7 Oct 2012
Updated 7 Oct 2012
WA community college violates Public Records Laws, retaliates against adjuncts filing requests
Keith Hoeller, GRAFA (Green River Adjunct Faculty Association), Olympia WA, writes about violations of Public Records Laws and retaliation for making public records requests,
To whom it may concern,
I have been told by several knowledgeable people that Green River Community College has not been complying with state and federal laws on the keeping and releasing of public records. As a result of several public records requests, Green River appears to have put these records in danger and opened up faculty to retaliation for having requested public records. As with every other problem we are having at Green River, no state agencies appear willing to intervene to protect the fundamental rights of state employees.
Green River has claimed that its computer servers back up emails only for 30 days, after which they drop off their campus-wide servers. If true, this would appear to violate numerous laws requiring the storing of public records for several years.
However, some emails may still exist and may have been archived on individual faculty email accounts. When public records have been requested recently, there is reason to believe that the college has asked individual faculty members to go through their own emails and to decide which ones meet the request, and which ones don't. This has led to delays of several months and clearly places the individual faculty member in an untenable situation. Union leaders have been reluctant to produce emails under our state's public disclosure laws.
This method would appear to pose a very real conflict of interest, where an individual may have to decide whether to release an email that may have potentially negative consequences. Apart from the possibility of fraud and the deletion of emails, this method would appear to be designed to increase the anger of the individual faculty members toward those making the public records request. As far as we know, the college has not taken any steps to ensure the protection of existing campus emails.
Indeed, two instances of retaliation have already happened. On July 30 I was harassed and threatened by a member of our faculty union's executive board. The board member approached me in a state of anger and fury because a reporter from AdjunctNation had requested the emails of our union president (see "AFT Washington Affiliate Tries to Block Release of Public Documents Relating to Union Leader's Embezzlement of Funds" and "FOIAed Police Reports Show Union Leader Impeded Police Investigation of Theft of Union Funds"
This same board member accused me of having told the reporter falsehoods, and insisted I correct them immediately. He warned me that I could be found guilty of libel and told me to get back to the reporter. I have no idea how he could have possibly known what I might have said to the reporter, and in any case, his accusations were false. I told him I did not want to speak to him. Another adjunct witnessed this confrontation.
This same board member recently harassed and threatened another adjunct who had filed a public records request. And a second union board member, who has supervisory authority over the adjunct, did the same. As I have previously mentioned, in Washington the adjuncts have been forced into the same unions with their supervisors. We risk our jobs when we come into conflict with the division chairs who hire us, and who have leadership positions within the union, as is common in Washington state. The U.S. Supreme Court's 1980 Yeshiva decision has already declared full-time, tenure-track faculty to be "managers," and not entitled to unions at all at private colleges and universities. And the Washington Public Employment Relations Commission makes it clear that employees should not be placed into the same unions with their supervisors.
We have appealed to the Green River administration, to the Board of Trustees, to the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, to the two Higher Ed Committees, and to the Governor, but we have not even received a reply from anyone, let alone the appointment of an independent investigator. In all my years of teaching, I have never seen such a toxic atmosphere on any college, with fear, intimidation, and retaliation an everyday occurrence. While Green River may have reached a boil, the very same conditions exist for adjuncts at each and every two-year college in our state.
While our former union president has admitted to stealing nearly $10,000 in union funds, the union's executive board covered it up, refusing to release audits, meeting minutes, and other financial documents to their own members. Our Public Employment Relations Commission told me there are no state laws compelling unions to provide information to their members, which is completely contrary to national labor laws in the private sector.
The Auburn police were stymied because the union refused to release any documents to them. The state unions (AFT and WEA) refused our pleas for help and backed up the local. We have been refused legal help by both the local and state unions. The current union president reached a stipulation with the Washington state Ethics Board over the misuse of college funds to pay for parts for his private car. The unions have run legislation that favors the full-time faculty at the expense of the part-timers.
Union leaders have retaliated against us for testifying against their bills in Olympia [that contained provisions favoring tenured over adjunct faculty], but they will not support our legislation to help adjuncts. Terry Knudsen, who co-founded the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association with me in 1997, was fired from Spokane Community College (after 17 years of excellent teaching) when she wrote an op-ed with me and opposed union legislation for automatic increments chiefly for the full-timers.
When I have written op-eds, newspaper editors have told me union leaders routinely complain. We started our own adjunct group [GRAFA] at Green River last November, and three of our members lost their jobs. This was the first time in Washington state that adjuncts had ever formed an independent organization on a campus with an existing union. It may be the first time in the entire country adjuncts have been brave enough to take this step.
No state agency, including the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, claims to have any authority over the colleges. If the 30 college districts are independent fiefdoms, answering to no one but themselves, what is the purpose of the State Board? And why does the State Board have a Deputy Director (John Boesenberg) of Human Resources if, as he claims, he has no authority over the human resources of the individual colleges? We keep getting sent back to the college administration and union leaders who are the ones who are harassing us and who have refused to stop.
Apparently, no one is currently protecting emails at Green River Community College and retaliation is being taken against people who file public records requests. There is no one protecting our first amendment rights to free speech, freedom of association, and academic freedom.
If Governor Gregoire (@GovGregoire) refuses to exercise her statutory authority over the colleges, where can the adjuncts turn for protection from this kind of bullying? State employees should not have to work in a hostile environment, fraught with conflicts of interest, and devoid of any effective due process rights to stop the harassment, intimidation, and retaliation.
Cordially, Keith Hoeller, 4739 University Way NE / #1238 Seattle, WA 98105