CFCC president downplays need for faculty survey, some Trustees push back, say it should be done
At Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting, several new members and leadership positions were announced, but the meeting grew tense when discussions turned to the topic of a faculty survey. President Jim Morton tried to dismiss the need for a survey — citing unhappiness with Covid as a confounding factor — but trustees, in particular Jonathan Barfied Jr., pushed back.
Towards the end of the meeting, Dr. Eric Brandon, the Faculty Association (FA) President, told trustees that the FA voted unanimously to recommend a climate survey to President Morton.
“In order to increase both trust and transparency at CFCC, the CFCC Faculty Association requests that CFCC engage an independent third-party to conduct a thorough climate survey of all CFCC employees,” Brandon said.
Brandon said he’d talked with “President Morton several times, about a third party climate survey across the college. And what we did is we voted on this at the faculty association meeting on September 16th, and it passed unanimously.”
Brandon said 30 members of the FA were present to vote for this recommendation.
Board member Mary Lyons Rouse brought up the Faculty Climate Survey that was conducted last year by the FA and Brandon reiterated that it wasn’t a valid survey because of the sample size -- only 35% of full-time faculty responded, barely any part-time faculty participated. He said he wanted this to be done outside the association in the future. “We tried it [the survey] and I don’t think it worked because it put officers in a tricky position.”
Deloris Rhodes, a newly-appointed trustee, asked Brandon about the history of asking for this survey: “Was that not recommended several years ago?”
Brandon replied, “that was recommended by Peter Hans when he was the outgoing president of the community college system.”
Rhodes asked at the meeting if that recommendation was ever carried out. Brandon said no.
Both members of the faculty and the former NC Community System President Peter Hans have been calling for a third-party independent survey since January 2020 when WECT first broke a story about Morton and Michelle Lee, his executive office director, creating a hostile work environment. In October 2021, the FA did conduct a faculty climate survey but the college did not acknowledge the results.
Barfield, a veteran trustee, said he thought this survey would be a good idea.
“The county, [...] we do an employee survey every year, [...] and to me, it’s important that from our standpoint, that you’re meeting people where they want to be met. [...] Sometimes you see things you don’t want to see, but it helps make the organization better,” he said.
Barfield said if the survey was conducted then the board and the administration could look at the results and figure out what is needed to improve.
Then board members began to discuss the cost of such a third-party survey. Trustee Chair Bill Cherry tried to end the conversation surrounding the survey but Barfield wasn’t ready to move on: “So if we go back to this previous conversation, where do we go from here?”
Cherry then said it was up to Morton whether the survey would be done, and that he wasn’t ready to make any recommendation at this meeting -- adding that it could be brought up at the next meeting.
Barfield said that the trustees have oversight over Morton: “So why would we not want to know where we stand with our employees? Why would we not want to do that?”
Morton then gave the history of why the annual surveys were discontinued.
“Basically they were used in a situation where many complaints about parking and things like that and there was never any value to it. And so it was stopped several years ago,” said Morton.
Morton said another reason not to do this survey is that some people are unhappy with their lives during the pandemic: “So if you look at what’s going on now, 51% of people are not happy regardless, because of all the things that are happening. [...] so it’s very hard to get a read on where people are because people are frustrated because of Covid. So I think a lot want to attack.”
Barfield responded, ”But I'm still having a problem understanding why we as an organization would not want to know where we stand with our employees. And again, I see this done at the county with employees every year, and we make improvements based upon the input is given.”
Rhodes said the third-party survey is needed because it would increase transparency at the college.
“And I think that’s something that needs to be done, so we can move forward because it will not die until we get the facts and get the information to address the changes and move forward,” said Rhodes.
She then started to revisit the need for transparency but was interrupted by Morton, who said, “I think we need people to participate, the ones that will say good things that have happened at this college because it’s been transformational for the last couple of years.”
Morton then said he couldn’t do the survey because of the cost: “Well right now I have a million-dollar hole in my budget.”
But Trustee Mary Lyons Rouse said he could consider a cheaper web-based option, asking “could you not do a Survey Monkey though if it’s this important?”
Morton retorted, “I don’t know what value that would be.”
But by the end of the meeting, Morton did say he would look into some kind of pricing for the survey, and Barfield said the county’s HR director would reach out with information on how they conduct their annual climate surveys.
Earlier in the meeting, President Morton gave his report to the trustees. His report mostly consisted of presenting diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at the college. After he finished, Barfield asked whether the college was looking to hire a full-time DEI officer. Morton said he would like to partner with the county since they have “a whole department now.”
Barfield said, “We’re full; I think Cape Fear needs to do their own thing just like UNCW is doing. We have a pretty robust operation going on, but I don’t think she can divide herself and her staff to come to Cape Fear Community College,” referring to Linda Thompson, who stepped into the newly created role of chief diversity officer last year.
During this ‘President’s Report’ portion of the meeting, Morton also announced that he had started a new initiative called, “Chat with the President,” saying faculty “really spoke freely [...] so now I’d like to hear straight from people on the front lines.”
New appointments, positions filled after recent resignations
At the meeting, Deloris Rhodes became the newest member of the Cape Fear Community College Board of Trustees. She was appointed by Governor Roy Cooper for a term ending in June 2024. She joins new members Deborah Dicks Maxwell and Bill Rivenbark who took their seats at the last board meeting in July 2021. Maxwell was appointed by the New Hanover County School Board; Rivenbark’s appointment was made by the New Hanover County Commissioners.
Barfield was reappointed by the Governor for a term ending in June 2025. Zander Guy was reappointed by the Pender County Commissioners also until June 2025 -- although Guy recently resigned as chairman of the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission citing anxiety over the pandemic; Guy lost an uncle and two friends to the virus and the ABC commission had been struggling with ongoing issues with liquor distribution.
Brandon also said the faculty association had appointed two new people to leadership positions. Tim Fuss, program director for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, is the newest vice president, taking the place of Suzanne Baker. And Rhonda Franklin, an English instructor, has become the secretary, after Chardon Murray. Both Murray and Baker left the college in May 2021, citing retaliatory behavior by the president and his upper management.
Another leader who took the helm at last night’s meeting, Miguel Nandlal made his first speech as the newest Student Government President, updating the trustees on their activities around campus. In May 2021, the last president PJ Eby criticized the board for not taking an interest in her presidential reports.
This meeting also marked the first time the board made their agenda items publicly on their website, along with live-streaming the meeting — although the live stream had technical issues and, after the meeting, was taken down.