WILMINGTON, N.C. (WHQR) – Last year, the Cape Fear Community College Faculty Association conducted a workplace climate survey.
The survey included two sections, quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative broke down the climate by numbers, showing what percentage of respondents agreed with statements like “I have confidence in the leadership of the CFCC Board of Trustees” and other indicators of workplace climate. The qualitative allowed more subjective comments. The results of both were unfavorable to President Jim Morton and the Board of Trustees.
Several past student government presidents have also expressed related concerns about their relationships with the board.
At the same time, CFCC’s board members have rated their own performance highly and, while it remains under wraps, Morton’s evaluation was also apparently positive.
This disparity isn’t the only concern, however — there have also been questions about how the Board’s resistance to making agenda materials accessible prior to meetings and to streaming those meetings, even during the pandemic. There are also other questions about transparency and communication.
Editor’s note: Prior to publishing these pieces and airing their radio companions, WHQR reached out to President Morton and several of the Board of Trustees for an interview or comment. None responded to our requests. Following the publication and airing of part one, Trustee Jimmy Hopkins contacted WHQR; we have scheduled an interview for Thursday morning — and will include relevant parts of that conversation in future reporting.
The college requested that all questions be submitted through its public records portal although they were not traditional records requests. WHQR submitted 21 questions; the college declined to answer all of them, broadly citing the unreleased status of the survey and personnel laws without addressing any question specifically.
Evaluation of President Morton and the Board of Trustees
The 2020-2021 Board of Trustees (BOT) performance evaluation of President Jim Morton, according to Sonya Johnson, CFCC Executive Director of Marketing and Community Relations, is not a “public record.”
However, there is a precedent for releasing this type of information. In 2014, the Star News reported that the New Hanover County School Board released then-Superintendent Tim Markley’s evaluation, which told the public he needed to improve on how he evaluated and supervised employees. The following year, WECT reported that Markley received “lower scores in four of the seven categories compared to last year.”
According to the NC Open Government Coalition, personnel records are mainly exempt from release, but there is a provision in North Carolina law that the head of an agency can release personnel information if it is “critical to upholding the trust and confidence in the public agency.” Another reason could be that former superintendent Tim Markley gave the school board consent to release his evaluation to the public.
At the BOT meeting on May 27, 2021, following a closed session to discuss Morton’s evaluation, then Board Chair Pat Kusek emerged from the session to state that his performance was “favorable,” but wanted to share “valuable feedback” with him.
But according to the 2020 faculty climate survey, close to 60% of respondents disagreed with the statements: “The College President communicates openly and transparently with the faculty.” “The College President fosters a climate of mutual respect within my college.” and “The College President is responsive to the concerns of the faculty.” 53% of the respondents also disagreed with the statement, “I have confidence in the leadership of the College President.”
The qualitative comments from the survey about the president were not positive either. But some appear to have been trying to give honest feedback, “Stay humble. Continue to learn. Be honest with faculty about your shortcomings. Recognize your limitations and reach out to faculty to help.” and “Recognize the hard work of your faculty. We are not the enemy.”
For the Board of Trustees, a majority of the faculty mainly disagreed that they “value faculty opinion,” “openly and transparently communicate with faculty,” and that they “foster a climate of mutual respect.” Additionally, 60% of the respondents disagreed with the statement, “I have confidence in the leadership of the CFCC Board of Trustees.”
For the Board of Trustees, the qualitative comments had statements like, “[t]he BOT has explicitly ignored feedback from concerned faculty about the state of the college,” “[t]he Board of Trustees has failed to listen to concerns expressed by faculty at the college about the current leadership” and “[m]ore from others’ experience, not my own experience, I would say BOT need to invite faculty into meetings more intentionally to hear what they are doing, what they need, what they feel about things without faculty fear[ing] retaliation.”
But the Trustees apparently had a rosier evaluation of their own performance.
At the May 27th, 2021 Trustee meeting, Kusek reported that the board members had completed a self-evaluation.
WHQR received the BOT’s self-evaluation through a public records request to the college — it showed that the board was relatively pleased with their own performance. There were only three guideposts for the board to evaluate 28 statements: ‘agree’ = 2, ‘needs improvement’ = 1, and ‘undecided’ = N/A.
For the 13 trustees, their combined scores did not fall below 1.7, their lowest scores being for these two statements: “The Board sets clear expectations for the President.” and “The Board has policies that require fair employee due process and grievance procedures.” This meant that 3 out of 13 trustees said these needed improvements. For the latter statement, two trustees wrote the following comments: “This has also improved” and “Always caught up to speed.”
No category received an overall ‘needs improvement’ and some of the trustees left positive comments such as, “Very proud to serve on such a well respected and community-oriented Board” and “CFCC BOT is a ‘top of the line’ Board that has kept knowledge of activities in and around the college. Jim Morton does a great job of keeping the Board informed of all matters. It is a true honor to work with the president and Board in directing the direction of CFCC.”
While the board rated themselves fairly positively, they’ve received criticism from the faculty — and from three former student government presidents.
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