Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Northwest College: The Slide Continues

Buffalo, Montana School
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
’Tis the season, but as one colleague of mine put it, “The children of Whoville had better watch their toys.”

As finals draw to a close and the last student newspaper is on the stands (once again), the powers-that-be at Northwest College ramrodded their proposal for the intercollegiate soccer program through the last board meeting and, on the next day, fired student activities director Mike Taylor.

Timing is everything, isn’t it? Especially for some administrators at NWC. It takes me way back to another time when an assistant basketball coach was hired in a pretty discreet manner as well.

Perhaps no one has said it better thus far about such timing matters than art instructor Kory Rountree in a campus-wide email, “Funny, firing a very popular member of the NWC community at this moment. Everyone immersed in finals & grading, students leaving town, no college newspaper to carry the news that everyone is talking about right now. Funny, that they still call it a community.”

Someone asked if the leadership of this college really believes they’re pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes? Further, others are going as far as to suggest placing bets that Taylor’s position will be filled by the new soccer program’s coach. Wasn’t it Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady” who said, “Well, isn’t that convieeeeeenent.”

I walked over to Mike’s office today as he was cleaning out his office to see if there was anything I could do. Strangely, outside of his office were the college’s vice president of administrative services along with the facilities director. Might as well have called the campus resource officer too. What a sad day and a sad sight at NWC.

Another conversation with another colleague on this subject concluded with a quote from his father, “We all know the smell of the sea when we approach the shore… and often it stinks like fish.”

Today isn’t the first day when I’ve heard fellow workers complain about the college’s lack of self-goverance, but today that word is going around like wild fire. We can only hope that these events are reflected in the upcoming accreditation visit.

One colleague went as far as to suggest the college community disbar the various governance committees on campus such as the faculty organization since they are—for the most part—powerless. That would certainly get the NCA visitation team’s attention.

* * *

As soon as Human Resources Director Heather Kobbe sent out one of her canned “going” emails about Mike’s sudden “departure,” music professor Jan Kliewer had the courage to ask and state what we all felt, “Why don’t we have the courage to tell the truth? Mike didn’t leave, he was shoved! What a sad, cold and cowardly sentence to end 17 years of service to this institution.”

In answering Kliewer’s question, “Why don’t we have the courage to tell the truth,” I would simply embody the spirit of Holden Caulfield—the main character of Catcher In The Rye—with something like “...because they’re a bunch of phonies!”

All of this leads me to believe that Northwest College (like any cold, sterile and impersonal institution) will do whatever is required to get rid of anyone who has fallen out of favour in its favouritism-prone, nepotism-based administration. They’ll find a reason, they’ll get the documentation and if need be, hold it over their head to keep them in line if they want to keep their job—or in Taylor’s case, just fire him. I’m sure my candidacy has been kicked around as well.

In short, I have serious doubts that Mike Taylor’s firing was about something so bad that the college felt it had no other choice than to fire him. It was a witch hunt—with the sole purpose of getting Taylor fired and replaced with a hopeful crony—a crony the administration is likely already courting.


Mike Roberts said...

What a sad situation.

Anonymous said...

Your a douche bag Morgan

Morgan said...

Sorry, but in my book only douche bags post as "Anonymous."

Pat said...

Don't let this go away, forgotten over the 'holiday.'

ArMyoF1nE[NLS][CPL33T] said...

This is a sad time for NWC... Mike has put so much into this college, To kick him to the curb like this is just wrong. NWC is lessened by his leaving.

Commitee for a Douch bag free Northwest College said...

The bigger douche is one that hides behind his blog. Did you go and talk to the administration at Northwest or are you one that will send an email to everybody about how the institution is against everyone blah blah. Welcome to the real work Morgan. Sometimes people do crappy work or something they shouldn't and being fired is the result of their actions. Maybe you should learn the real truth before you make accusations against Northwest. If Mike was as good as you state then there must be more to the story. If you are this disgusted with Northwest no one is forcing you to stay. IMHO if I was on a search commitee and you were the applicant I would read your blog and instantly be a NO vote.

Later douche bag.

ArMyoF1nE[NLS][CPL33T] said...

boy... arent we all glad that guy(or gal) isnt on a search committee... Guess he thinks a little high of himself

Wayne Thomas said...

Taking some heat, Morgan.

There has to be more to the story. Everyone seems to be in the dark over Mike's firing. From what little I know about Mike he is a great and friendly guy with an open mind and open heart.

Mike is part of the ever polarized Northwest family. His departure is shrouded in mystery as of now probably for legal purposes. HR is more restricted about giving out information on people's working details. It could easily result in a defamation lawsuit and the college would be out millions.

Mike will be terribly missed and I think there will be serious repercussions that will be felt later.

As far as the need to call Morgan a douche, I think it is childish and sophomoric. Morgan has the right and exercises this right in a fantastic way. It is also great to disagree with Morgan. If you know Morgan, you know he is humble and a genuine person with no silly cover. He will engage in debate and listen to all sides of an argument openly.

Sadly, "comments" sections of blogs and other areas of the internet have become the safe haven for cowards and recluses that have no balls of their own, but that which they find hiding behind the veil of secrecy.

Keep on, Morgan. I may not agree with everything but I agree with what you do.

Terry on, Mike. With how badly he has been treated at Northwest I hope it is only a short while before he finds a better situation. It shouldn't be hard for a man of that caliber.

haiku curmudgeon said...

Ah yes ... modern communication. Not conversations where folks listen and talk with respect, more a series of monologues and (sadly) anonymous name calling. I don’t know or have any clues about what prompted the firing of Mike Taylor. I don’t know or have any clues regarding the reasons of those who made the decision. I do know that Mike has been a hard working and respected (by some) member of the NWC staff since before I was a student here in 1995. He may deserve a public hearing or public flogging. I don’t know. I do believe he deserves respect from the NWC community for what he has done well and accountability for what he may have done poorly.

All who care about NWC and community and conversations deserve to be treated as thoughtful folks who are capable of something more than serial monologues, childish anonymous name calling and decisions made out of sight and then made public in the way Mike’s termination was carried out.

The sadness I feel this morning comes from watching a small, compassionate, college community devolve into an institution of (apparently) top down decision makers who seem callous and indifferent to the ideals of conversations and community.

Ken Williams

Morgan said...

No one is hiding behind a blog... everyone knows where to find me (what's your problem?), but leave the name calling behind if you decide to show. I'm not interested in a stupid pissing match with some wanker.

I believe this is the kind of event that needs to be out in the open. When I have queried/requested such discussions in a public forum there have been no takers. Admin folk only want to visit with me or others who are concerned in a one-on-one behind their closed doors. So, here I am and everyone is welcomed to join in!

I have been attempting to learn the "real" truth behind Mike's firing, but as I said in my post, I can't believe it is something so catastrophic the college had no choice (and unlike you, I'm willing to admit I could be wrong). According to many, Mike's had a bull's-eye painted on him for a long time now. I don't suppose you've ever visited with him yourself have you? Know him do you?

If you have something worthy to post here, then do so, but leave your sophomoric insults out or I'll simply delete them from here on.

Timmy "I will post my name openly" Kennedy said...


……..if I was on a search commitee…….. Perhaps if he were to be on a “search committee” he would be able to spell committee….Alex I will take morons who whine about the freedom of speech for 200 please…

Dan said...

I'm not sure how employment works in the academic world. Looking on this from the private sector it sounds like the governance is looking at rebranding NWC. The change of staff that directly affect the added values of an institution is an attempt to change the student experience. When current students have a different experience they can use that data in their recruitment efforts. I don't think it was malicious, just sad. I do think it's fair to be concerned if you are non-academic staff.

Jan Ice said...

You know the more I think about this situation the more I get reminded of what happens in the NYC public school system. One situation that was the most controversial that I know of (because this is what started it at my former high school) was when a math teacher got sent to what they called a rubber room. From what he stated it was because he questioned authority but this was not what was released as the reason why. Pretty much all the reasons why he was sent there seemed like they were trying to find something but couldn't to hold over his head. He was held there for 16 months and then reassigned and all charges were dropped as if it didn't happen. This is also happening to other former teachers of mine currently and it makes me wonder if it's just an inflated ego that the "higher ups" have but I could be wrong. I think the one thing that really got to them though is the sense of community among the student body. They held multiple protests and sit ins and I'm just thinking, what exactly is the NWC student body doing about it? There is no sense of community among us and communication between the students and faulty isn't strong. I wouldn't have known about the situation if it were not for you and Anthony. It shows that there's a lack of motivation from one end or another to spread the awareness. But if every single student knew what was going on, how many to do you think would take part on a student protest of any form to find out the truth? I know a lot of people who don't even know who Mike is. So much for WY being so small that everyone knows each other. Never occurred to me NYers have more of a sense of community and willing to fight for the truth...

Anonymous said...

Power hungry individuals who are driven by their egos have no interest in integrity or compassion (usually they have no idea what it encompasses). This is and has been the situation at NWC for the past six or so years. There is an old saying that the politician may change clothes, but the skin is always the same. This goes for administrators/leaders/etc. There are ulterior motives that some will stop at nothing to achieve. The sin of "self-glorification" is not visible to one who is blind with power. And no "welcome back barbecues" and Christmas luncheons are going to heal the festering wounds when the leaders themselves keep picking open the scabs with their disingenuous, self-serving actions that crush the spirit of its employees. NWC will always attract the second tier level administrators because more professionally run academic organizations will have nothing to do with those uncontrolled egos.

Morgan said...

This is for my Anonymous friend...


Thanks Renee for this educational link.

fjskjfksufieuwklfjiosdjfio said...

As the saying goes: one's perception is their reality. So glad that your conspiracy theories are not my reality. It must be a sad and lonely existence. Until you hold an administrative position, you will never understand what goes into difficult decisions. It's easy for people to judge from a distance.

Morgan said...

And what is your perceived reality of Mike Taylor's situation?

If holding an administrative position involves working in a dark and opaque world and no one can observe the gears at work, than all we have is making judgement calls from a distance. Prove me wrong and I'll shut up, I'll bring these posts down, I'll eat crow.

Difficult decisions are they? Firing people? ("Poor overpaid administrator...") Seems to me the real difficulty is working with people despite their flaws... you know, that thing about compassion. What ever happen to taking the existing team and making them better instead of conveniently swapping them out with some one you prefer. There's your challenge, there's your difficulty. An administrator you may be, but clearly you are likely no manager of any worth.

The Fasciest are at the gates of Barcelona...

Anonymous said...

The institution is mired in an atmosphere of fear, distrust and vindictiveness while the administration continues to put forth its best Alfred E. Neuman impression. And really, why should they worry? Their slow march to mediocrity continues unabated. Community and faculty concern are casually deflected, given lip service and often ignored. Faculty fear for their jobs, not for performance reasons but for voicing their opinion or questioning actions that affect their workplace and the direction of the college.

I thought a college was about free speech, about challenging students and peers to open their minds and to speak from their heart as well as their brain. A good college fosters an atmosphere where the voices of students, faculty and staff are both heard and valued, whether that voice brings praise or criticism. That atmosphere died a long time ago at NWC and the institution is poorer for it. Faculty and staff fear for their jobs, while others jockey for a more favorable position.

While Jan's campus email shows integrity and heart sorely lacking within some areas of the college, the “truth” continues to be an amorphous tool seemingly used to achieve a desired result. And Mike Taylor's situation is not the only one worth thinking about. After all, the methods often used are not new. Make a person's everyday job miserable and stressful for long enough and hope they'll quit. Watch over someone's shoulder long enough, make them fear for their job and you will find something to put in their file. Watch and document, actively look for dirt, build a case. Or just act like you have a case. Use the method successfully and that success will encourage other faculty, staff and students to fall in line. Then, have a replacement ready. If it's someone you know and like, better yet. If you have to change some job requirements to fit the person you want to hire, so be it.

Speaking of which, given the current economy, does the college need to add another sport in soccer? Are all the other sports, music, forensics, and equine programs so well funded that we need to add more programs during an economic downturn? Maybe that's why the issue was brought before the board before the college's normal action plan? NWC will risk not having enough housing for Chinese students in a program that a faculty member has spent years building in order to scholarship soccer players in a brand new program that is the only one in the state? What? A student senate member is more skeptical than the Board of Trustees? Now, that's really scary. It seems that NWC is not about quality, but about quantity. I fear that soon NWC will be a jack of all trades and master of none. And that isn't really serving the students is it?

Morgan, your supporters are many and voices like yours and those of your colleagues are the most valuable asset at the college. You have big brass ones, my friend and I know you would certainly eat crow if you were wrong. But given the current atmosphere at NWC, I would have someone else taste it first.

Buddha of Suburbia said...

This is very sad. I've know Mike since I first went to Northwest in '98. He is a great guy and did a great job as activities director. He was well liked by the student body and his programs were always popular. This reminds me of when the trick college cut many staff positions and programs.

Morgan, keep fighting the good fight!

Scott Feyhl said...

It is so hard to know what to think about our leaders in times like these. Like Mike, I found myself fighting for the life of my credibility and career from time to time. I am convinced that I wouldn’t have survived except for the wisdom and leadership of past administrations. These people weren’t perfect, far from it. But they truly understood the value of their greatest asset. What disturbs me most is the growing feeling that our institution and people are at risk because of a seeming lack of confidence in those who lead us now.
Early in my career there was that time when a shower door was broken at a Motel where my women’s basketball team was staying, and I took the side of the student athlete. As a new employee and short on wisdom I made a fool of myself as I championed a doomed cause and refused to see any other arguments. A thoughtful and honest College president told his very young employee to pay for the door and move on. No harm done. No letter in my personnel file. I learned an important lesson…always look at your issue from both points of view.
There was the first institutional self-study which resulted in a spate of witch hunts on campus. I was fresh from graduate school and full of research technicalities. I was recruited by the potential victim of one such hunt to make sense of “research findings” that assailed his performance, and perhaps his career. Oddly, the committee who did the study had no knowledge of things like research design, statistical levels of confidence, and generalizing results. During the presentation of this study to the faculty I could not restrain my overzealous nature and not only challenged, but chastised the spokesperson from the committee. To the jeers and laughter of the faculty, he abandoned his presentation of findings in mid-charge and sat down. The besieged faculty person was retained, but the spokesperson resigned from the college the following Spring. There is a good chance that the potential victim of this witch hunt wouldn’t have been let go after all, without my efforts. In retrospect I realize that this was making my point far too personal and far too public. I found myself in trouble and, once again, in the President’s office being given excellent advice. “It pays to take a measured approach, and to be judicious with my comments before the mob.” In fact improvements were made and the retained faculty made those improvements.
Let me get to the point. In each of these experiences I found a positive outcome and was able to continue my work at Northwest. Here is why.
I was led in the direction of personal improvement rather than ruin. This happened, not because of an institutional policy or process, but because of good institutional leadership. These administrators believed in the value of helping employees grow. Their virtue is found in the fact that they were able to see past an event and be genuinely concerned with nurturing the person they supervised. Over the years my work spoke well for itself. Perhaps they saw something in me worth saving.
Mike has an impressive body of work. That is recognized by the two campus groups that matter the most; students and faculty. He received recognition by his peers for his outstanding work last year, an event that was not even acknowledged by most of the present administration. I wonder how that happens with fair and honest people.
I’ll finish with two other important elements of my own survival at Northwest. I had good advocacy, and I always had the opportunity to hash out issues face to face. Mistrust happens when everyone isn’t invited to the table.

Anonymous said...

“Because of my respect for Mike, it’s difficult to say anything before the hearing... I don’t want to compromise the hearing in any way.”

—Dana Young, Vice President of Student Affairs, Quoted from The Powell Tribune

That's true comedy! Coming from the person who had him fired.

Anonymous said...

I'd hate to see what would happen to an employee that wasn't so respected by her.

Reminded me of the comment in the Tribune regarding the Board of Trustees meeting where all the opposition and concern over adding the soccer program didn't truly reflect the attitude at the college.

The PR machine at NWC could make Karl Rove proud.

Scott Feyhl said...

Sorry, the first paragraph of my post was omitted before. I'm re-posting to correct this.

The situation with Mike could have been avoided. Having gathered a good deal of information about this sorry incident I think I now understand the Colleges position. Without compromising any "classified" information let me just say that the decision to fire Mike had nothing to do with what his job was really about. Had that been the case he might have been applauded by the institution.

You see, the job of providing activity programming for the 2000+ students for the college has always been treated with very low priority, even less than coaching one sport. Go to a Men’s Basketball game and count the staff on the bench and the pantheon of extras. You will find a head Coach, at least one assistant coach, a concessions supervisor, an athletic trainer, and a full complement of student workers. In addition you will see 2 custodians and, sometimes, a Campus Security Officer. And that's all just for one sport. Of course, all sports enjoy this level of support. That might possibly not include the newcomer (Soccer), but Northwest will have the only team in the state so perhaps that’s OK. I don't in any way wish to denigrate the support available for athletics. The importance of this aspect of student life is undeniable, and the Athletic Department has obviously done a good job of advocating for that.

Contrast that with the patchwork of help that is available for the Student Activity Director. Yes I know they downgraded the position to one of supervisor recently but it still requires the effort of a Director. In addition to one full-time professional, there are a few student work study positions and enough budget for about 30 hours of part time help. No full-time secretary, no Assistant Director, and no assistance with medical issues. This requires the director to keep a nine to five campus presence, plus many evenings and most weekends. Add to this the automatic loss of scheduled transportation should an academic or athletic event supersede. What other office in the Student Services department operates with this minimal support?

In the 70's when I held this position, and with every other person to occupy that office there was about a 5-year burn-out rate. This happens because of an insane schedule that isn't conducive to a normal life, and because it receives inadequate institutional support. Mike has survived for 17 years and now his effort is swept aside because of some minor issues not central to his job. These issues would have been addressed with decent assistance in his office. I hope that, in time, the institution will reveal that Mike did nothing with criminal intent. He did nothing to unfairly ease his burden or pad his bank account. I also hope that one day the institution understands the true value of this position and supports it adequately.