GCC union taking vote of no confidence in president, provost

Greenfield Community College’s main campus.

Greenfield Community College’s main campus. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Greenfield Community College President Michelle Schutt outside her office.

Greenfield Community College President Michelle Schutt outside her office. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Staff Writer

Published: 06-13-2024 6:59 PM

GREENFIELD — The Greenfield Community College Professional Association, the college’s faculty and staff union, is currently engaged in a vote of no confidence in President Michelle Schutt and Provost Chet Jordan, claiming that the leaders swept a less-than-flattering diversity, equity and inclusion report under the rug.

According to GCC Professional Association President Trevor Kearns, union members are now engaged in an online voting system, with the results to close on Tuesday.

Although the vote was primarily prompted by allegations that college leadership suppressed results of a DEI study conducted from April to November 2023 by the Connecticut-based racial equity consultant RE-Center Race & Equity in Education, Kearns said the union had prior concerns with the two college leaders, citing reports of unprofessional behavior toward faculty and staff.

“We have evidence that the president has made at the very least misstatements, if not outright false statements, knowingly to members of our union executive committee [and] to the campus community,” Kearns said. “We have evidence that the provost has done the same thing … We also have reports that the provost has behaved in inappropriate ways in terms of raising his voice at employees. Some describe it as yelling or screaming.”

With input from college staff, Schutt hired the RE-Center Race & Equity in Education last year to study the campus and its culture and recommend possible changes and improvements toward advancing racial equity and diversity. In November, Kearns said, the center canvassers “disappeared” from campus, as GCC ended its contract with the RE-Center before the consultant was finished with its canvassing.

Kearns alleges Schutt kept the report hidden from GCC’s board of trustees, faculty and staff until it was brought to a trustees meeting on Monday and did not disclose the consultant’s departure until February.

“These two individuals have basically taken apart a campus culture that was collaborative, that was transparent, that was inclusive, and that was caring and respectful. They’ve replaced it with a campus culture that’s very secretive, very opaque and that doesn’t really demonstrate respect to the lower-level employees,” Kearns said.

The 45-page report states that the college’s DEI efforts are largely “performative” and “superficial,” and often tokenize minority community members. It also states that “racialized harm is allowed to continue without being addressed,” citing a number of incidents between RE-Center canvassers and members of the president’s cabinet.

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“During one of our 1:1 interviews with a white cabinet member, they repeatedly and deliberately used the N-word in its entirety four times. One RE-Center consultant was Black and the other white,” the report alleges. “The white RE-Center consultant offered four separate occasions for correction, but the white cabinet member doubled down on its use every time.”

Other allegations listed in the report include multiple people sharing that they were disturbed by the use of the N-word in a play that the theater department put on. The report notes that usage of the slur was followed by “subsequent use of the word by white people during the audience talkback.”

“When we asked about the incident, the president cited ‘academic freedom’ and the potential pushback from the faculty’s union as to why she did not address it,” the report states.

It also alleges that one cabinet member intentionally walked past canvassers when talking about work that they were doing and waved them away when she got angry.

“The white RE-Center consultant asked this cabinet member if she imagined that what she did was racially harmful to the Black consultant. The cabinet member said ‘I think you’re just another white woman telling a white woman that she is being racist,’” the report states.

President’s response

Schutt acknowledged the report in a three-page letter sent to GCC members on Monday, in which Schutt stated that the college ended its relationship with the RE-Center in the fall of 2023, a decision that was not communicated with the community because GCC was “waiting to receive raw data from that process.”

“While the DEI consultant’s credentials, proposed framework and intent of their intake work aligned with our objectives, we ultimately determined their consulting model and approach was not a right fit for GCC at this time,” Schutt’s letter states. “Unfortunately, instead of sharing the information in the requested format, the DEI consultant offered a document that included incomplete and, in some places, inaccurate information.”

Schutt wrote that the RE-Center’s report included information that was shared confidentially and “characterized participant comments and questions out of context and in a manner that is not consistent with a process that creates a safe space for learning and growing.”

The letter also acknowledged a college official’s use of the N-word in the college’s 2023 art installation examining perceptions of race in America. She noted that during the consulting sessions, a college administrator asked questions about how to address the use of the word in art and literature, and, in doing so, said the word in reference to the artwork’s title.

“In no instance was the word used as a slur or directed at any individual. The consulting team (in its own words) offered opportunities for ‘self-correction,’ but there was a missed opportunity for education,” Schutt’s letter states. “The college administrator has expressed regret at using the full title of the artwork and not appreciating at the time the potential impact. The individual subsequently proactively sought out coaching and additional resources regarding this topic.”

Schutt acknowledged that the college’s DEI work will continue under the leadership of a newly created role: vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion. She also wrote that she “could have done a better job of communicating with our community earlier and with more details about the discontinuation of the relationship with the DEI consultant.”

In a statement Schutt shared with the Recorder, she outlined her plan to improve moving forward, which will include being “as transparent and accountable as possible,” along with identifying a personal DEI coach, and rethinking how she communicates.

“I hope to use what I have learned to earn the confidence of every member of our community. I have enormous respect for our faculty and staff. My goal is a workplace environment that acknowledges contributions, works collaboratively to address challenges and builds relationships,” Schutt wrote to the Recorder.

Jordan could not be reached for comment by press time on Thursday.

Anthony Cammalleri can be reached at acammalleri@recorder.com or 413-930-4429.