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Faculty takes 'wait-and-see' approach to NCCC president investigation

SANBORN - Faculty members at Niagara County Community College have been unhappy with college President James P. Klyczek for years, passing formal votes of no confidence in him in 2005 and 2009.

The current controversy over emails that seem to show Klyczek trying to rig the bidding for a legal services contract for the college's Culinary Institute in Niagara Falls adds another element to their complaints.

But no vote has been taken this year.

"We haven't taken another vote of no confidence," said Joseph F. Colosi, president of the Faculty Association, the union representing nearly 160 instructors. "We're waiting to see what happens with the federal investigation and the trustees."

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Buffalo has subpoenaed information about the contracts awarded for the $17 million Culinary Institute. The Board of Trustees has hired a Syracuse law firm to investigate. The board voted 5-4 last week against placing Klyczek on administrative leave during the probe.

One professor called for Klyczek's removal in a speech to the Board of Trustees Tuesday, and another one reiterated faculty concerns about Klyczek's perceived lack of interest in "shared governance."

Elizabeth Sachs, an English professor, reminded trustees she spoke to them six years ago about "grave concerns about the direction of our college and our leadership."

"We were admonished by the board that our concerns didn't matter, or if they did, that you didn't really want to hear it from us," Sachs said. "I think we can see where this failure of trust and communication has led us."

Decision-making concerns

Sociology professor Amanda Pollard said Klyczek should no longer be president.

"The Board of Trustees must accept and acknowledge the need for change in the leadership of this college," Pollard said. She denounced Klyczek for his "lack of transparency, his drive to consolidate power and control, his persistent undermining of shared governance and his public disavowal of shared decision-making."

Klyczek drew a distinction between shared governance and shared decision making.

"I would say the faculty in general want more say - who doesn't? - but shared governance is not shared decision-making," Klysczek said after the meeting. "Shared governance is every part of the college having input into what's going on. I feel we've got good shared governance here, but the distinction is, it's not like everything comes up for a vote. That isn't shared governance. Shared governance is, does everybody have a chance to say what they think about it? And then decisions have to be made, and that's my job.

"Not everybody's happy all the time," Klyczek said. "I don't know how to do that, and I don't think we would get anything done if everybody were happy, because there's opposing forces on everything."

Colosi, the Faculty Association president, acknowledged that no law, policy or contractual provision requires shared governance. But Klyczek's predecessors were more open to the concept, he said.

"He tends to be more autocratic than collegial," Colosi said. "The president is a member of the Faculty Senate, but he doesn't meet with the Faculty Senate anymore."

Klyczek hasn't met with the Senate in at least a year, Colosi said.

The faculty union has a long history of contractual battles with Klyczek and the board. The last contract ratified by the two sides, in 2014, came eight years after the previous one had expired. Neither side ever signed the deal, which ran out in August 2015 and has not been replaced.

Colosi said an arbitrator is to rule on the union's demands for back pay from the eight years without a contract, over and above the $6.8 million the college already paid. He said he expected negotiations on a new contract to begin soon.

"We are not bringing you this message out of crass concerns over money or contracts," Sachs told the board Tuesday.

Klyczek, who has been NCCC president since November 2001, survived the previous no-confidence votes without strain.

In 2005, the Faculty Association called for his resignation, accusing him of "arrogance." The trustees responded by giving Klyczek a contract extension.

The investigation 

Faculty Senate President Lori Townsend read a brief statement at the meeting saying the Senate "supports a full, independent and transparent investigation of these allegations."

Trustee Bonnie R. Sloma agreed, calling for the complete release of the internal investigation of the emails and contracts, for which the board hired the Hancock Estabrook law firm.

"When our internal investigation is complete, (I support) full transparency to all - students, faculty, taxpayers, all of our community," Sloma said.

Board chairman Vincent M. Ginestre said there will be a release, but maybe not a complete one.

"Certainly the contents of the report will be available, but whether or not the reports can be released themselves, I'm not sure. We're going to do everything we can to make them as transparent as we possibly can," Ginestre said. "If there's anything in there that's confidential and cannot be made public, that will not be made public. That's what we have to do."

Ginestre said that during a one-hour, 50-minute closed session Tuesday, the board had a video conference with John G. Powers, the attorney chosen to the carry out the investigation. Klyczek was out of the room for all but half an hour of the session.

Asked if Klyczek's continued tenure depends on the results of the investigation, Ginestre said, "I have no comment on that. I don't know. It's going to take us wherever we go."

The board decided to begin a review of its bylaws and policies to update them and make sure they are aligned with the recommendations of the State University system.

"We're looking ahead. We want to make sure we do things right and do the best possible practices," Ginestre said. "What happened six years ago or seven years ago, we can't do anything about right now."

Trustee William L. Ross, a former chairman of the County Legislature, said he's talked several times to his former colleagues in Lockport about the situation. Asked if the Legislature wants to get involved, Ross said, "I don't think so. I think they more or less put it in our hands and we're going to have to work our way through it."

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