College faculty, student groups voice concerns

College faculty association president claims inaccurate information was shared in a letter of support for SJC board from Four Corners Economic Development

Joshua Kellogg

FARMINGTON — Representatives of the San Juan College student body and faculty voiced their concerns to members of the college board regarding recent staff layoffs and what they characterized as inaccurate information being shared.

San Juan College Board Members Joseph Pope, left, Matthew Tso, executive assistant to the president Jeanne Notson,  San Juan College President Toni Pendergrass and board Chairman Ken Hare listen to a presentation by the college’s Faculty Association President Lance Mylar in the college’s board room on Tuesday.

The San Juan College Board spent most of its meeting Tuesday night hearing presentations from Lance Myler, the president of the faculty association, and Hunter Esmiol, the president of the Associated Students of San Juan College.

Myler spent nearly 30 minutes conversing with the board members and college President Toni Pendergrass about inaccuracies he believed were presented in a letter from Four Corners Economic Development (4CED) that was written in support of the college’s fiscal leadership.

The letter was included in an 4CED email that solicited signatures from members of the community to show support for the college leadership after a $1.14 million budget cut was approved in December that led to 12 college employees being laid off, according to a copy of the email.

Higher education funding was cut 5 percent statewide after Senate Bill 9 was signed by Gov. Susana Martinez in October.

A copy of the letter and nearly 190 signatures were delivered to the college board to thank them for their “sound fiscal stewardship of our taxpayer money,” according to a copy of the letter.

Myler believed the letter incorrectly linked a recent vote of no confidence in Pendergrass and the college board on Dec. 8 with the layoffs of some staff members. He said the process for the vote of no confidence started during an October faculty association meeting, and was due to a lack of communication between faculty members, and college administrators and board members.

Myler also questioned a figure cited in the letter that claimed San Juan College has seen a 143 percent increase in the number of graduates over the past five school years. He said part of the increase was due to the college staff “data mining” student records to identify students who already had met the credit requirements for a degree and help them complete the process of graduating. Mylar said that was not a sustainable strategy for maintaining increases in the graduation rate.

Pendergrass responded to Myler by acknowledging that the “data mining” played a part in the increase in graduation rates but attributed most of the work to initiatives from the faculty and staff that have made great improvements in the college's student retention rate.

The college board members also received a letter of support from San Juan Regional Medical Center President/CEO Jeff Bourgeois and Janel Ryan, the chairwoman for the hospital’s Board of Trustees.

Earlier in the meeting, Esmiol read a statement on behalf of the student body responding to the layoffs. He said the student body had major concerns with the loss of employees who helped support student involvement, grant programs and transition students into careers.

Esmiol added that there was strong consensus regarding the “lack of trust and frustration towards the current administration,” and it could negatively impact morale in the classroom.

He requested that the student body be included in future discussions regarding possible budget cuts.

Board Secretary R. Shane Chance said the layoffs were designed to not impact students. Board Chairman Ken Hare followed by saying the board has declared tuition and fees increases a “last resort” to manage the budget.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.