GCC union votes ‘no confidence’ in president, provost

Greenfield Community College’s main campus.

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

By ANTHONY CAMMALLERI

Staff Writer

Published: 06-18-2024 7:51 PM

GREENFIELD — Seventy-eight eligible members of the Greenfield Community College Professional Association, the college’s faculty and staff union, cast their ballots by Tuesday afternoon, expressing no confidence in President Michelle Schutt and Provost Chet Jordan after GCC allegedly suppressed a less-than-flattering diversity, equity and inclusion report from the college community.

Out of the 78 ballots cast, 73, or 93.6%, were in favor of a no confidence vote for Jordan, and four against. For Schutt, 67 votes, or 85.9%, were for no confidence, with 10 against, according to data shared by GCC Professional Association President Trevor Kearns. One union member submitted a blank ballot.

Given there are 116 eligible union members, Kearns said the roughly 67% turnout for the no confidence vote was record-setting.

“As you can see from the results, it’s very decisive. There’s virtually no trust in his leadership,” Kearns said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “In my 15 years at GCC, I have not seen 78 union members participate in anything. … It’s not over — this is the beginning, not the end.”

In a statement released following the vote on Tuesday, Schutt said she hopes to “continue working collaboratively with our faculty and staff.”

“I have enormous respect for our faculty and staff,” Schutt wrote in a statement. “My goal is a workplace environment that acknowledges contributions, works collaboratively to address challenges and builds relationships. I hope to continue working collaboratively with our faculty and staff around the values we share.”

In the coming days and months, Kearns said the union will present Schutt with a list of demands and a plan to move forward. Kearns added Tuesday that he is “fairly confident” union membership will call for Jordan’s dismissal.

Additionally, Kearns said the union plans to bring the matter before the college’s board of trustees at its next meeting.

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“The board supports the college’s DEI efforts,” GCC’s board of trustees wrote in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “We will continue this work and the board plans to be involved by having its own DEI training. The board has heard the president’s response to the concerns of the college community and her plan to address these concerns. We support the president’s plan.”

‘A campus culture of
secrecy, evasion’

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.

“The respective votes considered how President Schutt and Provost Jordan have both made misleading or false statements and how both have fostered a campus culture of secrecy, evasion and stonewalling,” Kearns wrote in a statement Tuesday.

With input from college staff, Schutt hired the RE-Center last year to study the campus and its culture, and to recommend possible changes and improvements toward advancing racial equity and diversity.

In November, Kearns said the 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 results of the RE-Center’s report hidden from GCC’s board of trustees, faculty and staff until it was brought to a trustees meeting last Monday and did not disclose the consultant’s departure until February.

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.

“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.”

Schutt acknowledged the report in a three-page letter sent to GCC members last 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.”

Jordan could be reached immediately for comment on the union’s vote on Tuesday.

Kearns noted the alleged actions of GCC’s leadership are not representative of the college community at-large.

“We have always gone above and beyond for our students and we will continue to do so. We come to work. We love working with our students — doesn’t matter who they are, what their identity is, what their background is, what their goals are,” Kearns said. “We’re here to support everyone and help them move forward in learning about the world.”

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