Jumping the gun?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 14, 2007

AHOSKIE – Did Roanoke-Chowan Community College (RCCC) President Dr. Ralph Soney jump the gun?

According to his own letter, it appeared he did.

In August, Dr. Soney broke the news to the RCCC Board of Trustees that the college faced approximately $700,000 in state revenue shortfalls due to declining student enrollment. In a special called meeting of the trustees on Sept. 6, the board approved to enact Board Policy 3.7 (Financial Exigency Reduction in Force) which entitled Dr. Soney to “cause to be established rules and procedures governing review, reassignment or reduction in force of college personnel due to financial exigency.”

However, one of the RCCC employees terminated due to the school’s financial crisis learned of his fate four days prior to the board’s Sept. 6 meeting.

According to documents provided to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald by Robert Chadwick Jr., he was notified of his termination on Sept. 1. Included in the documents is a letter, dated Aug. 31, on the RCCC letterhead and signed by Dr. Soney notifying Chadwick that his employment with the college would end on Sept. 30. That package of materials was sent by certified mail, postmarked Aug. 31.

Prior to his termination, Chadwick served RCCC as its Director of Evening and Weekend College, a program Chadwick claimed was succeeding in attracting new students to the college.

Chadwick said the program was designed for employed parents, ones who had worked all their life to put their own kids through school.

“Now it was their (parents) time to upgrade their education at nights or on the weekends,” Chadwick said. “It helped people fulfill dreams and it was working. I could see it happening; see it working, and then the powers that be came in and stepped on it and squashed it.”

Not only did Chadwick feel that the Evening and Weekend College Program did not receive fair treatment, neither did he.

“Why did he (Soney) terminate my position prior to it being approved by the Board of Trustees,” Chadwick quizzed. “There are a lot of questions here that need answers, not just for me, but for the others that lost their jobs due to this Reduction in Force.”

He continued, “I do not hold any grudges…I wish RCCC well, but I want it understood the process used in this case to terminate my job was not done correctly.”

To verify that the trustees did indeed approve the terminations on Sept. 6, the R-C News-Herald obtained a copy of the closed session minutes from the board’s meeting on that date. Listed among the 10 entries on one page of those minutes, under the heading of “Roanoke-Chowan Community College Budget Savings,” was the Evening/Weekend (College) position.

The News-Herald contacted John Leidy, an Elizabeth City attorney who serves as legal counsel for the RCCC Board of Trustees, to ask his opinion of when those affected by the Financial Exigency Reduction in Force measure would have been informed of their fate. Leidy said it would be logical to think that those affected by Reduction in Force would not have been notified of their terminations until sometimes after the trustees meeting on Sept. 6.

When informed that it appeared one of the terminated employees was notified prior to Sept. 6, Leidy said he would have to see the termination letter and speak with Dr. Soney about the matter.

There also remains some confusion over RCCC Administrative Procedure 03-0902, a six-page document detailing the framework of how the college goes about its job of terminating employees due to financial exigency, and the two-page “Procedure and Rule for Establishing Reduction in Force Due to Financial Exigency” as distributed by Dr. Soney at the Sept. 6 meeting. In his termination package, Chadwick received a copy of the six-page RCCC Administrative Procedure 03-0902.

Leidy said Procedure 03-0902 had not been adopted by the board. The copy of Procedure 03-0902 provided to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald does not carry an adoption date. However, there is an adopted Procedure 03-0920, approved in 1988 by then RCCC President Harold E. Mitchell, as found in an old RCCC handbook.

When asked why a copy of Procedure 03-0920, if it was not adopted, was provided to Chadwick within the paperwork he received on Sept. 1 in regards to his termination, Leidy said he would have to see a copy of all mailed materials and speak with Dr. Soney regarding the issue.

It’s unclear if the trustees had pre-approved Soney’s “Procedure and Rule for Establishing Reduction in Force Due to Financial Exigency.” The copy of that document provided by Dr. Soney to the News-Herald was not written on the RCCC letterhead and bears no markings of approval or ratification.

One of the major differences between the two procedures is that 03-0902 calls for the appointment, by the president but excluding the president, of a seven-member ad hoc committee. That committee, comprised of RCCC faculty, support personnel and administration, is charged with gathering all information and, acting upon that information, give advice and recommendations to the president concerning which positions will be terminated.

Dr. Soney’s procedure does not include an ad hoc committee. It did authorize him to proceed with the reduction in force by using the following guidelines:

(1) A meeting with appropriate College leadership explaining the nature of the exigency;

(2) Written evidence to the College Community as a whole declaring that a state of financial exigency does exist;

(3) Informing affected faculty and staff of the need to terminate their position(s) due to the financial exigency, both verbally and in writing.

“If the two-page policy was used, then why did I receive the six-page policy that was posted on the (RCCC) website,” Chadwick asked.

While Chadwick has his doubts about being treated fairly in his termination process, he has very little doubt that the Evening and Weekend College Program at RCCC was destined for greater heights.

He said the program started on Sept. 15, 2006 with 41 first-time students. By the time the spring semester of 2007 rolled around, the program had increased by exactly 100 students with 141 enrolled.

“We felt good about the immediate success of the program,” Chadwick said. “We had hoped to double our enrollment between semesters and then we go 100 over, that was fantastic. We had a lot of momentum going and then, bam, the president says there will be no weekend college over the summer months. We then sat down and discussed a recruitment strategy for the fall of 2007, not knowing I wouldn’t be around to see it reach its full potential.”

This past summer, Chadwick and his department supervisor came up with job skills program, one that incorporated local businesses with the program.

“Using my own car and my own gas, I went from business to business in an effort to recruit their laborers and having the college educate them on becoming better at their positions in order to advance within their own company,” Chadwick said.

I was trying to attract more students to the college.”

He closed by saying, “There’s no doubt in my mind that in three to four years, our Evening and Weekend College would have been one of the top programs in the state. Why, because there is a vast need for this type of education and, most importantly, the counties in which RCCC services the people in those communities deserve this. Be true to your stance as a community college and give them the educational resources they need to better themselves.”