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CFCC students stage walkout following marine tech chair's dismissal

A group of about forty people, mostly young white adults, stand outside on a boardwalk on a sunny day. Many of them are holding signs -- one says "Students need transparancy," another says, "Why throw Jay away???" They look concerned and solemn.
Nikolai Mather
/
WHQR
Students, faculty and supporters staged a walkout from the Cape Hatteras on Wednesday.

Marine tech students say CFCC has not offered an explanation for the sudden dismissal of Jason Rogers from the chair position.

At noon on Wednesday, about 40 members of Cape Fear Community College's marine tech program walked out of class.

Students, faculty and alumni were protesting the recent removal of Jason Rogers, the former head of CFCC's marine tech program. Rogers had led the program for 19 years, but last week, the college effectively dismissed him.

Now, the marine tech program Rogers once led wants answers.

"I just think there should be more transparency with this sort of thing," said student Melanie Vandenberg. "You know, it feels like the students have really been left in the dark."

"Why throw Jay away?"

The decision sparked outrage among students. One student, Micah Barton, told WHQR that Rogers was more than just the program chair — he was a professor, academic advisor, and friend.

"Nobody's given us any answers, even though we've all been asking," she said. "Even, like the day he left, Rogers himself had to email us."

Rogers reached out to students and faculty last week announcing his departure. In an email sent Tuesday, he explained that his application to continue leading the program was rejected by the CFCC administration.

The next day, North Campus Provost Shawn Dixon told CFCC’s marine tech advisory committee members that starting July 1, the department would go under a restructure. The three programs of marine tech, boat building, and boat manufacturing would now be folded into a new department called applied technologies. John Branner has since been named the chair of this new program.

But as of writing, Rogers' replacement has not been named. CFCC posted a job listing for marine tech chair on Tuesday.

"We didn't get anything from the school about it," said Barton. "And no offers have been made from the college to help us in any ways."

A close shot of about a dozen protesters on a boardwalk, all looking solemn. An older white man with a beard holds a sign aloft. It says "Why throw Jay away???" Docked behind him is a large white ship.
Nikolai Mather/WHQR
Protesters gathered next to the Cape Hatteras, where CFCC marine tech students take their classes.

Retaliation?

Some students say the dismissal was retaliatory. Back in 2022, CFCC quietly changed the employment status for the crew onboard the college’s research vessel, the Cape Hatteras. Crew members were made "exempt," meaning they lost PTO and were not given comp time.

Marine tech students and faculty protested that change. And so did Rogers. In the wake of multiple crew members’ resignations, including Captain Robert Daniels, he pressured the CFCC board to reverse course on the decision.

Rogers and the marine tech program were somewhat successful. Though Daniels was not restored to his former position, CFCC did begin to offer "sea time" — an hour of PTO for each hour of overtime — to crew members.

But students say Rogers' advocacy on their behalf may have cost him his job.

"I think one of the reasons why he was removed is because he always advocated for the students in the program," said alum Colton Stanley. "And that rubbed people in the administration the wrong way."

The impacts

During the 2022 PTO controversy, crew resignations meant the Cape Hatteras was left "masterless." For many students, this represented a huge blow. Working on the Cape Hatteras is the centerpiece experience of the marine tech program, but with the ship moored for months, many were unable to participate in it.

During Wednesday's protest, students said Rogers' departure is having similar impacts on their studies.

"I lost an academic advisor, as many other students did," said Barton. "I've reached out to [the] advising [department]. It's been several days now, and I still haven't heard anything. So I don't have any way to plan the rest of my degree here. I'm a little worried about that."

"He taught a couple of really pivotal classes," said Vandenberg. "And I worry going forward how that's going to affect the other teachers, certainly, and potentially new teachers, if they're going to take over those classes. I know our current professors already have a lot on their plates."

"There's no security right now, and we have a semester left, and we're not sure if we're gonna be able to complete it," said Barton.

Nikolai Mather is a Report for America corps member from Pittsboro, North Carolina. He covers rural communities in Pender County, Brunswick County and Columbus County. He graduated from UNC Charlotte with degrees in genocide studies and political science. Prior to his work with WHQR, he covered religion in Athens, Georgia and local politics in Charlotte, North Carolina. In his spare time, he likes working on cars and playing the harmonica. You can reach him at nmather@whqr.org.