NMI College Board Meeting Disappoints Faculty, Staff

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Public comment period supplanted by closed-door session

By Moneth Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, April 10, 2013) – Northern Marianas College (NMC) faculty and staff members expressed outrage yesterday with the actions of the Board of Regents, accusing it of using delaying tactics to put off deciding on the contract of college president Sharon Y. Hart, Ph.D.

Although a special board meeting was called at 1pm yesterday, session officially began 20 minutes later, only to disappoint attendees-mostly faculty and staff-when the board voted to immediately suspend the order of business, canceling the public comment section of the meeting.

For House Committee on Education chair Rep. Roman Benavente, skipping the public comment section of the meeting is unfair, as the agenda has been published with expectations from the public.

"I know it's the choice of the regents to do what they want, but if you print the agenda meeting for 24 hours, the expectation is there. As far as 'fair and balanced' is concerned, it's only fair to hear the public comments from whoever wants to speak," Benavente said.

He said he respects the autonomy of the board but he is also sympathetic to the staff who have been raising concerns about the institution's leadership. He said he will not interfere in the affairs of the board nor question its decisions but, as an elected official, he has a duty to the community.

[PIR editor's note: Benavente also disclosed both NMC and its board are the subjects of an investigation by the Office of the Public Auditor in light of "serious concerns" raised against college management and board members. Public Auditor Mike Pai reportedly did not respond when contacted by Saipan Tribune on the matter.]

The board, which spent some five minutes only in the open session, notified attendees that its closed-door session would last an hour. It actually lasted more than two hours, to the disgust of the waiting crowd.

Board chair Juan T. Lizama later announced that the executive session will be extended and that the decision on Hart's contract was not going to be made yesterday as members are just in the deliberation process. He declined to give a timeframe as to when a decision will be made.

Hart's contract is expiring July 4. She must receive a notice whether she will be renewed or not 60 days prior to this date, or May 3.

The president's employment contract has appeared several times as among the agenda items in the board's previous meetings. Her performance has already been evaluated but the results have not been made public. The board also earlier stated that the performance evaluation will have no bearing on their decision on Hart's contract.

According to Lizama, the "whole process really takes time" to complete.

Whether the evaluation results will have a bearing on the board's decision, faculty and staff remain clueless due to the confusing directions of the regents themselves.

"If they're not going to use her performance evaluation as a basis for her renewal, it's like ignoring employee's performance evaluation when their contract is up for renewal," one staffer told Saipan Tribune.

Another employee expressed disgust upon learning that the board is still deliberating on Hart's contract, which the employee described as a "clear delaying tactic."

"What takes them so long to act on this item? It has been on the board's table for many months, the issue has been cited in the ACCJC letter, evaluation has been done, they've talked about it many times in their executive session. .Now they're saying they're still in the deliberation process?" the employee said.

Sources disclosed that the seven-member board has yet to get a consensus as members are split on whether Hart will be retained or not. Employees and staff believe that until the "desired number" is reached, the issue will remain on the table.

Faculty Senate president Amanda Angel Diaz is just in waiting mode.

"Let's see what they [board members] have to do," she said, hoping that the board will consider the impact of whatever decision the board will arrive at.

The Faculty Senate had issued a no-confidence vote against Hart's leadership in December. The board did not accept the vote, questioning its constitutionality.

The faculty has accused the board leadership of failing to hear their voices.

In yesterday's meeting, some faculty and staff members were listed as public comment speakers, which were solicited before the meeting started.

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