Drama on col­leges board

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Anne Ry­man

Four mem­bers of the Mari­copa County Com­mu­nity Col­lege Dis­trict Gov­ern­ing Board have called a spe­cial meet­ing to elect new of­fi­cers for 2019.

Four mem­bers of the Mari­copa County Com­mu­nity Col­lege Dis­trict Gov­ern­ing Board have called a spe­cial meet­ing to elect new of­fi­cers for 2019, even though the board’s con­tro­ver­sial pres­i­dent, Lau­rin Hen­drix, has six months left in his term as its leader.

Board mem­ber Linda Thor said she ex­pects there to be a spe­cial meet­ing at 5 p.m. Tues­day to elect a new board pres­i­dent. Hen­drix was cho­sen by board mem­bers in June 2017 for a twoyear term.

“My per­sonal opin­ion is a new board ought to be able to elect its own of­fi­cers,” Thor said.

Thor said she voted for Hen­drix when he was nom­i­nated for pres­i­dent in 2017 but wouldn’t say whether she would sup­port him again.

Vot­ers on Nov. 6 elected three new mem­bers of the gov­ern­ing board that over­sees the state’s largest com­mu­nity col­lege dis­trict.

The elec­tion fol­lowed a year in which col­lege fac­ulty mem­bers were fre­quently at odds with the elected board. The most con­tro­ver­sial board de­ci­sion, spear­headed by Hen­drix, ended a long-stand­ing pol­icy used to ne­go­ti­ate fac­ulty salaries and work­ing con­di­tions called “meet and con­fer.”

Board pol­icy says at least four of seven board mem­bers must agree in or­der to hold a spe­cial meet­ing that is not called by the board pres­i­dent or chan­cel­lor.

Dis­trict of­fi­cials said the four board mem­bers re­quest­ing Tues­day’s meet­ing were Thor, Dana Saar and newly elected mem­bers Marie Sul­li­van and Tom Nerini.

Two board mem­bers were op­posed to the spe­cial meet­ing: Jean Mc­Grath and newly elected board mem­ber Kath­leen Winn.

Hen­drix re­sponds to spe­cial meet­ing

Hen­drix, who was trav­el­ing, had not replied to an email from the dis­trict as of pub­li­ca­tion time.

In an email to The Ari­zona Repub­lic,

Hen­drix wrote, “I was elected to a twoyear term that has not ended.”

He noted that the ide­ol­ogy of the board ma­jor­ity shifted in the re­cent elec­tion, go­ing from a board with shared con­ser­va­tive views less in­clined to sup­port la­bor unions, to one with a more lib­eral stance.

“In all like­li­hood, the di­rec­tion will change again in 2020,” he wrote.

In­di­vid­ual mem­bers of the gov­ern­ing board can’t change dis­trict poli­cies or di­rect the chan­cel­lor with­out a board ma­jor­ity. But the board pres­i­dent does have ad­di­tional pow­ers. He or she sets the agenda for board meet­ings and ap­points board mem­bers to com­mit­tees. The pres­i­dent also is the board spokesper­son.

Board mem­bers Sul­li­van, Nerini, and Winn could not be reached for com­ment about Tues­day’s meet­ing.

Board mem­ber Saar, who is in fa­vor of Tues­day’s meet­ing, said he will see what the dis­cus­sion is on Tues­day be­fore mak­ing his de­ci­sion.

“We’ve ex­panded the role of the chair over the past year and also the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the board in the last year,” he said. “So I think it’s a good time to reeval­u­ate what we look for in a chair.”

Board mem­ber Mc­Grath, who op­posed call­ing Tues­day’s spe­cial meet­ing, told The Repub­lic “a ma­jor­ity of the board called the meet­ing so we’re hav­ing a meet­ing.”

She said she would sup­port Hen­drix for pres­i­dent, say­ing he’s done an ex­cel­lent job. She said she es­pe­cially ap­pre­ci­ates how he cut the num­ber of board meet­ings in half. For ex­am­ple, the board no longer holds a sep­a­rate meet­ing to set the reg­u­lar meet­ing agenda, she said.

“I don’t know who is go­ing to be nom­i­nated,” for pres­i­dent on Tues­day, she added. “But I do like Mr. Hen­drix as pres­i­dent.”

Ten­ure marked by con­tro­versy

Hen­drix, a for­mer Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tor, has had a con­tro­ver­sial ten­ure as pres­i­dent. He took of­fice in Jan­uary 2017 and is serv­ing a four-year term that ends Dec. 31, 2020.

Board mem­bers elected him as pres­i­dent af­ter Al­fredo Gu­tier­rez re­signed from the po­si­tion.

In Fe­bru­ary 2018, Hen­drix pre­sented doc­u­ments to the board aimed at stream­lin­ing and sim­pli­fy­ing the fac­ulty in­put process known as “meet and con­fer.”

The year­long process gave fac­ulty in­put on poli­cies that gov­ern em­ploy­ment and work­ing con­di­tions.

Hen­drix said the new process would al­low changes to be made more quickly and would give dis­trict ad­min­is­tra­tors more power in de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Fac­ulty ve­he­mently op­posed the change, say­ing the 40-year-old meet-and-con­fer process had worked well. Hun­dreds of fac­ulty turned out to protest the de­ci­sion at board meet­ings.

Hen­drix ac­cused the Mari­copa Com­mu­nity Col­leges Fac­ulty As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents full-time fac­ulty mem­bers, of “fear­mon­ger­ing” to drum up mem­ber­ship.

In April, the fac­ulty as­so­ci­a­tion filed an $850,000 claim against the dis­trict, its chan­cel­lor and gov­ern­ing board in re­sponse to the board’s de­ci­sion to end meet and con­fer.

The as­so­ci­a­tion also filed a com­plaint with the col­leges’ ac­cred­i­tor, the Higher Learn­ing Com­mis­sion, in Septem­ber that ac­cused the gov­ern­ing board of par­ti­san pol­i­tics, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and re­tal­i­a­tion. Fac­ulty asked the com­mis­sion to con­duct an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

In Novem­ber, HLC of­fi­cials said they had re­viewed the com­plaint and found that no fur­ther ac­tion was needed at that time.

Lau­rin Hen­drix

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