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Edison trustees fire one vice president, hold off on firing second

October 26, 2011

One Edison State College vice president was fired.

The future of another vice president is in doubt.

And on Tuesday, some Edison trustees tried, but failed to pass a motion, asking for the immediate resignation of President Kenneth Walker. It was the latest move in a tumultuous time for the college.

"It's incredibly upsetting," Professor Marty Ambrose said after the board of trustees meeting. "We're down to one dean and we have a (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) visit in two weeks."

As expected, the board approved Walker's recommendation to fire Steve Atkins, vice president of academic affairs who was overseeing the college's reaccreditation. Walker cited Atkins for insubordination and lack of collegiality.

The trustees tabled a last-minute recommendation to fire Robert Beeson, vice president of instruction, saying they needed more information before making a decision.

"I cannot in good conscience vote on something I have (known about) for five minutes," Trustee Ann Berlam said.

Walker gave Beeson a letter Tuesday, saying Beeson was aware of improper course substitutions at the college, but did not take appropriate action following that discovery. Walker said Beeson failed to "exercise appropriate caution and control" when he recommended contract renewal for a dean primarily responsible for course swapping issues this spring.

Last week, members of a legislative commission asked two Edison representatives why the dean, Denette Foy, was still on paid leave and why she hadn't been fired for her involvement in course swapping. A second dean, Bill Roshon, was put on paid leave and brought back in a new role this fall following his involvement in the course swapping scandal.

More than 100 students, faculty and staff members attended the four-hour meeting on Tuesday, and 23 of them addressed the board with their concerns. Many echoed student and faculty demands for Walker's resignation last week.

"I admit you have done great things for the school, but you've also admitted you've dropped the ball," Sean Hartman, a student government senator, told Walker. "And the last time I dropped the ball, I lost a job."

Their words were met with applause, at times prompting Mary Lee Mann, chair of the board, to quiet the crowd.

"This is a meeting not a pep rally," she said.

Trustee Christopher Vernon questioned Walker about his knowledge of nursing program accreditation issues and asked the interim dean acting in Atkins' place whether she felt Atkins would have done a good job overseeing the college's upcoming accreditation review.

The interim, Erin Harrel, said she had a good working relationship with Atkins and was confident in her new role to oversee the accreditation review in November. Harrel said she wasn't trying to avoid the question, but did not feel comfortable commenting on personnel issues.

Trustees were divided on a motion at the beginning of the meeting to amend the agenda to include a discussion of Walker's employment, and it did not pass.

At the end of the meeting, Trustee Julia Perry asked for Walker's immediate resignation. That motion was seconded by Vernon. After much discussion, a substitute motion replaced the first, requesting that trustees discuss Walker's employment at the board's next meeting. The board was divided on that motion as well, and it ultimately failed.

Walker has already announced his planned retirement for 2013. He volunteered to take a pay cut this spring following the faculty's vote of no confidence in him and outlined a six-step plan to restore trust between staff, faculty and students and the administration.

Walker said after the meeting he is willing to meet with anyone who wants to address genuine concerns. He said he hopes to regain their trust and support.

"I will do the same good job I've been doing for 20 years," he said.

Atkins was a whistle blower in the course swapping problems this spring. He was put on paid leave Oct. 11 pending the outcome of Tuesday's meeting.

Atkins' attorney, Patrick Geraghty, said he will file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission today.

Walker met with leaders of the Student Government Association Monday in a meeting one student said was unannounced and offered little information.

"It was empty talk," said sophomore Claire Malecot who addressed the board during the meeting.

Faculty reacted strongly to Atkins' firing Tuesday.

"We dragged two good men's reputations through the mud," said Ellie Bunting, president of the faculty union, referring to Atkins and Beeson.



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