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Update: STC President Reed's retirement was in the works as early as September

Updated: Dec 20, 2020

An update to, "VISION UNSEEN: STC founding president resigns amid losing board confidence"

By Jonathan Salinas

UPDATE: According to page 240 of the South Texas College Board of Trustees' November 24 packet, the college received a proposal by the Association of Community College Trustees to assist in filling the college's impending executive vacancy on September 8, more than two months before the college publicly announced Reed's retirement. November 24 was the first board meeting in which the proposal was mentioned and after-the-fact of Reed's resignation. As of yet, the college has continued to offer no public reason for Reed's mysterious retirement.

Vision Unseen

Founding South Texas College President, Dr. Shirley Reed, often described as a great visionary, announced in November she will be retiring, after more than 25 years on the job. Reed’s last day at STC is set for January 4, 2021.

The McAllen Monitor reported Reed would address the reason behind her retirement after sending an internal message to staff. As of yet, Reed’s motive for retirement has not been followed up on.

Reed’s retirement comes almost one month after STC’s Board of Trustees voted down a major proposal by Reed that would have enabled the college to commission a faculty “cost and productivity study.”

This was the subject of our next in depth investigation when we learned of Reed's retirement.

Cutting “costs”

This endeavor began at the February 11 meeting of the board’s Finance, Audit and Human Resources (FAHR) committee, where Reed made the initial request for such a cost study of faculty.

Reed argued there had been enrollment fluctuations since 2012, and “in some years, a slight decrease has been experienced for both traditional and dual credit programs, but faculty costs have increased.”

Reed added a sense of urgency, claiming, “It is critical that the College aligns resources to meet changing enrollment patterns, which will benefit students and safeguard the future financial sustainability of the College.”

President Reed and Mary Elizondo, Vice President for Finance and Administrative Services, claimed the focus would be on faculty first, then non-faculty in the future.

One of the trustees in attendance, Rene Guajardo, lauded the idea of determining whether the college is overstaffed or understaffed, but he had a concern over how those positions would be handled.

“Going back to the human aspect, as in human resources, I think if we find we’re overstaffed, we can deal with this through attrition, not by firing, but just not filling the positions when they come open or someone leaves.”

Before becoming an STC trustee, Guajardo was a human resources director. In contrast to Reed, he seemed to take the management of people’s livelihoods seriously, if not more so than college administrators.

One significant fact presented by Reed and Elizondo at the meeting contradicted something she would later tell the full board on the cost analysis proposal. Reed had two slides. Both highlighted faculty salaries and benefits for the “FY 2020 Budget.”

One slide compared faculty to non-faculty. Non-faculty salaries and benefits were listed at $69.8 million. While faculty salaries and benefits were listed at $64.5 million, a $5 million difference. Keep this detail in mind.

The next time the issue came up with the board was at its September 8 meeting of the Education and Workforce Development (EWD) committee. A great deal of attention was given to Reed’s proposal as the sole agenda item.

Given pandemic precautions, people in the boardroom were masked. Three trustees attended by zoom. In addition to the EWD Committee members, Board Chairman, Paul Rodriguez, virtually attended. Discussion lasted for over an hour.

The tension was palpable.

Reed came much better prepared for this meeting, though, and Vice President of Finance, Mary Elizondo, had a powerpoint presentation with over fifteen charts which demonstrated how expensive faculty costs have been and how the source funding those costs—i.e. tuition—was declining.

Reed stated in her introduction that the general concern was over enrollment, revenue, and expenditures, but assured the board that administrators were a negligible part of the overall budget.

“Everyone would’ve loved it being administration to start with,“ she said, “but even if you got rid of half of us, it’s not going to have a big financial dent in the institution.”

Given the multiple layers of bureaucracy at STC, according to past and current faculty and staff, and as a former STC student myself, one would be amazed that dozens of administrative salaries amount to little.

What sort of dent did Reed have in mind with her cost analysis of faculty?

Beginning with a fantastic claim, Reed then falsely claimed, “Our biggest expenditure is faculty.” This claim was false because it contradicted what Reed had said at the February 11 meeting of the Finance, Audit, and H.R. committee, where she shared the slide showing non-faculty salary costs and benefits were over $5 million more than Faculty, remember?

But that slide didn’t make it into the September presentation, before a different board committee, seven months later. Instead, STC administration only presented budgets leading up to 2018 to 2019.

Reed applauded “Mary Elizondo and her staff, who did all of the analysis.” Adding, “We want to be on the same page about these cost and revenue streams and the potential consequences, if the patterns continue into the future.”

A few seconds after Reed asked Elizondo to start her presentation, Paul Rodriguez, the Board Chair, interjected with a tone of confusion in his voice.

“Dr. Reed,” he began, “can we start with the simple goal? I’m not sure what the goal is.”

Reed shot back. “The goal is to have the firm review our faculty costs and to review our productivity standards for our faculty and to give us recommendations. Are we within normal benchmarks? Are we comparable to peer institutions? Are there ways we can reduce faculty costs and improve productivity? Does that answer your question?”

Reed and her office defined “costs” as salaries and benefits, in other words, people’s livelihoods, and defined “productivity” as workload. Reed’s ”vision” was to make fewer people do more work for less pay, a tactic employers use to increase their profits.

A long pause followed. Rodriguez then said, “I’m, uh, just trying to figure out the need exactly. We’re worried our costs are going up?” To which, Reed responded, “Our costs exceed the revenue generated. As enrollment declines or stabilizes, or waits to return to normal, there is a loss in tuition revenue, a loss in contact-hour funding, and yet our costs for faculty and personnel is still going up.”

A few more words were exchanged before Mary Elizondo began her presentation, expressing the urgency of the cost analysis.

“I believe we need the analysis very badly,” she said. But rather than following with a clear explanation of why the analysis was needed, Elizondo said, awkwardly, “We want to know what best practices are. We know other companies can do this, and make comparisons with other schools and trends. We know this year is very difficult with our tight budget.”

After Elizondo mentioned some statistics on enrollment fluctuations, trustee Gary Gurwitz got involved in the discussion, with a keen interest in focusing on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic lending relevance to the study.

After mentioning the “psychology” behind including staff in the study, fully anticipating that faculty would rightly protest the notion that they’re first on the chopping-block, Reed claimed to the board that faculty acquiesced to the faculty cost analysis.

“Mr. Gurwitz,” Reed said, “We had a tense conversation with the Faculty Senate over the study. We explained that we have to start somewhere. There was pushback. Their first effort was to insist the study look at administration. We told them our strategy was to find ways to increase productivity and enrollment, without an increase of costs. They accepted that.”

This discussion never occurred, according to STC Faculty Senators who spoke to Unete 956. The Faculty Senate was unaware of the proposed study until the October 13 meeting of the FAHR committee, which one of the senators viewed, after noticing the study on the agenda.

The Faculty Senate discussed the issue for the very first time at the senate’s October 27 meeting, just moments before the board convened. The STC Faculty Senate passed two unanimous recommendations.

The first read, “The Faculty Senate recommends that Board would use outside company to conduct cost and productivity survey to include faculty, staff, and administration.”

The second read, “Faculty Senate recommends that any cost and productivity surveys start with a completed survey of administration, using an outside vendor, before moving on to staff and faculty.”

The senate recommendations contradicted Reed’s claim that faculty were in agreement with her. Additionally, no senator had spoken to Reed about the study, prior to the September 8 meeting of the EWF committee, in which she described faculty as “pushing back.“ Reed’s supposed jousting with the Faculty Senate was a fabrication.

At that September 8 meeting, discussion of conducting two studies at once, one for faculty and one for staff, was discussed. Reed asked for clarification.

“The Board previously discussed [Feb. 11] this issue and agreed to begin with the faculty part of the study.”

To this, Rodriguez responded, “I don’t think if we had all this information, I don’t know we would have gone in that direction.”

Rodriguez raised another issue he noticed in Elizondo’s presentation.

“One problem,” he explained, “is that the increase in faculty is in the 40 percent range, and on the staff side it’s like 80 percent.”

Reed’s response was that there was a crucial difference between how staff salaries are funded and how faculty salaries are funded. While staff salaries have gone up, they are covered by the 3-cent increase in the recently passed M&O (maintenance and operations) property tax, which is tied to funding operations and facilities, not to enrollment.

Rodriguez replied, “The point is still there. I’m not a [EWD] committee member, but I’d be hard-pressed to face a faculty member who might say it was easy to analyze our impact, but you all didn’t look at yourselves,” suggesting Reed’s proposal was vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy.

Salinas elicited from Reed a promise to have more information on the proposals by the next meeting of the Finance committee, and Reed assured him she would.

Trustee Guajardo, however, expressed doubt, saying. “Again, this is a massive undertaking that the college has got involved in. I’m skeptical this can be done in a month.”

At the September 22 meeting of the full Board, however, Salinas, as chair of the EWD committee, recommended "both administration and faculty studies to the Finance Committee, which will be in a better position, with more information promised by Dr. Reed, to finalize the decision.”

Reed asked for clarification from the board that, “since we do already have our proposals, my understanding is that the board will have to reject those proposals, and then request a study with both.”

So the October 13 meeting of the FAHR committee placed the proposed faculty cost analysis as Item XI (last) on the agenda.

Roy DeLeon, chair of the committee, presented an introduction and summary of where things stood. Much of it was familiar, but part of it was new and a surprise to some:

“The administration has attempted to get answers to the questions raised at the committee and board meetings regarding the cost of adding staff to the productivity study.“

“Staff cannot get answers to the board without rejecting the original proposals and soliciting new proposals.”

”The administration doesn’t believe it is feasible to do both studies simultaneously within a reasonable period of time.”

“The college cannot consider other options, without first rejecting the current proposals which were based on a faculty-focused study.”

“The administration proposes that the current proposals be rejected and in the interim the administration proposes to do a preliminary study of instructional costs and productivity and be started immediately to have recommendations for Fall of 2021.”

Reed explained why she didn’t have the information for them that she had promised a month earlier. She placed blame on the companies and said she couldn’t provide information, because “we cannot get any information until we make a decision on their proposals.” Then she turned it on the trustees:

“I need direction from this committee. Do you want to consider one of the recommended firms, reject proposals, start over? We never meant to give the impression that we’ll just do it ourselves. We felt we have to do something and if it means internally starting, that’s the way it needs to be for progress toward Fall 2021.”

Rodriguez was having none of it. “I don’t think we should start anything internally,” he said. “I think you need to leave it to the professionals. I think we should make a request for proposals for both faculty and staff. But the other thing is, given the circumstances, what’s the sense of urgency about it?”

To which Reed gave the vague and platitudinous reply, “My sense of urgency is that expenses exceed revenue.” That point was not discussed further.

After Guajardo reiterated the great effort and time such a study would take, Reed agreed with the earlier point that such a study would best be done by an outside company, but she was “concerned that waiting two years to implement the results is too long.”

Rodriguez, as chair, then motioned that the committee “reject the faculty study proposals and instead request proposals for both faculty and administrative cost and productivity studies.”

Reed’s vision of chopping faculty—as she and the board anticipated the “findings“ of such a “study” would conclude—was dead.

While Faculty Senate, who administration and the board had over-estimated, were vindicated anyways.

On November 17, a "Special Meeting of the Board of Trustees" convened—according to the meeting’s agenda—for “Review and Action as Necessary Regarding the Employment Contract for the College President.”

After starting the meeting and welcoming the newly elected trustee for District 7, Danny Guzman, the board went into “executive session” behind closed doors, and offline, to discuss the “personnel matter,” privately. After thirty minutes, the board returned to open session and announce their determination.

Board Chair Rodriguez stated, “no action was taken in the executive session.” Trustee Salinas then moved that “the Board accept the letter of retirement submitted by Dr. Reed, effective January 4, 2021, with a provision that she be paid her accrued vacation time.”

The motion was seconded by trustee Victoria Cantu, and unanimously accepted. Just prior to adjourning the meeting, Rodriguez stated that, given the president’s “retirement and impending departure,” a search committee would be established with Rose Benavidez and himself as co-chairs.

A legacy of uncritical media

Unete 956 has reported on local media’s duplicity in covering up South Texas College administration’s abuses against faculty, students and staff, in the last several years, which is a departure from previous reporting on workplace skirmishes taking place in the 1990s and early 2000s at STC, often shedding a critical light.

This good journalism ended when the college began paying tens of thousands of dollars every year in advertisements in the mid-2000s to local media, according to documents obtained by Unete 956 as part of a public information request. These advertisements “earned” STC nothing but positive coverage throughout the years.

So, perhaps for the final time, the Rio Grande Valley’s local media paid tribute to one of its most notorious pay-masters.

All media accounts about Reed’s resignation from South Texas College, be it The Monitor, the Rio Grande Guardian, or news stations like KRGV, unsurprisingly failed to mention any of the facts discussed in this article, instead quoting politicos who describe Reed as a great leader, “visionary,” solely responsible for all of STC’s success.

Nor do they mention that many past and current faculty and staff, as we have extensively covered, view Reed’s legacy as a blight upon the academic and professional integrity of South Texas College, punctuated by a series of hostile acts against employees any union-buster worthy of the name would be proud of.

Dr. William B. Carter, Professor of History at South Texas College from 1995 to 2019, a former South Texas Faculty Association President and STC Faculty Senate President, has sparred with Reed on many occasions. He was glad to hear about Reed's retirement and is of the belief the board of trustees had been steadily losing faith in her.

“I have been hearing from many at the college that the Board reached a mutual agreement with Dr. Reed at some point this fall that Reed would need to leave,” Carter said. He informed the board of Reed's inconsistent statements regarding the faculty cost analysis. “It's unfortunate it took so long," Carter went on.

"She's been deceiving them, the community, her employees, faculty, and students for over 25 years. In the past year, she’s been deceiving the Office of the Attorney General of Texas, with whom I have had to file eleven formal grievances for her mishandling of Texas Public Information requests. There was no one left to lie to."

"Her final act was such an incredibly blatant attempt to lash out at her faculty, wielding the meat cleaver to assure they remained captive to their fear of her. It’s the end of an era, thank God,” said the retired History professor.

We asked Carter what he believed should happen, now that the board moves into the post-Reed era at STC.

“What the future holds remains something of a mystery. I would argue that the most important and beneficial change most easily achieved would be to eliminate the most significant power Shirley Reed abused against her faculty, that is, being the only voice for the college dialoguing with the board, unless she approved it,” Carter said.

“For over 25 years, Reed never granted the Faculty Senate to be placed on a board meeting agenda to have an actual conversation with board members over a substantive issue. What the college needs most is a conduit for the faculty to have such conversations, regularly. Shared governance is a fundamental concept in higher education faculty first promoted over 20 years ago, which Shirley Reed persistently suppressed then and ever since.“

”Broad communication and honesty are the most important keys to continued success that Reed was incapable of cultivating, ever, unless it was a transactional moment to get what she wanted, only to drop it at the soonest convenience. It’s finally time for the board to take faculty seriously."

Carter added it's time for STC’s board to implement overdue measures.

“Faculty are integral to the very meaning of the institution,” the McAllen native said, “but their voice has been minimized. That should end. Administrators should be empowering their faculty. Let us hope the board considers the systemic and self-serving arrangements Reed established to bring needed reform.”

'Chop From The Top!'

For nearly three decades, South Texas College faculty fought for academic freedom and independence from Reed's overreach. Many qualified faculty left, were driven out or framed up and then fired. Many sued.

At the head of all these attacks upon academic freedom, student rights and institutional transparency, was Reed, crushing dissent and resistance at every turn. Organization and action by faculty, staff and students, won many victories, to be sure.

What Reed tried pulling off—with her scheme to “cut costs” and lay off faculty, en masse, during a global pandemic and a global economic depression—is also part of a trend in higher education, and, again, a tool the employers use when its profits are down.

University employees across the country, like the 131 San Francisco State University employees who were laid off in September—for example—are pushing back against similar “cuts” to their jobs by their administrators, in the name of "fighting the pandemic," as Gurwitz urges STC to do.

The SFSU workers likewise pointed to bloated administrative salaries. T-shirts and signs carried by the workers at a September protest read, “Chop from the top.” One computer science department worker said, “Many of them make $100,00 a year and more!” Reed and her administrators enjoyed similarly cushy salaries.

Independent and united organization, courage and action, like that demonstrated by STC employees and students over the years and like that demonstrated by the SFSU workers, will be needed to ensure faculty, staff and student workers—in solidarity with one another—defend each other's jobs from any upcoming “cost cuts,” no matter the results of any “cost analysis,” no matter which bureaucrat replaces Reed. The struggle continues.


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