassment and discrimination in NSHE that are reported to you and less time making public comment about national issues? Or are you simply wrapping yourself in a cause to appear more open than you really are?

I’ll close with saying that I find it crass and smarmy to utilize public tragedy to appear to be one way while actually acting the opposite. Karin Hilgersom did so when addressing COVID in her aforementioned comment about the “unethical minority” speaking up at TMCC; Hilgersom insinuates that by speaking up about systemic work climate issues at TMCC that the so-called “unethical minority” wants a virus to do harm to people. 

I laughed when I read Hilgersom’s quote, because she seems to be the truest virus at TMCC – not a group of faculty who speak against her.  She is essentially acting like a child saying: “I know you are but what am I?” (not an effective leadership style at all). Besides, isn’t addressing school issues and the school climate professionally her very job? Positive or negative? Isn’t attempting to minimize or silence people by calling them “unethical” the attempt of leadership to undercut the feelings/experience of people as unimportant? Isn’t calling people an “unethical minority” really just an attempt to dismiss them as irrelevant and not worthy of being listened to at all?

Your employee, Karin Hilgersom, would do well to listen to her own words that she recently posted on Facebook:

“At TMCC, we are a community. A community made up of all kinds of people; a community that can rise to the calling and the challenge of being more and doing more to combat issues of structural injustice. Let’s not cover our ears when the day is done, but instead look at how we can help to dismantle the individual, institutional, and societal forms of oppression that continue to rear their heads time and again.”  

It appears that Hilgersom, in the span of two months, has utilized two public tragedies to deflect from her own poor management and workplace toxicity, claiming to care about voices, yet calling the voices that she does not agree with an “unethical minority” (sounds hypocritical to me).  The irony that Hilgersom fails to see, Chancellor Reilly, is that she is the perpetrator of “structural injustice” at TMCC – that she is the one that has covered her ears to the voices of honest concern about her leadership – and that she is the one with her metaphorical knee on the metaphorical throats of all whom she denies a voice to by deeming them irrelevant; and you, Chancellor Reilly, are complicit in her behaviors since you have been in support of her performance for years.

You really aren’t any better, Chancellor Reilly; you publicly evoke a tragic death as a tool for learning, yet you have not listened to (meaning you have not heard) nor learned just how serious the harassment and discrimination concerns at TMCC/NSHE are for some people, despite the fact that it has been brought to your attention for years. Still the problems there persist. Minority voices do not seem to matter to NSHE officials – they are often minimized – and ignored outright – as all of the documents and articles noted in this letter attest. And still the voices of the minority go unheard under your watch.

I moved to Reno in 2014 with hope and ambition in my heart, but ever since January 2018 those feeling have died in me; that is a direct effect of you and Karin Hilgersom hiding behind technicalities in contract language (a refusal to listen), turning a deaf ear to all Grievances that I filed (another refusal to listen), rejecting the opportunity to meet with me and my attorney and have a conversation (denying me a right to be heard), declining to meet with NERC/EEOC to have a mediated “difficult discussion” by a government agency designed to hear such matters (a further refusal to listen), and finally, by seeking to dismiss lawsuits about these “difficult conversations” (a cowardly refusal to listen that you often undertake).

I hope that the people of Nevada vote in the Fall and remove powers from NSHE and demand more oversight of those of you in power that are simply not listening (as noted in yet another article about issues in NSHE).  I shudder to know that you make over $400,00 a year and that Hilgersom makes over $250,000 a year and I am saddened to think of all the taxpayer money spent on legal maneuvers in attempts to not listen to real issues inside of NSHE.  Is an ostrich approach to burying your head in the sand really an effective way to listen?

In my estimation, you say one thing and do another, Chancellor Reilly. I am sad for you and the Hilgersoms of the world.  You might make a very big paycheck – but you are little tyrants that are mainly respected out of fear of your power and what that power can do or provide. I hope for you both (and those of your ilk) that one day you ask/beg to be heard and that you are ignored as you have consistently ignored me and the other sincere voices of concern at TMCC and within NSHE asking for your help.

Even if a majority of people are content with, or not vocal about, concerns at TMMC/NSHE, is that a reason to not consider the concerns of the minority as serious and ethical? If 35 percent of a car-buying public were killed in faulty cars, does the satisfaction of the 65 percent negate the minority outright?  If we can shut down a nation over a certain percent chance of death from a virus, can you not listen to the fact that a higher percent than that are crying out for leadership that listens at TMCC? Will you take the time to listen to this difficult conversation, Chancellor Reilly?  Or will you turn a deaf ear?  I hope the public is listening and can hear your deafening silence too…

There is something rotten in the State of Nevada, Chancellor Reilly, and the smell is coming from the general direction of NSHE, you, TMCC, and Karin Hilgersom. 


Dr. Kyle Bryant Simmons

Dr. Kyle Bryant Simmons is a fighter for justice and a lover of wisdom. PhD in Humanities; MA in Eastern Classics; MA in Western Classics; BA in Communications. 

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