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SJC president, board draw no-confidence vote

Faculty association president Lancy Myler said the vote of no confidence was prompted by a desire to improve communication

Hannah Grover, hgrover@daily-times.com
  • San Juan College faculty members cast their ballots in a vote of no confidence on Thursday.
  • Earlier this week, the college laid off 12 employees as part of its budget cuts.
  • Lance Myler, the faculty association president, said faculty members want better communication.
  • Myler said the layoffs and budget cuts did not prompt the vote of no confidence.

FARMINGTON — San Juan College faculty members expressed disapproval of the college president and the Board of Trustees during a vote of no confidence that took place Thursday.

Members of the San Juan College faculty association overwhelmingly approved a vote of no confidence in the school's president and Board of Trustees on Thursday.

In an email sent to faculty members Thursday evening, Lance Myler, the faculty association president, reported they had voted in favor of the measure of no confidence regarding President Toni Pendergrass by an 82-16 margin, and the measure of no confidence regarding the Board of Trustees was approved by an 84-15 margin.

This is the first time since 2007 when Carol Spencer was the chief executive that there has been a vote of no confidence regarding the college president.

"I am disappointed about the vote," Pendergrass said in an emailed statement. "The board and I are committed to the success of our students and to the needs of our community."

Ed DesPlas, the college's vice president of administrative services, said the vote of no confidence is "faculty expressing their extreme displeasure" with the leadership of the college. Days before the vote, the board approved layoffs of a dozen employees as part of an approximate $1.14 million budget cut.

"I know that (Pendergrass') commitment to San Juan County and the college has not waned," DesPlas said. "Dr. Pendergrass is in it for the long haul."

Myler said the layoffs and budget cuts did not prompt the vote. He said the process to have a vote began in October long before the college considered the recent layoffs.

Myler said he did not know if the layoffs and budget cuts affected the way faculty members voted on Thursday.

He said in October, faculty members saw improvements in their communication with Pendergrass and the board. They hoped that improved communication would continue when they began the process of taking the no-confidence vote, Myler said.

"We hope that, over time, that this turns out to be a good thing," he said.

Myler said faculty members are frustrated with communication involving the college's finances. He said many faculty members are interested in being more involved in finding funding and optimizing resources for the school. Myler said the economy will likely not improve soon, and the college will have to find ways of stretching the money it has.

"The faculty would like to be involved in those conversations," he said.

In her statement, Pendergrass said the college lost 5 percent of its state funding following a special legislative session earlier this year. 

"This week, we notified the 12 employees affected by the reduction in force," she said in her statement. "We reduced our workforce by 1.2 percent. On Thursday, over 80 of the nearly 160 faculty cast their ballots against me and the board. Unfortunately, this is the downside of making the hard decisions required to keep the college on track. We are not immune to the economic challenges that have caused similar reductions in workforce by our local employers."

DesPlas also talked about the decision to lay off employees, which was caused by a reduction in state funds. DesPlas attributed the decreased funds to the decline in oil and gas development in the state.

He said the positions that were cut were eliminated in areas where the administration believed it would have minimal impact.

For example, four faculty members from the School of Energy's commercial driver's license program were laid off. DesPlas said the once "very large and prosperous" program has seen a decrease in student interest as a result of the loss of jobs in the local area.

 In her statement, Pendergrass praised the progress San Juan College has made in the past five years.

"I am proud of the fact that we have increased the number of San Juan College graduates by 143 percent during the past five years," she said in her statement. "We will continue on our path to keep San Juan College vibrant and financially sustainable. We truly care about the employees at this college. I believe that together we will resolve these issues, grow stronger from this adversity, and move forward."

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.