Dr. Ehmann Responds to Some of the Questions from the Eagle

Dr. Carl Ehmann, President
Mendocino College

By Zack Darling, Editor of the Eagle

Darling interviewed Dr. Ehmann Thursday afternoon. Zack attempted to get Dr. Ehmann's response to the questions or accusations that were put forward by Leslie Saxon-West, a full time faculty member in the Dance Department. She and Kathy Shearn, the College staff graphic artist, were adamant about the new appointee's lack of experience in the graphic arts field and public relations work.

THE MAIN PLAYERS

The top Administrators at Mendocino College
(as described by Dr. Ehmann)

 Don Vasconcellos

Don is Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs. His job deals with everything that involves instruction. Instructional administrators report to him, they discuss budget planning, curriculum, schedule, catalog, faculty, all the things that go into presenting instruction for students..
 Susan Bell

Susan is Dean of Instruction. She and other instructional administrators report to Don. In their own individual areas, they plan curriculum, meet with faculty, evaluate faculty, develop budgets, attend committee meetings, and basically are responsible for the day-to-day and on-going operation of the instructional program as he delegates that to them.
 Karen Chaty

Karen is Director of Personnel. She does everything involving any personnel issues, confidential or otherwise. One of her responsibilities also includes making sure that we follow policy that is set up in terms of how we deal with personnel. She negotiates for the district when we meet at the table with the various constituent groups regarding salary and fringe benefits. She is our liaison to our legal council and helps us with position descriptions, hiring process, and many other things involving affirmative action and hiring and personnel practice.
 Carl Ehmann

As the President/Superintendent of the College, I'm responsible for enforcing the policies and administrative regulations that the trustees adopt. That means all 4200 square miles. So really my job is to make sure that everything that is happening with regard to physical resources, administrative regulations, and curriculum. Ultimately I delegate a lot to our other management and administrative staff so it's really everything that you can see, buildings and grounds, construction, the budget that goes to the trustees, external relations with community, all the things that go into allowing the college to run, and so forth, every day.

***

THE INTERVIEW:

Zack Darling for the EAGLE:
In our last meeting, you said that you didn't want to talk about Susan Bell's letter because it is confidential. Would you be willing to at least share with me what your reaction to it was, how do you feel about it?

EHMANN: What I continue to say is that it was sent to me under confidential label and I'm treating it as such, I'm going to honor that side of it. If someone else wishes to publish that letter, when in fact it was apparently confidential, I see a contradiction there and I was concerned about that contradiction and that's basically what I would say about it.

EAGLE: Some of the issues raised in her letter have become quite public and people are wondering where you stand. For whatever reasons, some people don't really want to come out person to person or put their names on paper to express themselves. In view of that, would you support some sort of strictly confidential process for finding out what people-faculty, staff, administrators-are really thinking. A process that would guarantee a public and truthful evaluation of the issues and the confidentiality of the comments. The idea is to find a way to get legitimate feedback to you and the rest of us, and yet remove the possibility of retaliation by you or anyone else.

EHMANN: I would support any kind of a procedure that we would take to do what you have indicated, but it has to be within a certain order. There is a process that will begin when we talk in confidence at a closed session of the Board of Trustees. That's where the process with Susan Bell's letter is going to start. Later, after we've had our confidential discussion before a closed session of the board, then, if it is ethical and within what we are trying to do here, we can take whatever steps we wish to address the discussion process in the way you've mentioned. But there has to be an order to the process. We have established procedures for this sort of thing. We need to talk about these things in closed session, first.

EAGLE: I'd like to talk a little bit about Lael, and the position that she was recently given and some of the process that was gone through in hiring of her for the Public Relations Position. A number of faculty and staff are really concerned about this, especially people in departments of the college that have to deal with marketing. They say they really want to get an experienced person in that position. They don't feel like they really got what they wanted.

So, from our research, we have some questions we'd like answered:

Why were people who had first hand knowledge and experience of this job not allowed to be on the Selection Committee? At least one of these individuals, Kathy Shearn, says she requested to be on the hiring committee, but was excluded from the entire process. Why was she excluded?

EHMANN: Nobody was really excluded because the committee had been put together when I got requests from a couple people who wished to serve on the committee. The committee had been put together at that point and I felt very comfortable with the qualifications of the committee I already had, in term of their ability to make judgments and do the kind of homework we need to do to select the best possible person. I've mentioned this publicly before, I don't really feel as though it's necessary or really quite that ethical to say , ok , here's why one person is better on a committee than another, because I would say that for a lot of committees you could argue forever who really belongs on a committee. I felt that I had picked the correct people, and I still stand by that because of their knowledge and their willingness to work together with others on a committee to do the homework and take the time to work through that. As far as the faculty contingent was concerned, I did in fact notify the president of the Academic Senate about the faculty membership on that committee and we agreed that that was a very appropriate two faculty members on the committee.

EAGLE: In your response to your answer, there are two things I would like to ask questions about. First of all, you didn't really feel it was right to say who should and shouldn't be on a committee for something like that right?

EHMANN: Not quite. What I don't think it is fair is to say, "you know here's X person, and they're not as good on this committee as Y,"or debate publicly the qualities or the skills somebody has to serve on a committee. I think that's unfair to both people involved.

EAGLE: Well, suppose somebody from the Math department wanted to be on the Selection Committee. Now, obviously somebody in Art Department would have a stronger need for a really experienced marketing and PR person. Whereas I doubt that the Math Department does a lot of advertising, and probably would not be as concerned about who got the job.

But in this particular case, it was Kathy Shearn, the College staff graphic artist, who requested to be on the Selection Committee and she was denied for some reason. Don't you think that Kathy is very knowledgeable in the field of marketing and production, and graphic arts, etc? And I think you'll agree that she works very closely with the Public Relations person. So this is the question: Given Kathy's experience and knowledge, why was she excluded form the Selection Board?

EHMANN: First of all, I don't believe she was excluded. Obviously she didn't get to serve, but the committee was already put together. We had in place what I felt were the people that would help us get through all of this. And there is nothing personal about saying, "Well, Kathy, you don't have the skills, so I'm not going to include you."

On the other hand, I think that she would probably have made a good member of the committee, but at the time she applied I had already appointed the committee.

Furthermore, there are many other faculty that one could argue should be on the Selection Committee because they use the skills of the public relations person. The Athletic Department, for example. The Music department. You know, we could have had one of the people who teach music, or the person who puts on plays. Sure, someone like Les Pfutzenreuter. Fine. We could have had Les, but I felt that you have to stick with the people you need to do the work, share the information, roll up their sleeves and get going.

I feel a lot of people on our campus could have done that. We could have picked 35 different people, but I don't feel for a second that I excluded some who had more use than someone else.

Sure, Theater Arts uses public relations, but we have many other programs in the business area, and in certificate programs. These programs have a tremendous use for Public Relations, and what's more, they have the same skills as these other people do. They can take a look and say, "You know, that's good work," and "that's a good answer to that question." We had to look through 60 applications, and then come up with a final list of 7 or 8. You know, we can go on and debate who should have really been on the committee forever,

EAGLE: We've been told by the college staff as well as community professionals that Lael, the person who actually got the job of P.R. person, I'm quoting here, "lacks the basic knowledge of graphics terminology, graphic layout, printing, photography, journalistic format and style."

Now, you say that the hiring committee was balanced and knowledgeable about such marketing skills. But if so, why weren't the candidates evaluated on their knowledge of these basic PR practices?

EHMANN: The candidates, that is the finalists, were asked a number of questions. I believe there were 10 questions in all. We had narrowed the pool from 60 to 8 people. They were called in and those questions were asked. We graded the answers and the committee felt that the candidate that was hired was clearly number one in their estimation.

EAGLE: We understand that a deciding factor in hiring Lael was her "vision action plan." Is that true?

EHMANN: In talking to all of the candidates, wherever possible I talked to them face to face, or made a phone call to them personally to let them know of the decision that was made, rather than have them just get a letter saying "thank you for applying but we need to tell you that someone else got the job". We send a letter that does that, but before the letter was sent, I called and talked to each one of the finalists. I stress to them that while they did a good job, there were certain things that the successful candidate did that proved to the committee, that they were a little ahead in terms of what we think is needed for a successful candidate, and why it was recommended to me that we hire that particular person. It was mentioned that there were strengths that Lael had that others didn't. But I don't want to go back and talk about other people and what exactly was talked about. It is a confidential situation, but I've described basically what we did.

EAGLE: Were other candidates for the position asked to submit this "vision action plan" that was helpful in choosing Lael or was she the only one?

EHMANN: All of the candidates-let's see, I have to be careful how I say that. I believe that all the candidates brought some evidence of what they did. The response to each one of the questions is what we weighed in making a decision or recommendation. I don't want to go into the quality of people's answers or the exact questions, because again, that's a confidential sort of process. But each candidate had an equal opportunity to express why they felt they should get the job and they were all asked the same questions.

EAGLE: Regarding the change in the job description for the PR person: in 1986 the job description called for a minimum of two years experience in PR and marketing, and a Bachelors degree in marketing, PR or a communications related field. Why was that particular criteria overlooked in the 1996 job description?

EHMANN: I don't believe it was overlooked. We removed the degree requirement to allow us to not have what I feel is an artificial barrier. The law requires a degree or degrees for faculty positions or for certificated administration jobs and for some other jobs. But the law doesn't require a degree for the PR job. Therefore we don't require it here because when you do that, you're inviting a complaint in terms of affirmative reaction or poor personnel practice. So we don't put up any artificial barriers. Instead of requiring a bachelors degree in marketing, we changed the description to include the knowledge and abilities that are needed to do the job.. We put in all the things we'd expect someone to bring as a total package. That's how we attacked the problem.

EAGLE: Did you seek faculty input regarding this change in job description? I think some of the faculty feel that you went behind their backs because the job description for the position was revised on August 7th of '96. That date is several weeks before the faculty return from summer vacation. They felt like they had been undermined as far as their input and weren't given a fair chance. How do you feel about that?

EHMANN: Well, it obviously wasn't intentional. There's no reason to hide anything about what I do. I would just say that this position reports to the president of the college. The position reflects the needs and demands of the entire college. I feel we had heard enough to make a decision.

As far as changing the job description, I was diligent in talking to Don Vasconcellos, our Vice President of Academic Affairs, and we talked to a person who held that position and practicing that, that it was a fair sort of thing to do in terms of making some of that modification.

Some of that I would negotiate, and we did. We talked about how that would fill in, and others, in terms of the degree, again like I say, that's... I would do that and not... I don't think I need to ask.

I think some of the sensitivity is about what happens in the summer when people are gone. But what I would also submit is that you know we don't close down the college either.

EAGLE: I wanted to talk about the underground publications that are going around the college, the TAB and Process. It's easy for some people to write these off as cheap shots. But on the other hand, they really are expressing some pretty heavy frustration that seems to be getting a lot of sympathy around the campus. What do you feel is building up this tension and this frustration?

EHMANN: It doesn't take much courage to send something anonymous. And as I understand it, I don't think The Eagle is the kind of an organization that really encourages that, either. I don't.

I've heard that some people are afraid of retribution for something they might say and I'd like to find out where somebody's been paid back or punished for saying something that they feel strongly about, if it was said in a professional way and if it had fact behind it, rather than some sort of off-the-wall generalization. We need to deal in specifics so that we can address these matters openly.

EAGLE: What are you going to do about preventing the frustration?

EHMANN: I've tried to do what I could, and that is to encourage people to come forth and talk about things that they think are important. If somebody's afraid to talk to me, why couldn't that person have a friend or some else be a spokesperson. That way you would have a real person coming in to me and saying "You know there's somebody that's bothered by this but I'd like to represent them here, and I'd like to ask you some questions."

I mean, you're doing that now. You're coming to me directly, and I respect that.

EAGLE: So, we have two forms of expressions of frustration with the way things are going at the college, one of which is underground publications. Since they are printed anonymously and somewhat unprofessionally in your opinion, you don't want to address them. Also, we have a confidential letter which you don't really want to address openly either because it was given to you as confidential. What would be a good form in which to submit concerns or anger or frustration to you in a way that would be dealt with openly, publically and reasonably?

EHMANN: We have those in place. We just met as a President's Advisory Council that advises me about policy and regulation. If there is something, it depends on what the frustration is about. If it's a salary issue ("I'm not getting paid enough"), then there's a place to do that, and faculty and management, have representatives that will take it to the table, where we talk about those kinds of things, their issues and concerns. If it's about curriculum and programs, we have a curriculum committee that is loaded with faculty involvement. There's staff representation... excuse me... student representation and management representation on the curriculum committee. Let's say it's a program you want to put into place, a course you want to teach, a course you don't want to teach or you think you ought to modify it, that's in place right there. You could come and say "You know, I want The Eagle to be a full-blown Journalism program and I'm just dyin' to do that, and nobody's been listening." Well, then, you need to say "I want your attention and here's what I have in place." That goes to faculty and the administrator in that area, and it's presented at curriculum committee. Then what you have to realize though like I do, when I have an idea, it's got to float against a lot of other demands, and unfortunately, it may or may not, it may be number fourth. You know we can pay for, say three things and yours is fourth, or ninth, or third, or first. But that's the risk that we run in this enterprise. I mean, we don't get the things we want all the time. And so I think there are things in place right now to do that. And again, if people don't have the wherewithall to come right out themselves and feel a little naked doing that, there are people who will speak for them, and they'll say " Look, here are ten things we're talking about. Here's the detail, here are the specifics, on this date and with this, I didn't, and how come I didn't get an answer" and so forth and so on

EAGLE: You say the best way to get things done here is going through this "process" that you're obviously very confident in. To me the publication the TAB and the Process come from peoples' lack of confidence in the actual process in getting things done. If people who were concerned about these issues were to suggest a different form, or a different forum, or some sort of committee to actually deal with it, like a special circumstances situation, would you be open to ideas of a new process for this specific issue?

EHMANN: If the process, if we could... Well, let me back up- the Institutional Masterplan Steering Committee has already changed our process, one real big one that will cost us much less time to do our work. I announced that at the faculty orientation.

EAGLE: And what is this?

EHMANN: Faculty Inservice. I announced this. One of them is program review. It's a huge undertaking that takes place every year where faculty have to go through all their programs. Program review is a huge undertaking and we've cut that out so that's an every- other- year sort of thing, and it cuts out a huge amount of work, and speeds things up in terms of getting information about programs so we can make decisions. We've changed some of our calendars in terms of reporting information. If there are, if there's some group that wants to entertain, along with the Masterplan Committee because that's what I felt was the... I was told that's... I think, and I feel, I agree, that that's the best place to look at this, and their ideas about this, Hooray.

If there's a way to cut our process down so I can say, okay, you got a deal. You and I can't sit here. I can't negotiate with you a journalism program. I'd love to and I'd say, gosh, great, go do it. Because somebody else has to put that in place. Somebody else, somebody in their budget has to budget for that. Somebody has to staff it. Square footage. Equipment. On and on and on. Who's going to do that? You and I can't.

EAGLE: We're doing it on our own without the official program right now ( laughs ).

EHMANN: Well, yes, and I think that's an issue. It's fallen behind like a number of my projects. We're not getting much help from the State, so it's difficult to negotiate things when I've asked people to follow their plan, follow their budget. That's my responsibility to make sure we spend the money we have and not any more.

Copyright Mendocino College Eagle 1996
Permission granted to excerpt or use this article if source is cited


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