WILMINGTON, N.C. (WHQR) – The annual contract-renewal period, known as ‘Bloody May’ by some faculty and staff at Cape Fear Community College, apparently took its toll this week.
Contract non-renewal is not the same as firing or layoffs, but Bloody May can, in effect, serve as a culling of employees. According to many CFCC employees who have spoken to WHQR, this has happened ever since CFCC President Jim Morton took the helm of the college in 2018 — and has contributed to what dozens of employees, both on and off the record, have alleged is a toxic work environment.
This year, it appears four key staff members didn’t have their contracts renewed: three college deans and a 23-year veteran and senior administrative assistant.
They are General Education & Sciences Dean Lynn Criswell, Career & Technical Education Dean Mark Council, Learning Resource Center Dean Catherine Lee, who’s worked for CFCC for over 17 years, and Robin Metty, who was Criswell’s senior administrative assistant for the Arts and Sciences.
Criswell has worked at CFCC since 2001, giving over two decades of service to the college. According to Council’s LinkedIn page, he’s worked for the college since 2016. He’s also previously worked for Bladen Community College, Southeastern Community College, and the state community college system.
Catherine Lee posted on social media, saying on May 24, “It’s the middle of a work day and I’m home—eating lunch, doing laundry, tending to my tomato plants, watching the cat go IN and OUT. It’s very surreal.”
In a Facebook post, Metty wrote on May 23, “Today CFCC discarded me after 23 years of service. Another reorganization. How convenient for the chosen.”
Metty also commented on her LinkedIn page that she was “surprised being called into a meeting with college attorney and the VP of HR to inform me the college is reorganizing again and eliminating my position. Surprisingly of all the job vacancies the college currently has there was nowhere for me to land.”
Metty also mentioned 52 vacancies at CFCC. As of May 25, the college has 59 jobs listed. Of those, there are three that the college has categorized as administrative/administrative assistant openings.
Last week’s personnel report indicated Twyna Bell, the director of Upward Bound, left the college last month. In addition, Elizabeth Riepe-Strickland, the director of human resources also departed in April.
HR has been a rotating door of leadership over the past four years. Sharon Smith resigned in 2019 over the upper administration’s alleged toxic work environment. Kathy Turner replaced Sharon Smith but left not long after. Anne Smith took over the HR Vice President position in August 2021.
Over 20 former CFCC employees — including Susan Mock, Frank Carter, Kathy Reeves, Ericka Shepard, Tina Ward, Bonnie McGlauflin, Chardon Murray, and Cathy Cronin — joined in with supportive words for Metty on her social media posts.
Shepard, a 20-year veteran communications instructor who retired in May, posted on Facebook that these employees were “hard-working and dedicated” and that they were effectively punished for being “strong advocates for students and cheerleaders for faculty.”
Lee, Criswell, Council, and Metty were all reportedly notified that their contracts were not being renewed by Vice President of Human Resources and College Safety Anne Smith and the Board’s Attorney Ken Gray, who works with the Ward & Smith law firm.
According to several employees who spoke to WHQR, these employees were walked out of their offices on May 23 by Campus Safety Coordinator Lynn Sylvia. For some, it even accompanied a sheriff’s deputy. Also escorted off the campus was Jennifer McBride, assistant vice president of instructional operations, who decided to resign from the college recently, but was walked out anyway. McBride gave her notice on May 12; her last day was supposed to be June 11.
These situations are similar to what former CFCC IT Director Kumar Lakhavani described to WECT in 2020 and former FTE compliance technician Bonnie McGlauflin told WHQR. McGlauflin said she was walked out suddenly on May 31, 2022, when her contract wasn’t up until June 30 of that year.
“I was not given a chance to even say goodbye to anyone. It used to be a really great place to work. Employees weren’t ‘reorganized’ every year like they are now,” McGlauflin said to WHQR in the summer of 2022.
At the time, McGlauflin added, “HR walked me out of the building like I was a criminal. No warning, just ‘Your job has been eliminated’ after dedicating almost 20 years of my life to the institution. To be told that I could apply for a new job that was essentially what I was already doing was insulting. I’ve never felt so disrespected in my life.”
Layoffs come amid ongoing issues at CFCC
The ‘non-renewals’ come after another significant raise for Morton — and amid ongoing issues at CFCC.
WHQR also reported last fall that it appears CFCC broke the state board community college code by paying for McGlauflin’s contract buyout with state funds. The state board and CFCC board who oversee the college had little to nothing to say about the evidence.
Despite the continuing calls from former faculty and staff to address the issues with leadership at CFCC, last week, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to approve a 12% raise for Morton. That means he now makes $361,296 a year. County taxpayers pay for roughly half of Morton’s new salary. His contract was also extended by five years.
This significant raise and contract extension came after CFCC was one of three of the 58 community colleges that didn’t submit their accounting of $363,151 in labor market increases for a state reporting deadline, omitted a key year-end financial review for the board in July 2022, and had major disruptions happen to the college’s seminal marine technology program.
There have been other issues as well. Last year, WHQR reported a three-part series on CFCC. They were on the college possibly violating state code on contract buyouts, dissolving its full-time equivalency department, and sharing the accounts of two high-profile program directors from the nursing and EMS departments.
Additionally, during this past year, two Board of Trustees members — Ray Funderburk III and Jimmy Hopkins — were suddenly removed from office. Funderburk was removed by the trustees in March. Hopkins was removed by former New Hanover County Commission Chair Julia Olson-Boseman six months prior. Funderburk and Hopkins had both publicly shared stories of having pushed back on the decisions made by Morton and his upper administration.
WHQR reached out to Christina Hallingse, the director of media relations, for comment — and has yet to hear back. Some remaining questions are, “Will the deans’ positions be reposted?” and “Who will faculty report to now that those leaders are gone, a Vice President or a department chair?”
When asked for comment, Board of Trustees members Bill Rivenbark, Deloris Rhodes, and Deborah Dicks Maxwell have decided not to weigh in. WHQR has also reached out to Trustee and County Commissioner Jonathan Barfield for comment.
WHQR also requested the updated personnel records for Criswell, Council, Catherine Lee, and Metty on May 23. CFCC has also not officially confirmed the contract non-renewals.
You can find this story on WHQR’s website here.
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