Remarks in her speech reignite tension between administration and the WCCEA
BY TAYLOR ROBINSON
During the most recent board of trustees meeting on Sept. 21, the room fell quiet as board Treasurer Pamela Horiszny announced her resignation after more than a decade of serving and her plans to relocate to Colorado to be closer to family.
Reflecting on her time as a board member, she recalls that early on there was talk of then WCC president, Larry Whitworth, retiring. Although mentioning that Whitworth “built a beautiful campus during his tenure,” there was still more that she wanted to see done in the community college movement as a whole.
As board chair at the time of selecting a new WCC president four years ago, Horiszny played a major role in selecting Rose Bellanca for the position.
“We are four years into Dr. Bellanca’s presidency…and she has grown the vision and relevancy of the college to levels well beyond what most of us have hoped or quite frankly, even imagined,” Horiszny said.
Upon hiring a new president, there are 17 main directives the hiring committee look for when making their selection. Horiszny commented that Bellanca has met 16 ½ out of 17 of those directives. The half of a directive that’s been missing is “an individual with extensive experience working in a union environment who has the capacity to strengthen relationships with organized labor both internally and externally.”
According to Horiszny, the external relationships are at their strongest. However, internally, the relationships have never been worse during her time on the board, particularly with the Washtenaw Community College Education Association.
“While it represents only 3 percent as half of a directive of the directives detailed in the presidential profile, we as trustees have always recognized that it is a critical element of the overall success of the college,” Horiszny said. “And we have encouraged Dr. Bellanca to slow things down, set aside other priorities if (she) needs to, give this issue more attention.”
Horiszny comments that people formed opinions of Bellanca before she even started working at WCC because of her relationships with union leaders at St. Clair County Community College, when she held the president position from 2002-2008.
In an interview with Bellanca, she provided some insight into the matter. She explains that at SCCCC, the union is through the Michigan Education Association. She said that they would all meet, and as a MEA union leader, they have goals.
“So, you have someone who’s in the MEA who’s unhappy with me as a president. It’s not my goal to make everyone happy,” Bellanca said. “You have someone who is unhappy who tells someone on this (WCC’s) end…They start sharing stuff. That’s how this happens.”
According to Bellanca, they negotiated fair contracts and did a really good job.
“I’m sorry they (WCCEA) put all their faith in what they heard because it certainly hasn’t made this road much easier. It hasn’t,” Bellanca said.
According to an April 2014 Voice article, during Bellanca’s time as WCC’s president the faculty union has raised concerns over “a perceived lack of communication, an increasingly top-heavy administration and curricular decisions made without faculty knowledge or consent,” which ultimately led to a vote of “no confidence” in Bellanca on May 1, 2014. The results of this vote were 158 “yes” votes, 22 “no” votes and one abstained, out of 181 votes cast.
Although both Bellanca and the WCCEA claim to be improving communication, Horiszny has held a strong backing of Bellanca and her solid efforts in communication, which she expressed during her resignation speech.
“I believe that Dr. Bellanca has made strong efforts to build a positive relationship with organized labor since things veered off early in her administration,” Horiszny said. “Similar efforts from organized labor have not been evident to me because I believe the end goal is not to improve the relationship or improve communication between the two parties, it has been about removing Dr. Bellanca as president.”
WCCEA faculty union President Maryam Barrie had given a speech at the beginning of the meeting, sounding hopeful of improved communication. She commented that on Monday, Sept. 14, she, Bellanca, the union’s Chief Negotiator David Fitzpatrick, and Vice President of Instruction Michael Nealon had a liaison meeting after a 17 month hiatus.
“(We) had a civil and productive conversation,” Barrie said. “I am hopeful that as we move forward, faculty voices will again be included in the conversations about what future we wish to create for our community and for the students. I am tentatively optimistic.”
The optimism came to a halt during Horiszny’s speech, when her words struck a chord with the union members and Fitzpatrick, resulting in them walking out in the middle of the meeting.
“She (Bellanca) refuses to meet with the union leadership for almost two years and then does so only when the board tells her she has to and the relationship is our fault?” Fitzpatrick said.
Confused by Horiszny’s choice of words during her exit speech, Barrie comments that “it’s a very strange thing to do.”
“I mean, after not listening to me for almost two years, to almost hear me…It’s really hard for me to understand what the motive is besides just protecting Rose or sort of (painting) her as blameless in this,” Barrie said.
Julie Kissel, an English instructor and member of the faculty union, also was stunned at the approach Horiszny took during one of her last speeches as treasurer of the board.
“I’m speechless,” Kissel said. “Just as we were working toward building something and working from progress we had made, this will undermine that process because of her words. So again, we are being scolded as if we are children.”
Bellanca expressed her disappointment in the WCCEA members leaving the meeting.
“We have freedom of speech and she (Horiszny) shared what she believed was true to her,” Bellanca said. “People stand up and speak their mind regularly at a board meeting because of freedom of speech. I don’t think it was meant to insult them. I don’t know, we were all shocked.”
Bellanca called Barrie after the meeting to apologize for what had happened and commented to the Voice that she doesn’t want them to be upset and that her goal is to have a college where people get along.
In a follow-up conversation with Horiszny on Sept. 27, she gave her reasoning for saying what she did. Simply put, she said what she wanted to say during her remarks.
“I really don’t have anything else to add to that. I’m done basically…” Horiszny said. “That’s pretty much what my thoughts were and I just hope we can move forward. We’ll get a better perspective based on what I had to say. I don’t really want to add any fuel to the fire because I sent my resignation letter and I’m pretty much done.”
As of Oct. 1, the board began looking to appoint a new member to fill Horiszny’s seat and must do so within 30 days or the Washtenaw Intermediate School District Board will appoint one for them according to Richard Landau, WCC board of trustee chair. People interested can apply online and must be a resident within Washtenaw County. The board will take a vote and the majority will decide who receives the position.
The board members and Bellanca expressed their well wishes to Horiszny as this was the first board meeting of the academic semester and Horiszny’s last.
“Obviously, having served with you for 11 years, you will be sorely missed,” Landau said. “I personally will miss both your collegiality and your encyclopedia knowledge of finances of this institution. We have a hole in the board that will be extraordinarily difficult to fill in a variety of respects but I wish love and cuddling with the grandbabies, and I wish you well with all your future endeavors.”
Bellanca echoed Landau’s well wishes and appreciation of Horiszny’s support for the last four years that Bellanca has been at the college.
“Pam, thank you. I have learned so much from you,” Bellanca said. “You have, in regards to everything from finance to never being afraid of questioning me, you’ve always questioned me in the most professional way behind the scenes. You made me think twice, three times, about things I came up with and you allowed me to be me with you.”
Although Horiszny’s comments have possibly reignited the tension between the administration and the WCCEA, Horiszny ended her speech with hopeful thoughts of the future.
“This is the 50th anniversary of the college. It is time to put differences in their proper perspective and to celebrate the contributions of all the college’s constituencies,” Horiszny said. “I know it will be challenging, but I am excited to see it happen even if it’s from 500 miles away.”