Truckee Meadows Community College President Karin Hilgersom—who assumed the office in 2016—has been recommended to the Nevada System of Higher Education’s (NSHE) Board of Regents for another contract extension despite persisting problems with faculty relations, rumors of an accounting snafu leading to layoffs of part-time faculty and an ongoing lawsuit in which she’s named as a defendant.
When the NSHE Board of Regents convenes for its June 11 meeting, it will review a recent evaluation of Hilgersom’s performance submitted by BJ North, chair of NSHE’s four-person Evaluation Committee. According to NSHE rules and Nevada Regulatory Statutes, the board may also discuss other matters related to the president and her performance as leader of TMCC, including her character, alleged misconduct, professional competence and physical or mental health.
Hilgersom has the support of NSHE Chancellor Thom Reilly, who is recommending a four-year extension to her contract, but with no pay raise due to the fiscal condition of Nevada’s higher education system.
The performance evaluation—as well as Hilgersom’s self-evaluation—are available on NSHE’s website. It was compiled over the course of a few months and includes information obtained through more than 50 interviews with Hilgersom’s staff, community members, presidents of other NSHE institutions, TMCC faculty and classified staff. The Committee also conducted an open forum with more than 60 participants at TMCC to collect the feedback from administrators, faculty, classified employees and students.
The compiled information discusses the president’s performance in areas ranging from student success to enrollment to grants. It contains a fair amount of praise for Hilgersom—but also a good amount of criticism, including some issues that persist since the last time she was reviewed and recommended for a contract extension in 2018.
In her 2018 evaluation, it was noted that Hilgersom had issues when it came to communications—especially with academic faculty—as well as problems with conflict resolution and shared governance. These issues are noted again:
“One theme that surfaced through both survey results and interviews was an apparent schism between academic and administrative faculty. The Nevada System of Higher Education sent out 175 surveys to Academic Faculty.
“The response from the Academic Faculty this year was lower then [sic] the response in the previous year. In 2020, 66 Faculty responded to the NSHE survey compared to 91 faculty responses in 2018 out of 175 surveys sent to Faculty.
“The Faculty Survey, 73% of administrative faculty agreed that the President was effective in promoting camaraderie on campus, compared to 44% of academic faculty in agreement. Similarly, 82% of administrative faculty agreed that President Hilgersom is effective at communicating with the campus community, while 53% of academic faculty agreed.
“When asked whether the President effectively administers and follows up on appropriate issues and concerns, 67% of administrative faculty agreed while 36% of academic faculty agreed.”
The report notes that, “Although the challenges of providing effective responses to a group disapproving faculty are great, the committee recommends that Hilgersom continue to make concerted effort to seek their voices and build a stronger rapport.”
In 2018 Hilgersom was directed to retain the services of a “coach” to help her with communication issues. TMCC officials said that cost $2,500.
After reviewing this information, NSHE’s board will consider agenda item 30 for the day, a recommendation from Chancellor Thom Reilly to renew Hilgersom’s contract for another four years.
Even as the board prepares for this contract extension, however, TMCC is in the midst of continuing unrest, including recent rumors of firings allegedly related to accounting problems and lawsuits brought by TMCC faculty against Hilgersom, other TMCC administrators, NSHE Chancellor Reilly and NSHE itself.
Rumors surrounding part-time firings
This Is Reno received several news tips from TMCC faculty alleging that part-time (adjunct) faculty in the school’s liberal arts college had all been laid off in an effort to track down a “budget shortfall” and eliminate the part-time budget as the source.
This Is Reno was forwarded several emails from TMCC adjunct faculty sent to them through Workday—NSHE’s human resources processing system—notifying them of their termination.
It read, in part:
“An end date has been recorded for your employment with Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE). Workday calls this process “Termination” even if you anticipate a future rehire or continuing employment with NSHE in the future. Please print out any pay stubs you need for your records. Instructions on how to access W-2s through the ADP system can be found in the NSHE Workday Training area in your Workday account homepage. You will have access to this information for one year after your termination date.”
TMCC’s Director of Marketing and Communications, Kate Kirkpatrick, said termination letters of this sort are standard NSHE practice.
“There is no reason for any concern at this time,” she wrote in an email to This Is Reno. “The information about ‘all part-time faculty being fired’ is not accurate. A number of our part-time faculty recently received a standard communication, generated from Workday (our main HR processing system), if they are no longer performing services for the College and there has been no compensation over the last 30 days. This is a standard NSHE wide procedure.”
I have my doubts that I’m going to get rehired, because they’ve been less than candid with us.”
However, while one tip alleged that all part-time faculty had been laid off, faculty members in colleges outside of liberal arts told This Is Reno that part-time staff had received no such termination letters.
“Just got ahold of my part time co-worker, and he said he’s never got anything that said he’s been terminated,” said a faculty member who teaches in the school’s automotive department. “But said he does have to sign a new contract every year. … That seems weird but, to be totally honest, it could just be a new thing. … Workday has been a major pain in the ass for everyone.”
Several adjunct faculty members who’ve taught liberal arts courses agreed to speak with This Is Reno on the condition that their names be withheld for fear of retaliation by TMCC administrators.
One adjunct instructor said he was surprised to receive the termination letter and had not received one after 30 days since last teaching. He said he went to his department’s administrative assistant after receiving the email and was told it was the result of a “lack of accountancy” but that he was on the list to be rehired.
He said he later received an email saying that adjunct faculty would be rehired sometime before the fall semester—but with little else in the way of an explanation or details on rehiring.
“No definitive date, no explanation, no classes that we’re going to get,” he said.
The same adjunct faculty member said, however, “I have my doubts that I’m going to get rehired, because they’ve been less than candid with us.”
He’s not alone in his suspicions. A second liberal arts adjunct instructor told This Is Reno that he’s received termination notifications through Workday but only after a year of not teaching.
He and the other professor both expressed their suspicions that events transpiring within TMCC’s liberal arts college are related to a years-long power struggle between president Hilgersom, former liberal arts dean Jill Channing and tenured TMCC professor Tom Cardoza—a struggle that’s the subject of a lawsuit Cardoza brought against NSHE, its chancellor, Hilgersom and Channing.
Continuing legal battles
Cardoza has taught at TMCC since 2003. In 2007 he became a tenured professor, and, in May of 2014, he was elected by his peers for a three-year term as chair of TMCC’s humanities department. In 2016, he was again unanimously elected for another three-year term as chair.
As a part of his duties as chair, Cardoza served as the chair of the liberal arts tenure committee, which was considering tenure for humanities professor Kyle Simmons in 2017. Cardoza supported Simmons’ tenure—but not everyone did, and Cardoza claims the divide was what led to the removal of his chairmanship in August 2017 by Hilgersom, just a month after his reelection to the position.
In August 2017, Cardoza received a letter of reprimand from Dean Channing. The reason for the reprimand wasn’t mentioned in the suit Cardoza filed, though he did fight it and eventually got it removed from his personnel file after filing a grievance with TMCC’s human resources department.
In accordance with agreements between NSHE and the Nevada Faculty Alliance (NFA), which advocates on behalf of all eight NSHE institutions and represents three of them—TMCC, Western Nevada College and College of Southern Nevada—in collective bargaining, Cardoza’s grievances went through a process leading to an appeal to NSHE Chancellor Reilly. Cardoza was seeking reinstatement to his chairmanship position with back-pay and benefits retroactive to Aug. 25, 2017.
After reviewing the situation, Reilly responded to Cardoza and informed him that the reprimand would be removed from his personnel file but that he would not be reinstated as department chair—despite the fact that Reilly admitted to taking issue with the manner in which Cardoza was removed from the role.
“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, 2017 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.”
According to the NFA’s collective bargaining agreement, reasons to remove a department chair would include failing to perform duties or being disciplined for reasons set forth in the NSHE Code or TMCC bylaws.
Cardoza filed suit against NSHE, Reilly, Hilgersom and Channing—alleging a breach of contract. This Is Reno reported months later that the case was dismissed in 2018. Reilly, through TMCC’s general counsel, cited procedural and technical intricacies when asking the court to dismiss the case.
However, the suit was refiled and a second amended complaint was filed by Cardoza’s legal representative, attorney Michael Langton, last month. Langton also represents Simmons, who filed his own suit against TMCC and NSHE after being denied tenure and allegedly sexually harassed by two TMCC administrators.
According to Cardoza, all parties in the suit have been served, save one—Chancellor Reilly.
The Nevada Faculty Alliance in March threatened censure against Hilgersom over many of these issues.
This Is Reno will continue to report on this story as it develops.
This Is Reno has since learned through Cardoza’s attorney, Langton, that service of Reilly was completed on May 21 at his residence in Phoenix, Arizona.
NSHE’s communications officer Francis McCabe contacted This Is Reno regarding the serving of Reilly. According to McCabe, “The process server went to the Chancellor’s residence in Phoenix, Arizona, not his Las Vegas, Nevada residence, where he works and lives during the workweek. The person who answered the door in Phoenix is Chancellor Reilly’s partner.”
A previous version of this story included a quote insinuating that Reilly had avoided being served, which has since been confirmed was not the case.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.