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Community College: President outlines problems

Wednesday, August 18, 2004, Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
Bureaucracy, hiring policies criticized
By K. C. Howard
The Community College of Southern Nevada is riddled with cronyism, nepotism and excessive bureaucracy, college President Richard Carpenter told interim Chancellor Jim Rogers on Tuesday.
Carpenter, who took office Aug. 2, included the allegations in a memo he sent to Rogers. In the memo, which the Review-Journal obtained Tuesday, Carpenter said:
• He was aware of 154 instances of nepotism involving 81 families at the college.
• There are too many levels of management at the college. "The current structure was built and perpetually expanded more around personalities and friendships than around integrated administrative functions."
• The college's tendency to settle lawsuits has made it an "easy mark." "Our rich history of `settling' even the most baseless of lawsuits serves as an open invitation to all."
• The human resources office is riddled with dysfunction. "I need to aggressively address this area, and I need to do so immediately," Carpenter wrote.
In an interview, Carpenter said he plans to confront the "pervasive, deep and systemic" problems as quickly as possible, starting with a hiring freeze in the next two weeks.
"I haven't got a secret plan in my hip pocket to fire a bunch of people," Carpenter said. "I am willing to do that if it comes down to it."
In a memo sent to regents Tuesday, Rogers said board members at their October meeting will discuss the problems identified by Carpenter.
Rogers wrote that three of the most dangerous maladies infesting any institution are excessive layers of management, nepotism and cronyism.
"As you can see from Dr. Carpenter's memo to me, we seem to have an overabundance of these at CCSN," wrote Rogers, who provided each regent with a copy of Carpenter's memo.
Rogers told regents his experience as a businessman taught him these problems must be eradicated if an organization is to succeed.
"That same philosophy has to be used at UCCSN if we are ever going to be able to grow these institutions into world class educational systems," he wrote.
Rogers is a successful businessman who is serving as interim chancellor of the University and Community College System of Nevada until regents hire a permanent leader.
In an interview, Rogers said he was appalled at the thick bureaucracy at the community college. "In my company, I do not allow multiple levels of management to form," he said.
He did not advocate firing people, and said he knew it would take time for Carpenter to implement changes.
But he added, "for somebody like me, I call everybody in and say, `This is the reorganization. I've thought about it. It starts tomorrow.' "
In his memo, Carpenter said the college has grown so rapidly that its recruitment and hiring policies are "dangerously outdated."
"You and I have discussed the nepotism problem that is so rampant at CCSN," he wrote Rogers. "This is not just a perception -- it's real!"
Faculty Senate Chairwoman Ann Johnson said there was truth to some of the new president's observations.
"A lot of these things are discussed at the coffee corner at each department on a regular basis," she said.
She said Carpenter might receive some flak from faculty for his blunt memo, but appreciated his opening line in which he described the college as an "outstanding institution with many talented and dedicated professionals."
"I've been through five, six presidents. Each one has come in with his vision of what needs to be adjusted," she said.
Johnson cautioned that the administration should not adopt a blanket ban barring the hiring of any person related to a community college employee. "I don't think there should be automatic exclusion," she said.
The University and Community College System of Nevada does not allow employees to hire or supervise family members.
Carpenter said he is trying to ascertain the degree to which that policy is being followed. "If we have people in supervisory roles, that will change without discussion," he said.
Even when family members work in unrelated departments, it creates the perception of cronyism or unfair recruitment practices, Carpenter said. He said policies need to be in place so the college can show the best candidate was chosen for a particular post.
In his memo, Carpenter targeted the organizational structure at the community college, which has more than 19,500 full-time students and 2,800 employees.
For instance, he said there are 28 department chairs reporting to nine deans, who report to a vice president, who reports to Carpenter. Plus, he said there are three campus administrators "inserted loosely into the mix."
"I envision the elimination of certain titles, positions, merging of administrative units, and movement of departments and functions to different campuses," Carpenter wrote.
One of the reasons for the dysfunctional organizational structure is the frequency with which grievances are filed at the community college, he said. Assignment to a new supervisor typically is a part of any settlement.
"This has happened so many times that it has completely bastardized the administrative structure at the college," he wrote.
Carpenter said one employee has already threatened to file a grievance complaint and a lawsuit against him. He said the employee wanted him to do something. Carpenter would not be more specific.
Carpenter said he would rather fight a lawsuit than see it settled with cash. But first he wants policies set so fewer grievances occur and it is easier to defend the college's actions against lawsuits.
He and Rogers hoped a proposed reorganization of the UCCSN legal team would help solve the problem by stationing an attorney on campus.
Carpenter criticized a personnel policy requiring the school to retain a dismissed employee for up to 23 months. He described this as "the most bizarre human resources policy I've seen in my 23 years as a college/system president."
Former college employee Assemblywoman Chris Giunchigliani, D-Las Vegas, said she was appalled when she first heard about the policy and asked regents to change it shortly before she quit in July.
"To leave them there for an entire year, you could do a lot of damage," she said. "If someone is not doing their job, or if you feel their position needs to go away, should you continue to pay people at that salary?"
She left her job as school district and community relations director because she had been isolated from her department and felt she wasn't asked to do enough to justify her salary to taxpayers.
Carpenter did not blame former college leaders for the problems, but noted the high turnover in the president's office has not helped.
He replaced interim President Paul Gianini. Gianini replaced acting President Thomas Brown, who was appointed for one month to replace demoted President Ron Remington.
Remington started in 2001 and replaced interim President Mike Meyer, who replaced interim President Bob Silverman. He replaced President Richard Moore, who was at the college for about five years.