Dear blog readers,
The below e-mail was forwarded to us from an anonymous source. It was sent by a concerned tax payer to numerous NWACC faculty and administrators as well as to Arkansas politicians and Arkansas news media. KNWA did a short 30-second broadcast about it (see blog entry further on down). It's lengthy, but a very informative read.
Dear President Paneitz,
This message is being sent by a concerned taxpayer. NWACC has recently published two announcements. The first was in regard to raises in student tuition costs. The second was in regard to raises in administrative salaries. Assuming this is not the first letter you have received concerning this matter, I will politely withhold my argument regarding the obvious conflict of promoting financial hikes during such tumultuous times. Instead, I would like to direct your attention to another matter. I recently took the time to wade through approximately twenty years worth of NWACC documents. This included a variety of NWACC policies and statements, financial records, newspaper articles, board minutes, legal statements, public releases, e-mail correspondence, internal records, private memos and several other items that have been provided by various sources. I have also spoken to several former students, faculty members, and administrative personnel. The findings of this investigation, Ms. Paneitz, have unfortunately raised numerous concerns regarding administrative conduct at NWACC.
A synopsis of this work would suggest, in simple terms, that NWACC is, and has been, confounded by a surfeit of bullying and bureaucracy, that students are being unfairly subjugate to abnormal levels of personal and institutional abuse, and that problematic issues are categorically and systematically being concealed as a matter of practice by NWACC personnel. This study has identified several notable trends related to governance, management, spending, accountability, integrity, and transparency; all of which rightfully fall under the broader heading of administrative malfeasance. This work has also arguably confirmed what one former student dubbed an "oppressive learning environment" and what a former faculty member termed "a culture of corruption" at NWACC.
Several allegations of institutional impropriety have surfaced which include, among other things, charges of bullying at NWACC by faculty and administrative personnel; defamation of students and other forms of character assault by NWACC staff; harassment of instructors and trustees by school administration; assorted student and civil rights violations; several First Amendment concerns; certain procedural inconsistencies and policy violations; various judicial and due process violations; violations of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act; violations of the Freedom of Information Act, allegations of financial mismanagement and consumer fraud; the altering of student grades; the tampering of scholastic records; retaliation against student and staff "whistleblowers"; the withholding of student grades and records; several (alleged) wrongful expulsions and terminations; and certain indiscretions involving the school's handling of formal grievances.
The prevailing issue seems to be one of principle. And more specifically, one of academic, intellectual, and personal freedom. This "problem", so-to-speak, appears to be compounded by a lack of oversight and a dominant attitude which is impeding the welfare of NWACC students through the promotion of corporate despotism. That is to say, student needs are taking back seat to personal agendas, financial itineraries, administrative digressions, and possibly the school's current growth initiative. I am by no means attempting to discredit the school's viable accolades or the many fabulous teachers and administrators that have proudly served at NWACC. I have spoken to a variety of individuals. Some have detailed experiences that were quite positive, while others have shared stories that have been far from complimentary. It's the stark similarity between accounts, however, that has garnered my attention and demanded a degree of skepticism.
College is a place of discovery; a place to grow and to learn. Student vision need not be clouded by political subterfuge, nor should personal opportunity suffer under the weight of bureaucratic censor. To quote from the Student Bill of Rights, "Academic freedom and intellectual diversity are values indispensable to the American university. From its first formulation in the General Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors, the concept of academic freedom has been premised on the idea that human knowledge is a never-ending pursuit of the truth, that there is no humanly accessible truth that is not in principle open to challenge, and that no party or intellectual faction has a monopoly on wisdom. Therefore, academic freedom is most likely to thrive in an environment of intellectual diversity that protects and fosters independence of thought and speech."
I have attached to this correspondence a letter which was drafted in response to a recent student complaint. You and your colleagues are welcome to review this document if you desire. If not, it is my understanding that the information and evidence are being forwarded to the proper state and federal authorities and that several media outlets are also being notified. In this particular instance, a female student was ruthlessly and strategically targeted by NWACC personnel for a period of approximately two years. Based on the research I have done, it would appear that this was by no means the first time an NWACC student has fallen victim to such predatory harassment. In fact, four students in your Respiratory Therapy department alone have now come forward with similar stories of abuse. What bothers me about this particular case is that in attempting to advance a formal grievance against school officials for alleged wrongdoing, the school resounded by stripping this student of her rights, her merits, her reputation, her money, and her future. And the mechanisms utilized to accomplish this task were anything but fair or equitable.
In my opinion, this specific case provides a cut-and-dry example of the candid indifference you and your administrative colleagues have for the livelihoods of your students. In fact, like most of the other cases I've reviewed, this one reeks of administrative collusion and bureaucratic belligerence. It also sustains several former allegations concerning the school's propensity for retaliatory action. After approximately 3.5 years of dedicated effort and financial contribution, this student was disposed of like a piece of trash. This didn't occur, by-the-way, as a result of failing grades, caustic behavior, or the student's lack of commitment. This student was wrongfully expelled because not so much as one person on your entire staff, including yourself, was willing to listen.
If I were to draft a statement based on this single account, I would have no choice but to conclude that NWACC students stand a better chance of being ambushed and exploited by financial predators than they do of receiving a quality education. Fortunately, this is just one case. Unfortunately, there is a surplus of previous cases and data circulating which corroborate many of the allegements. From what I can tell, NWACC seems to lack a legitimate set of checks and balances. What quality control measures are in place to deter injustice and ensure nonpartisanship seem to be so heavily tainted by material influence and personal depravity that they remain functionally idle. Based on the research I've done, it would appear that NWACC averages at least one major scandal a year. And it is easy to conclude that this trend is marked chiefly by issues of personal misconduct and financial mismanagement.
Your penchant for decadence, Mrs. Paneitz, is no secret. The question is to what extent are you and your associates willing to go in order to support your lifestyles? Or better yet, to what extent should NWACC students and the greater Northwest Arkansas community be compelled to nurture your self-aggrandizing itinerary? I came across a recent article titled "College President: Raises Needed" (Rogers Morning News - 03.11.12). The title of this article alone is capable of fueling debate. Apparently, NorthWest Arkansas Community College has decided to reward six of its highest paid positions with an additional $93,000 in pay raises. To little surprise, each of these candidates holds an administrative position. Allow me to post a few excerpts from this article. In response to your assertion that NWACC "needs" to issue these raises the article states "Others said the raises are a slap in the face in a tough economic time that includes the college raising tuition for the fourth consecutive year."
The article continues "I think it is totally unwarranted to have the raises that they received," said Bobby Withers, a student. "I am a single mother, and it is harder for me to stay in school and feed my kids. It (tuition increases) is making it almost impossible for me." "In order to get a grant you have to go to school full time." Given your career in academia and your possession of a PH.D, I would expect a more candid understanding of the difference between "needs" and "wants". As an example, your administration previously marketed the "need" for luxury corporate suites. Some of the nicest in the area from what I hear. I personally would consider this a "want". You, Mrs. Paneitz, even went so far as to strong-arm the public, so as to satisfy the "need" for $20,000.00 drapes in your personal office. I again would deem this expenditure more of a "want" than a "need". I'm sure the other 2,927,978 Arkansans that were forced to finance your fine tapestries would probably agree. Also, for future reference, Target offers a nice variety of designer drapes for around $20-$50.
If you're going to demand the very best, do you not feel that your students have the right to do the very same? The aforementioned student financed a quality education from your school. In return she received nothing. That is unless you include the nightmare you put her through and the enormous debt she sustained in the process. I have now sifted through dozens of cases, hundreds of documents, and thousands of pages. What I have found is a pattern of conduct and a history of pleas for honesty and fairness which have invariably come against heavy-handed demands for silence and passivity. It is easy to conclude that the art of stone-walling complainants has become somewhat of a science and a routine function at NWACC. From allegations of petty corruption, such as collusion, solicitation, influence, favoritism, and nepotism, to examples of grand corruption, including academic fraud, contractual infraction, theft, and rape, the school's response has been uniformly biased and ethically marginal at best.
I will assume that you have reviewed most, if not all, of the data I have reviewed. Therefore, you should be aware of NWACC's track record concerning conflict resolution. It is difficult, in my opinion, to deny the fact that NWACC has a habit of burying problems and quarantining, rather than reconciling, teacher and student grievances. This problem has persisted for two decades now. It stands to reason that the only thing capable of prompting change at NWACC is going to be the acknowledgement that change is needed. This will only come about if, and when, officials concede that there is in fact a problem. And I can assure you, Mrs. Paneitz, you have some serious problems with your Respiratory Therapy program. The issue, therefore, is whether NWACC's board and administration have the desire and the constitution to overcome the logistical deterrents necessary to actuate the proper reforms. It's been my finding that money has a tendency to foster ego, which in turns breeds arrogance. And arrogance inherently exacerbates dilemma. So throwing money at these problems may not be the best solution. And throwing money at the provocateurs and their corporate benefactors is certainly a step in the wrong direction.
From what I gather, this problem is not isolated either. In fact, from the reports and comments I've received, your administration seems to suffer from a static case of moral atrophication. NWACC has reported a (student) growth rate of 550% over the last twenty years. I can't tell that the school's values have improved more than maybe a point or two for the same period. Your Allied Health Division, as a whole, seems to be so muddled with conflict that it is literally posing a risk to students. I mention this partly due to the fact that I am aware of the enormous sum of money you are currently throwing at the planned expansion of the division. An analysis of the situation suggests that your school is devolving into somewhat of an autocratic money machine; a place where individual freedom and personal expression are bluntly shunned in order to support the status-quo, which seems to serve as the school's heavily guarded mantra.
It is difficult to surmise how NWACC is endorsing student futures while recklessly and needlessly compounding education with lies and liabilities. One former student stated that the education at NWACC was "horrible" and even expressed concern that NWACC was intentionally "dumbing down" its students. Another individual commented "There is a culture of arrogance prevailing in the hearts of NWACC's administration; it doesn't value the role faculty play in the institution and it is out of touch with the actual needs of the students." You have been provided everything you need to build a world class learning institute. However, if you are going to continue to promote corporate ambivalence, blind obedience, and intellectual homogeny, you're going to wind up with just another mediocre community college. What your school is lacking isn't money, it's honesty and virtue. If you truly want to resuscitate your program, it's going to take character and it's going to take spirit.
It is paramount that a school, like any business, establish a set of ethical norms and develop protocols in order to evaluate its activities, processes, and individuals. You must also be willing to impose sanctions against wrong-doing. This isn't just abuse of power we're talking about, it's an abuse of trust. You need to stop making excuses, stop rationalizing poor behavior, and stop expecting everyone around you to finance your mistakes. Whether you care to admit to it or not, there is a significant breakdown in the ethical fabric of your institution. Formal education is meant to serve as a prequel to life. That is not to say, however, that a need exists to subject students to unnecessary emotional, psychological, or financial duress. Students are under enough pressure without such frivolous burdens. What this world needs is graduates that are self-directed and self-reliant. By subjecting NWACC students to acts of prejudice and intolerance you are only promoting apathy and impassivity. It is time you and your administration take a hard look at the financial, social, and ethical costs of the corruption your peddling.
The freedom to learn depends upon the provision of appropriate opportunities and conditions in the classroom, on campus, and in the larger community. By teaching authority rather than autonomy, our entire society suffers. Students should not be compelled to jump through arbitrary hoops, nor should they be expected to over compensate for your administration's lack of leadership and discipline. Also, please bear in mind that so long as we the taxpayers are expected to underwrite your policies and practices, we will maintain an active voice and we will uphold our right to question the candor and legitimacy of your group. I noticed that in the above-mentioned article, the only bolded caption was a quote from Provost Steven Gates. It read "The broader goal is to keep our faculty the highest paid two-year college faculty in Arkansas. We are becoming more competitive regionally and nationally with average two-year salaries." Out of curiosity, have you ever contemplated making education your goal? It would appear that you not only have issues related to teaching at NWACC, but issues related to learning as well.
It's been only a year-and-a-half since the series of articles surfaced which essentially covered this very same topic. One article, titled "College gives $227,000 in raises despite freeze; state asks why" commented "The state Department of Finance and Administration plans to examine salary increases Northwest Arkansas Community College gave to 33 employees despite a state memorandum dictating salary freezes for state employees." The article continued “Under normal circumstances, those people would have come before us, and we would have made the decision” on increasing their pay, said Kay Terry, a personnel administrator for the department, adding that the college was “not supposed to do it on their own.” It further commented "The 33 employees received increases totaling more than $227,000 annually, according to salary information the college provided."
Another article was released that was titled "College likely owes state $32,000 - 14 employees at Bentonville school might need to return raises". This one stated "Northwest Arkansas Community College must repay the state at least $32,373 in pay increases that went to employees unless it can show the raises didn’t violate a state directive." It went on to say "That was the tentative conclusion reached by state finance and college officials Wednesday after the state released the first findings of its review of 33 employee pay changes. The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration has been scrutinizing the list, originally identified as involving $227,000 in raises that might have been improperly given." This article concluded "On Wednesday, the department official heading up the review, Kay Barnhill Terry, said the state has determined 14 increases were valid, three invalid and 14 were invalid and might need to be recouped from employees."
About two weeks later a third article surfaced, which was titled "Trustee Calls for More Oversight". It stated "The president of NorthWest Arkansas Community College and a member of its Board of Trustees are at odds over how closely the board should monitor the school’s budget." It also stated "Trustee Johnny Haney told Northwest Arkansas Newspapers last week the nine-member board should look more closely at how the college in Bentonville spends its money. President Becky Paneitz said those issues should remain in top administrators’ hands." On November 7, 2010 a scathing editorial was released which further addressed this scandal. It was titled "ANOTHER LETTER ON THE ISSUE: College Oversight Fails The Public" and commented "The fiasco of finances at NorthWest Arkansas Community College regarding unauthorized pay raises should once again remind all of us who actually pay the bills and provide for the monies used (taxes) in these unauthorized raises that trusting the elitists within the education system to both police their pay policies and provide for public discussion on those issues is a bogus proposition."
This expose continued by saying "Ordinary workers are being laid off. Wages are being cut for those still fortunate enough to have a job. Yet, NWACC President Becky Paneitz has the gall to tell us unfortunate, everyday working slobs that the Board of Trustees should keep their stinking noses out of the administrators’ business. I was under the (supposedly wrong) impression that the board had oversight on all matters pertaining to NWACC. Johnny Haney, a board member, now states that the nine-member board should look more closely at how the college spends its money." The article concluded with the comment "Elitist by any other name, thy name is NWACC." Finally, a fifth article was published titled "HOW WE SEE IT College’s Plans Are Mostly Encouraging WHAT’S THE POINT? Two recent moves by NorthWest Arkansas Community College officials give us hope that the school is serious about reforming its spending practices".
This one read "Last month in this space, we challenged the NorthWest Arkansas Community College Board of Trustees to show some leadership and exercise greater oversight of administrators who, despite a state-issued memorandum freezing employee salaries, went ahead and granted pay raises to some of their employees anyway. On Monday, the board did something. It decided to hire a consultant to help ensure that the college’s pay structure is in line with the state’s regulations. Go ahead, chuckle. There’s no way to miss the irony of NWACC spending more money to determine whether the college is spending properly. But seriously, the board deserves some credit for trying. Though it’s worth asking whether someone in college President Becky Paneitz’s cabinet could not do this very same job, we can see the benefit of bringing in an outsider to help NWACC match employee titles, pay and responsibilities with the state’s expectations."
Perhaps more important, this article stated "The Department of Finance and Administration noted in its review of the raises that all promotions at NWACC have not been awarded on a competitive basis, implying that favoritism was shown toward insiders in the administration. Whatever this consultant does, we hope he or she helps NWACC establish and follow procedures that give all employees a chance at advancement. Meanwhile, Paneitz has announced that she is creating something called the Audit Oversight Committee to hold her and her cabinet accountable. The committee will review the college’s budget, fiscal reports, an annual state audit and tuition fees, Paneitz said. It will consist of three people, including board trustee Mark Lundy and two others - a community member and a college foundation member. Paneitz and Lundy will pick those two people. Again, this is not a bad idea, but it’s hard to perceive the committee as a completely independent watch dog when Paneitz has her hand on the leash."
The article concluded by saying "We highly recommend that this committee conform with the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act, even if the law doesn’t apply to this group. Specifically, we hope that the committee will open its meetings to the public and generally act in a transparent manner. Recent events have caused the public’s trust in NWACC to sag; by establishing a reputation for openness, the Audit Oversight Committee can help the college rebuild that trust. All of this does not let the Board of Trustees off the hook. The board should continue to keep a sharp eye on how the administration is performing and make certain that the moves announced this week pay dividends in the future."
I hate to be critical, but these so-called dividends seem to have flat-lined. Your promise for financial fidelity has obviously run out of steam. The call for transparency and adherence to the Freedom of Information Act was definitely short lived (and yes, I have confirmed this). The promise for administrative accountability was an apparent wash. And the call for oversight has unfortunately yet to pan out. It is for this reason, and the surplus of victims that have bravely come forward, that we have decided to step in and monitor this situation ourselves. You have made it quite clear that you are not interested in what the people have to say, what the state has to say, or even what your very own students have to say. I consider the fact that NWACC officials are actively conspiring against the rights of the student body and promoting intimidation as a vehicle to silence dissent incredibly upsetting. I consider the fact that you and your colleagues are punishing the victims of this abuse while rewarding the perpetrators entirely unacceptable.
Nearly every time you open your mouth, Mrs. Paneitz, it's "money, power, or growth". This community is at wits end. You and your associates have pushed about as far as you're going to be able to push. You've lost the trust of several faculty members and a host of students. And from what I've observed the taxpayers have grown quite tired of financing this cycle of greed and the dishonesty. You have been provided opportunity after opportunity to right these wrongs. If NWACC is going to insist on employing miscreants, then you need to accept accountability for their actions and be prepared to accommodate whatever restitution the victims of this abuse are owed. And these reparations need to come out of your own pockets, not ours.
Perhaps you should try treating your students like clients, or better yet, like human beings. According to multiple reports, neither you nor Steven Gates have been willing to do so much as to lift a finger to deter this problem or to punish the culprits. Several students have had their futures carelessly and callously undermined by the very staff consigned to nurture these futures. And it is my understanding that you have refused to even respond to these students' e-mails. For his role in these affairs, Mr. Steven Gates was offered a whopping $18,379 raise (to crown his current six-figure income. Mr. Gates was not even willing to meet with victim I have mentioned to introduce himself, thank her for her patronage, or apologize for the school's conduct. He simply took her money and kicked her out.
Something I didn't notice in this recent string of press releases was how you are leveraging this "need" to be the highest paid administration without taking into account conduct or performance. Shouldn't "earn" preface "reward"? This recent article stated "Being competitive in top administrative salaries is an ongoing battle, another board trustee said." The article also contained an enlightening rebuttal. The article stated "State Sen. Sue Madison, D-Fayetteville, said salary increases such as the six given by the college do affect the bottom line. Madison is chairwoman of the Arkansas Legislative Council's higher education subcommittee." It continued "We are concerned about what type of cost the students are paying and what type of cost the students are being left with," Madison said. When NWACC started what we heard over and over again is that they would be a college without walls. They would not build buildings, they would use empty space around town. They now have buildings. They have a lobbyist who is down here (in Little Rock) all the time when we are in session. College executives are not corporate kings. The ones that should be making the money are the ones who are doing the instruction, the ones running the business."
This statement was followed by the comment "Paneitz disagrees with Madison." Senator Madison does have a point. Education, by virtue, only has two fundamental components. They are the "teacher" and the "student". Administrators, though not totally unnecessary, exist to facilitate the education and to safeguard the process so that it is not defeated by extraneous bureaucracy. And to elaborate on Mrs. Madison's comment, I believe you now have an entire campus with five buildings (355,314sq. ft), a five-story parking garage, and seven off-campus locations. Schools are increasingly becoming the new battleground in the war against freedom. Schools are the place where the values our society will embrace as a standard are determined. Far too many institutions and special interest groups are now using the classroom as a platform to indoctrinate the next generation. Beyond your bricks-and-mortar compound exists an unlimited pool of ideas just waiting to get in. These are the ideas that will change the world if you will simply let them. If you're going to insist on repressing content, then stifle your administration, not your students.
If you and your pals want to revel in material opulence, that is your business. Once robbing students becomes a means to that end, it becomes my business. It is not reasonable to exact taxes dollars for acts such as the ones I've detailed. What bothers me personally about this situation, even more so than the dollars and cents, is the "shut up and do what we tell you" attitude I've observed in case after case. Healthy education starts with student advocacy, not with bureaucracy. Bureaucracy inevitably limits personal freedoms. With more rules comes more enforcement. As this interference in people’s lives becomes more total and more mechanical, it inherently becomes less fair. Bureaucracies remain ever duty-bound to resist the urge to magnify themselves for their own good, to suck more money out of the economy and more life out of the people, to insinuate themselves ever more into our lives, to make themselves indispensable, and to increase their staff and facilities simply for growth’s sake.
I've spent many years now battling infidels and money-worshippers so I know how these things work. I understand the motives at play, I know the causes, and I've seen the effects. Remember, democracy's goal is to uphold personal freedom. The goal of bureaucracy is to curtail it. Your administration is very much responsible for seeing that this inevitable tension is mitigated in a manner that is respecting of each and every NWACC student. It is imperative that your faculty each be above reproach. Bureaucrats have a tendency to become little dictators who lose awareness of how the people may be suffering at their hands, as they compulsively seek to prove who’s the boss. They lose respect for the people they serve and they often develop a gang mentality, eventually forgetting who it is they work for. They are also notorious for targeting citizens who openly exercise their rights or contest their actions. This craving of the few to control the many is a sickness that has plagued humanity for far too long.
It is my opinion that you have several problematic employees on your roster that need to be dealt with. I also think you need to take a hard look at the direction your administration is heading. I sincerely hope you will take these matters to heart. Big things are on the horizon.
- JUST a taxpayer
Various Documents & Communications
ARTICLE - "College Must Be Careful About Raises" - Rogers Morning News (03.16.12)
ARTICLE - "College President: Raises Needed" - Rogers Morning News (03.11.12)
ARTICLE - "College Tuition Hike OK'd" - Rogers Morning News (02.21.12)
ARTICLE - "HOW WE SEE IT College’s Plans Are Mostly Encouraging / WHAT’S THE POINT? Two recent moves by NorthWest Arkansas Community College officials give us hope that the school is serious about reforming its spending practices." (11.13.10)
ARTICLE - "ANOTHER LETTER ON THE ISSUE: College Oversight Fails The Public" (11. 7.10)
ARTICLE - "Trustee Calls for More Oversight" (10. 24.10)
ARTICLE - "College likely owes state $32,000 / 14 employees at Bentonville school might need to return raises" (10.14.10)
ARTICLE - "College gives $227,000 in raises despite freeze; state asks why" (10.5.10)