NMI College President Drops 2 Teachers’

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Teachers who opposed Hart’s own renewal allege retaliation

By Moneth Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, May 29, 2013) – Northern Marianas College (NMC) president Sharon Y. Hart, Ph.D., has decided not to renew the employment contracts of two of her most vocal critics-a decision labeled by the Faculty Senate as "clear retaliation."

Newly elected Faculty Senate president Kyle Podziewski and longtime faculty member Larry Lee were issued separate notices yesterday about the non-renewal of their contracts, which both expire in August. Though the two admitted that this is forthcoming, they didn't expect the decision to be this soon.

In separate letters, Hart informed the two that their two-year contracts will not be renewed pursuant to Section 7 of their employment agreement. That section states that if the college intends not to renew a contract, the employee must be given written notice no less than 30 days prior to the end of the contract.

"Today is the last day faculty members are requested to be on campus for the 2012-2013 school year. You are to collect your personal items today and will not be required or permitted to return to the fall 2013 semester. However, pay and benefits will continue [through] your contract term," Hart's letter states.

Admitting he felt sad upon receiving the president's letter yesterday, Lee said that Hart's action is a "clear show of retaliation" against him.

Hart declined to comment on the matter yesterday but said that she will continue to make decisions that she thinks is for the best interest of NMC.

"As in the past, the college does not publicly comment on matters dealing with individual personnel issues. However, I want to emphasize that we will continue to do what is in the best interest of the institution, including making personnel decisions that may not be popular," she said.

Lee spoke against Hart's leadership several times before the Board of Regents. Lee was also among those who gave Hart a no-confidence vote during a faculty assembly in December. The board later declared the vote invalid due to the lack of quorum.

Lee described his work performance at the college as "excellent."

"I've been a dedicated employee for 13 years. I have excellent performance evaluation and excellent evaluation from students. I serve the students in many ways. The president's decision not to renew my contract clearly is a retaliation," Lee said.

He said he was informed that he has to turn in his keys to his office yesterday and will require an escort if he wants to enter the college again after his departure.

"This is the president's way of silencing any constructive criticisms and destroying shared governance at this institution," said Lee.

When asked about his plans, Lee said he is still weighing his options and that includes possibly "fighting the non-renewal."

Lee started working at NMC in 2002 as the college's marketing and public relations manager. He held this position for three years. In 2003, he became a full-time faculty member and was chairperson of the business department for three years. Lee also held for two years the position of Faculty Senate president and served as honorary member of the Board of Regents. At present, he is the adviser of the International Honor Society and the PROA Music Society.

Podziewski confirmed that his letter of non-renewal was hand-delivered by an NMC staffer to his house about 4:50pm yesterday. It notified him that his contract will not be renewed effective May 28.

"This is retaliation and intimidation, plain and simple; with the two of us gone there will be no one left with the guts to speak up," Podziewski told Saipan Tribune, believing that he and Lee were the first to be kicked out because they are "the most vocal and outspoken."

Saipan Tribune learned that as soon as Lee's non-renewal was issued yesterday morning, Podziewski held an emergency meeting with faculty senators.

"I am not going to lie down. I think this is disservice to the school of education and disservice to the community," he said.

Podziewski, who was just elected Faculty Senate president last Friday, earlier accused Hart of providing inaccurate information to the accreditation commission.

Podziewski, who was hired from off-island, is the college reading instructor for two years now.

According to Hart, each department and program continuously evaluates its needs, and when a decision not to renew a contract is made, they strive to give as much advance notice as is possible under the circumstances.

"We endeavor to give the departing employee the best chance at seamless employment. Having just completed our 2013 commencement exercises it is time to made decisions affecting our fall 2013 semester, and these decisions may impact staffing at the college," she said.

She assured that NMC will not let anything distract it from its focus on accreditation efforts.

College personnel can be let go with or without cause.

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