Posted at 4:40 p.m., Sept. 19, 2014

Catch and release approach flops

Any rod and reel fisherman can testify you don’t always catch the fish you want, and you don’t always keep the fish you catch.

We at Wingspan imagine this philosophy applies to much in life including staffing a community college.

In light of recent employee turnover, which Laramie County Community College’s president, Dr. Joe Schaffer, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle has been the highest turnover rate in LCCC’s history, we wonder if the current administration has decided upon a faculty catch and release policy.

Data provided by Ann Murray, LCCC’s manager of institutional research, shows the college reported employing 88 full-time faculty in 2004 to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). In 2013, the report showed 114 full-time faculty, which held steady in 2014.

On the one hand, the numbers tell an inspiring story of college growth and an enriched pool of educational opportunities. However, when compared to data provided by LCCC’s Human Resources department, which shows increased full-time faculty separations for 2013­-14, we are forced to guess how long these fresh faces will be around.

In 2010, the Human Resources data reported 11 faculty separated. December of 2010 marked the resignation of Dr. Darrel Hammon, president during one of the most turbulent administrative eras in LCCC’s history. The college was guilty of wrongfully terminating a vice president; emotional public hearings were held about campus morale; the institution was nationally criticized for hiding the way it handled a student crisis during an overseas trip; a state of financial emergency was declared, and programs were closed.

In 2011, faculty separations were down to nine, and only six separated in 2012. Yet, in 2013, the number of faculty separating skyrocketed to 12 with 2014’s departures already weighing in at a staggering 13 full-time faculty members.

Given the college’s vision of developing “world-class community college faculty” as Schaffer reiterated in his state of the college address in August, one might be forgiven for asking if the strategy is to send LCCC’s faculty out to spread word of our need for more “world-class” faculty. 

While not immediately apparent from the numbers, the impact of this turnover will ultimately be felt by the students. One might have noticed The Pantry has yet to open its doors this year, a fact compounded by the May departure of The Pantry co-adviser and former human services instructor, Dr. JoLene Klumpp. Our eyebrows were also raised by the surgical technology program’s “Inactive Status” after its instructor, Kathy Snyder, separated in August.

It may be of note, that shortly after co-chairing the Academic Standards Committee that deliberated the new “Gen Ed” core requirements, an accounting and business instructor, Tanya Griffith, left the college in August. In addition, the physical therapy assistant program lost its director.

All these faculty were highly dedicated and engaged in the life of this college.  

While every fisherman has lost the “big catch” to his nearby buddy with the newest color of PowerBait, LCCC’s former instrumental music instructor, Gary Hall, said he didn’t leave during the first week of school because of a better offer.

“I didn’t see a path that I could believe in and follow,” said Hall, who started with LCCC nearly 10 years ago. “I had to be true to myself.”

When Hall signed on with LCCC, he said the administration asked him to bring in talented students to build a credible music program. Working weekends and providing trip funds out of his own pocket, Hall spent the next seven years wrangling music students for LCCC from across the nation. During his eighth year, the scholarships started disappearing. By May 2014, Hall wasn’t sure there would be a music program scholarship fund for the following semester.

“I was basically told I couldn’t talk about scholarships,” Hall explained about his dean’s new student recruiting policy. “We just didn’t know if there would be any money for (music scholarships).”

Without scholarships, student enrollment dropped. Without enrollment, new talent became harder to acquire.

“If you were a talented football player, and you went to a new school but found they didn’t have enough players to even fill one team, would you stay?” Hall asked, illustrating the frustration new music students faced their first day at LCCC.

In the end, Hall said he resigned because, although he loved LCCC, he couldn’t make the current administration’s vision for the future work in the music program.

“I didn’t feel, in all honesty, I could tell a kid (LCCC) would be a good place to go,” Hall said. “I have an incredible amount of love for the school. Some of my best years teaching were there. I just didn’t see where I could fit in with where they are going.”

Now, Hall said he found work at Hobbytown USA pursuing his lifelong passion for model trains. He said he keeps involved with music by judging marching band and concert band performances. Hall said no offer was made to tempt him to stay, nor was he questioned upon exit about how LCCC could improve future employee experience.

When LCCC’s tenured faculty are wriggling off the stringer for such illustrious positions in the service industry, we at Wingspan are forced to contemplate how the college intends to retain future world-class faculty.

President Schaffer said, “We want to understand why people leave and why people come.”

While lacking in incentive programs to keep faculty, he said the college currently employs metrics and key performance indicators to assess the reasoning behind faculty departures.

“You don’t like to see good people go even if it’s best for both parties,” Schaffer said, emphasizing not all departures are negative in nature.

“We know some turnover is good for any organization,” Schaffer added. “The question we have now is ‘what is that rate?’ and ‘how do we rank now with it?’”

While he said the college has had little difficulty filling the holes left by the increasing number of separations, we at Wingspan couldn’t help but notice that nearly half of the 18 new faculty members at LCCC are listed as interims, a term Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines as temporary. While few relationships start with total commitment, developing a renowned staff by replacing veteran educators with temporary or provisional new hires is a new hook in our hat.

In the same report that calls for “World Class Faculty,” employee satisfaction is graded at a C, or as we students know “passing by the skin of your teeth.”

So, when Schaffer said, “LCCC builds relationships, and it’s that sense of family that often keeps individuals wanting to stay in that ‘home,’” how exactly does the college keep current faculty at home in LCCC’s fishing net? Rather than spending the weekend lamenting the big one that got away, would the college’s time, talent and treasure be better served developing strategies that inspire faculty to stay?

Before the college can do that, it must determine why faculty are escaping the net. A first step could be to reveal the results of the on-campus focus groups and other feedback conducted by Phyllis Lundy at the beginning of the year in response to the earlier results of a campus climate survey.

Then, Wingspan urges the LCCC Board of Trustees to create a task force dedicated to investigating employee retention. This catch and release approach cannot be sustained.