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Originally published May 24, 2013 at 9:34 PM | Page modified May 26, 2013 at 8:59 AM

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Green River faculty: no confidence in college president

A 92 percent majority of tenured faculty members at Green River Community College in Auburn say they have no confidence in the college president, while the school’s board of trustees continues to support her..

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Nearly every tenured faculty member at Green River Community College voted they had “no confidence” in college President Eileen Ely after three years of what they say are unilateral changes that aim to cut them out of academic decision-making.

“There is an entire atmosphere of malaise and fear,” said Hank Galmish, an English professor and chair of the college’s Instructional Council.

Of 112 tenured faculty, 92 percent voted earlier this week in favor of the no-confidence resolution. (Nontenured faculty were not asked to vote because their jobs could be at risk.)

In a letter explaining the resolution, faculty say that more than a dozen top-level employees have either left, been demoted or been terminated under Ely’s tenure. Moreover, they say, their longstanding culture of shared governance between faculty and administrators is being systematically dismantled, and faculty control over what goes on in the classroom is being eroded.

In an emailed response to questions from The Seattle Times, Ely characterized the faculty’s complaints as overblown, while noting that their views are “important and valued.”

She has offered to have what she called a “courageous conversation” with some of those who signed the resolution.

Ely came to the Auburn-based institution of 9,000 students in 2010 after serving as president of Western Nebraska Community College. Galmish, who served on the hiring committee, said at the time he thought she was a good candidate.

“All I can say is she presented herself one way and now she’s acting very different,” he said.

Galmish said problems have been building, yet Ely hasn’t been receptive to faculty concerns. Last month, faculty leaders outlined their grievances to a national college-accreditation team that was visiting the campus. Galmish said the letter is unlikely to damage the college’s accreditation, but acknowledged, “we knew it would get attention.”

Among the concerns they outlined are that Ely had bypassed the usual process and admitted scores of new high-school-age international students to the college — a decision that came as a surprise to the faculty. This influx of foreign “high-school completion” students is unusual, explained John Avery, division chair.

“This is a new market,” he explained. As a result, about 95 percent of high-school completion students are international, he said.

Completion students can take classes that count toward a Washington state high-school diploma while earning credits that are transferable to a university.

Faculty members believe Ely’s decision to boost those students’ numbers is based more on marketing than academics.

“What I’m describing to you is really happening all over the country,” Galmish explained, because colleges have faced budget shortfalls. “Most presidents have a way of balancing that without irritating the hell out of the faculty. (Ely) hasn’t been able to do that.”

International students pay two to three times the tuition of in-state residents. They provide both “cultural diversity and a significant source of income that would be unavailable” otherwise, Ely said in her email.

The faculty members outlined their concerns in a letter read last month to the college’s board of trustees.

In a statement, the board said it continues to support Ely. “We are happy with the direction she is taking Green River and the leadership team she has assembled,” Chair Tom Campbell said.

In a note to faculty, Ely said she still wants to have a “courageous conversation” but that the faculty members are making it impossible to schedule because they’ve rejected her parameters. Among them is that the faculty agree to a mediator, selected by her.

“The choice of facilitator is not open to discussion,” she wrote.

Maureen O'Hagan: 206-464-2562 or mohagan@seattletimes.com

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