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CFCC Marine Tech program sees resignations following changes to compensatory leave policy

Cape Hatteras Boat.png
CFCC
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CFCC students are trained on the Cape Hatteras.

Cape Fear Community College’s marine technology department is in disarray. Several of the crew have resigned and so has the captain of the Cape Hatteras, the college’s main research vessel.

Editor’s Note: This is a developing story, WHQR will update as it receives information from the college.

Marine technology is a flagship program for the college — and it’s one of a kind on the east coast. It’s been in operation at CFCC for over 55 years.

In the spring of 2013, the college bought the Cape Hatteras from the National Science Foundation — and prior to CFCC purchasing it, the vessel spent about 30 years providing a way for researchers to conduct ocean science experiments.

Students from across the state and country come to get practical training aboard the ship and receive training on equipment such as navigation and sampling devices. They also conduct biological studies aboard the vessel.

It's a successful program: CFCC reports on its website for the program that about 94% of marine technology graduates were employed full-time in the industry or were continuing their education at a higher level. They’re employed in industries like fisheries, ship operations, hydrographic surveys, and marine instrumentation.

Captain Robert Daniels, who was in the top 15 highest-paid employees at the college, earning $99,720, resigned last week, reportedly over a change to the crew’s compensation time.

According to an internal CFCC email sent by the Marine Technology Department Chair Jason Rogers on August 29, his resignation was over sudden adjustments to the crews’ compensation time.

“Recently the college has changed the status of the Cape Fear Hatteras crew impacting their ability to accrue compensatory leave. This has resulted in the resignation of several of the crew,” said Rogers.

Rogers sent in a separate email to students: “I met with John Downing (Vice President of Economic Workforce Development) and Mark Council (Dean of Career and Technical Education) and there is no intention of shutting down the Marine Technology program. The challenges that face the program deal strictly with safely manning the R/V Cape Hatteras and operating the seagoing component of the program.”

WHQR reached out to both Rogers and the college for comment but hasn’t heard back.

Rogers didn’t elaborate on the exact changes to this type of leave, but WHQR did request the changes to their contracts via a public records request to the college on August 26 after being contacted by five separate anonymous employees and/or students about the changes to the compensation time for the ship’s crew.

Impact of resignations

Rogers also didn’t name the specific members of the crew who resigned but said the resignations would impact his ability to staff the ship and conduct the training cruises in a safe manner.

He said that he's in the midst of trying to create a Plan B for the students who need to meet their training cruise requirements, but it won’t be “aboard the Cape Hatteras.”

Throughout the duration of the program, which typically lasts five semesters or two years, students often live at sea for 32 days on the training vessel. These ‘cruises’ often occur each semester, and each trip brings to life the training they receive in the classroom, according to the information on the program’s website.

According to the state’s budget allocation for the 2022-2023 fiscal year, CFCC marine technology is receiving $821,003 to run the program, roughly half of the cost to deliver it.

WHQR reached out to the college to ask the following questions:

1) Why did the college make these changes to the crews’ compensation time? And were these changes submitted to either the College Council or the Board of Trustees before the compensation time adjustments were made?

2) Why were these changes made after the crew signed their original contracts in the spring?

3) Would the college like to comment on the resignation of Captain Robert Daniels or any of the crew who has resigned?

4) What will become of the program now that these resignations have taken place? What about the current students and their future career paths?

5) Will the college have to return some of the $821,003 in state funding if the full program is not running this semester?

The college has not yet provided answers to these questions. HQR will update the story if the college provides comment(s).

In the meantime, CFCC marine tech students are organizing — and calling on those in the program to attend the board’s September 22 meeting to draw attention to the changes in the policy that prompted the resignations of some of the ship’s crew.

With their call to action, the students are including the ‘expressive activity policy’ in their organizing materials to let students know their First Amendment rights (pp. 24-25).

Resources

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR