Sunday, September 16, 2012

NWACC - Questionable Methods on Fired CFO, Marty Parsons

Photo of Wrongfully Fired NWACC CFO, Marty Parsons (A Good Guy!)

Flogging a ‘dead horse’

Posted: September 15, 2012 at 2:54 a.m.

— Someone asked why I’m supposedly “beating a dead horse” over the firing of former CFO and top administrative executive Marty Parsons at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville.

It’s a fair question (one I also was asked after four years of writing about the late Janie Ward of Marshall). The issue matters because it involves questionable methods behind management at the state’s largest public community college.

Still, how much more can be said about my perceptions of how poorly the board of trustees treated Parsons by refusing to grant him an appeal, despite its own policy that allows for such a hearing?

Those who’ve followed the Parsons saga know how college President Becky Paneitz fired him on the spot in her office August 1. Ironically, Parsons had been promoted months earlier and even praised in a board meeting just weeks before he was summarily canned.

I’m flogging this mare again because a reader who served nearly three decades in top financial administrative posts identical to Parsons at two Illinois community colleges (one with much larger enrollment than NWACC’s) contacted me. John Murphy from Holiday Island said he was surprised to learn the policy at NWACC was to allow its president complete authority to fire an employee without the board of trustees’ involvement whatsoever. The process that Murphy followed in Illinois was that each school’s elected board was the ultimate arbiter of hirings and firings.

“If a president wanted someone dismissed, the process was to place that person on suspension until the board could weigh the facts and make a final decision whether to dismiss the employee,” particularly when the issue involved a top-level administrator, he said. In other words, for the sake of the institution and its credibility, something of such a serious nature just wasn’t done arbitrarily with his former employers. Under the latest NWACC policy, as I understand it, the college president is given full authority in matters of hiring and firing, even above that of the board which hired her, although the policy does provide for an appeal when a conflict of interest can be shown.

Murphy said he believes that sort of policy also “abrogates the tremendous responsibility of the board when it comes to hiring and firing.” Some label the board’s direct involvement with such employment matters as “micromanaging.” But to me, providing this kind of ultimate oversight-and the backstop of protection it provides everyone-is simply assuming the responsibility of one’s elected position.

A board’s active participation in any public school’s firing practices ensures that one employee’s decision to dismiss another on the spur of the moment must be proved to be justifiable and in the best overall interests of the school. Anything especially unfair or amiss with that reasoning? Why even have an elected board if not to lead and direct in an assertive manner, especially when issues concern the livelihoods and performances of those employed there? From his experience in top college financial positions, the largest percentage of the budgetary expenses at a community college are related to its employees, Murphy added.

I’m far from alone in my opinions on the lack of due process for Parsons. For instance, over at North Arkansas College in my hometown of Harrison, I’m assured the termination policy for someone in Parsons’ top administrative position allows for a hearing before the board, as long as it’s properly requested. On a somewhat related point, it’s also been implied publicly that Parsons’ personnel file might just supposedly perhaps contain material that shows Paneitz had counseled him on previous occasions about what she perceived to be problems with his job performance.

I asked Parsons what his personnel file contains in the HR department that he had acknowledged and signed. He said any purported previous criticism of his performance found in his personnel file was news to him. Then he elaborated: “When Paneitz [and attorneys for Parsons and the school] met on July 25, some items on Paneitz’s memo to my file were discussed, but not all,” he said. “There was no discussion of a performance-improvement plan, or being given 30 days to improve, or a possibility of termination discussion whatsoever. No documents changed hands.

“The first time I actually saw [Paneitz’s] memo to my file was the following week when she handed it to me on August 1. Then she immediately asked for my resignation [which he declined]. There was no discussion of any items listed on her memo. The only thing she said to me was ‘this bad press has to stop. I want your resignation.’ ”

Parsons was formally fired in a letter he received two days later. He said he understood Paneitz’s memo to file was provided to the school’s Human Resources Department sometime after August 1 to be placed in his personnel file. There were no other performance issue-related documents-other than a year-old positive evaluation in his file. “That’s the facts.” he said.

Time to lead this ol’ mare back into the stall, and for the PR staff listed on NWACC’s website to go back to work. November is right around the corner.
Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at
Editorial, Pages 17 on 09/15/2012


Keep on beating it Mike. The fact that there was not allowed any due process on this matter is absurd. Panieitz and her lapdog Board need to remember that they answer to us, the taxpayer, ultimately. By doing what they did and not letting Parsons speak his piece, they basically gave the Queen of England her sceptre to rule over the college however she sees fit with no worry of any silly things like facts and accountability. I also did some digging myself a little, and this might be normal in these political musings of higher ed., but I found out that she actually sends administration out to collect signatures for new possible board members? Normal, legal, or not...stacking the board to better suit her desires??? Who knows. She needs to be held accountable to someone other than herself. Because it all points to herself and its morale compass being all kinds of out of whack.
Posted by: unimpressed
September 15, 2012 at 9:59 a.m.

Although clear conflict of interest was proven by the college president's fear of media and taxpayer scrutiny over whistleblower-esque financial disclosures and intense loathing for a man who sought to better the college, not simply provide her with endless discretionary funds (not to mention ask any board member in their full 'community leadership' role if they did or did not receive an email from a former NWACC CFO who entirely corroborated Mr. Parsons' story of bullying and forced resignation), the appeal was dismissed based on the board being a strictly policy governance board. Do only slight research and find that one line item in the memorandum handed to Mr. Parsons at his termination - which stated Mr. Parsons was told by the president to not contact the state attorney general - that was actually a written demand of a board of trustees member, not the president. That sounds about as close to day-to-day operations as one can get. So it becomes fairly clear why those closest to the president fought viciously against the rest of the board hearing an appeal.

The president of the college has surrounded herself with board members that have either behaved unethically and cannot be found out, staff with history of questionable dismissal from employment, staff that have behaved abhorrently while on taxpayer missions AND that she has assisted in rescuing in the name of NWACC. These people have no viable options but to defend her motives while keeping their heads half-down, trampling the best and brightest to save themselves.

When the leading PR relations person writes a defense of this situation, submitting a clear and known lie to a newspaper - yes another CFO was bullied out of his job, one with decades of quality and valued state service, and everyone knows this - what does it say about an institutions leadership? THIS is why these leaders behave the way they do. They can lie in print, in terminations, wearing an NWACC badge and this community stands for it. Donors, public, leaders - pay attention.
Posted by: becauseicare
September 15, 2012 at 10:18 a.m.

Who's driving the financial ship right now? Enrollment numbers are down so budgets will more than likely be affected. Folks I'd keep a watchful eye on unspoken for funds otherwise with current leadership we'll end up with new presidential drapes and zero for the students. The side endeavors I hear about in the community (Becky's Book Club, money raised for student scholarships) how does that line out? Student fees were just raised recently. Are they being appropriately dispersed? I'm worried about the financial future of our college. Sounds like the one sure 'thing' that could have supported this college during down enrolment was fired by a petulant leader. How is the college in this dire of straits? Did the budget office not see this coming down the pike long before Parsons stepped foot in Arkansas?
Posted by: jddendinger
September 15, 2012 at 10:34 a.m.

Just like to add that I appreciate the fact that folks, hopefully lots and lots of them, are reading about this and taking time to offer their own thoughts and comments on the situation. It does affect a lot of people in many ways. A Board of Trustees is entrusted with proving honorable, effective and caring leadership for such a public institution. Otherwise, why even have a board? Just thinking out loud again today.
Posted by: Rueb10
September 15, 2012 at 10:56 a.m.

The Board has chosen that good judgement will not prevail. The Board has determined that protecting one individual has more importance than their fiduciary responsibility to the college and students. Contact the State Legislature to request a formal inquiry into fiscal and personnel mismanagement at NorthWest Arkansas Community College during this president's tenure as well as questionable practices of the NWACC Board of Trustees under its current leadership.
State Legislature:
State House and Senate for Benton and Washington County:
Posted by: Legal919
September 15, 2012 at 1:52 p.m.

State House and Senate for Benton and Washington County:
Posted by: Legal919
September 15, 2012 at 2:48 p.m.

15 Signs Your Workplace Is Dysfunctional - Albert J. Bernstein, PhD
Sign No. 1: Conspicuously posted vision or value statements are filled with vague but important-sounding words like "excellence" and "quality."
Sign No. 2: Bringing up a problem is considered as evidence of a personality defect rather than as an observation of  reality.
Sign No. 3: If by chance there are problems, the usual solution is a motivational seminar.
Sign No. 4: Double messages are delivered with a straight face.
Sign No. 5: History is regularly edited to make executive decisions more correct, and correct decisions more executive than they actually were.
Sign No. 6: People are discouraged from putting things in writing.
Sign No. 7: Directions are ambiguous and often vaguely  threatening.
Sign No. 8: Internal competition is encouraged and rewarded.
Sign No. 9: Decisions are made at the highest level  possible.
Sign No. 10: Delegating means telling somebody to do something, not giving them the power to do it.
Sign No. 11: Management approaches from the latest best-seller are regularly misunderstood to mean what we're doing already is right on the  mark.
Sign No. 12: Resources are tightly controlled.
Sign No. 13: You are expected to feel lucky to have a job and know you could lose it if you don't toe the line.
Sign No. 14: Rules are enforced based on who you are rather than what you  do.
Sign No. 15: The company fails the Dilbert Test.
Sound familiar anyone?
Posted by: SoJami
September 15, 2012 at 5:36 p.m.

Do I understand you correctly that, the NWACC Board of Trustees had knowledge of another CFO who was forced out by Paneitz, and a PR person from the college had that knowledge and supplied false information to the press? It sure appears that pieces of the real story keep surfacing which further implicate NWACC leadership and the Trustees. This whole thing reeks of make it up as you go, revisionist history, and cover up.

Then there is the unnamed editorial author of "Board Right in Denying Appeal Plea" who proclaimed that litigation is the correct resolution to this huge cluster... Blink, blink, just where do you think the money will come from to fund lawyers for the college? Oh yeah, that's right from funds earmarked for other purposes. What a ridiculous, naive, irresponsible statement.
Posted by: ARTrails
September 16, 2012 at 1:51 p.m.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

NWACC Enrollment Drops

Enrollment Drop Forces Budget Scrutiny

Posted: September 11, 2012 at 3:32 a.m.

— A drop in enrollment will have NorthWest Arkansas Community College reviewing spending in the month leading up to its October board meeting. The school’s 2.7 percent drop in credit hours represents an estimated $785,000 drop in revenue, President Becky Paneitz told board of trustees members Tuesday. That shortfall cuts into the school’s projected revenue of $38,929,855. Cost-saving measures will focus on travel, professional development and filling empty positions, Paneitz told the board. A revised budget will be brought before the board at its next meeting and will be implemented immediately after a vote. “We’ll be doing that again in spring after we get our enrollment,” Paneitz told the board, “That’s our new normal.”

Enrollment dropped 230 students to 8,418, a first for the school which has grown steadily for years. The school lost 147 transfer students and 109 returning students, according to preliminary reports. New and continuing student numbers held steady. The school had small increases in the number of high school students enrolled in classes. Those high school numbers are something to build on, Todd Kitchen, vice president for Learner Support Services at NWACC told the board. Changes in financial aid processes may have caused some students not to return, Kitchen said. Areas where there was a loss will be analyzed further. His office is working to retain current students and support first-generation college students and new freshmen, Kitchen said. “We’ve had a lot of good growth in the college. We may have been destined to have a bad semester,” said Joe Spivey, vice-chairman. “Are we doing enough?” he asked Kitchen. The school needs to change its focus to attract instead of accept students, Kitchen said. “We know there is a huge opportunity for growth in online,” Kitchen said.

In other business the NWACC board: Approved a $10,000 contract with Kansas City-based artist Jennifer Libby Fay for a fabric sculpture to hang in the Shewmaker Center For Global Business Development w Reclassified one position and added another under Path to Accelerated Completion and Employment, a federal grant.



be asking for a milage hike soon......
Posted by: DNC
September 11, 2012 at 6:04 a.m.

"Approved a $10,000 contract with Kansas City-based artist Jennifer Libby Fay for a fabric sculpture to hang in the Shewmaker Center For Global Business Development" Was this a necessity?? Here is your first cut!!
Posted by: NWAGuy
September 11, 2012 at 7:44 a.m.

I agree with NWAGuy! Taxpayers don't get to spend that much money on frivolous things when their budgets are in the red-how many scholarships could have been provided for $10,000? What is the school really in business for? Of course it's possible that the $10,000 was donated by someone and designated to be used only for decorative purposes, but it saddens me to see what the college has become--i believe that if it set an example of responsible stewardship then potential donors would also be focused on the same and would want to donate for things that actually benefit the students. Yes, U of A wastes money for fancy things--but why must nwacc become like the U of A? Students need and want a college where they can get small classes, dedicated faculty focused on teaching instead of research, at an affordable price. In this article it is stated that the school should focus on attracting students, rather than accepting students, and try to increase high school and online enrollment. Then the school should take a lesson from the playbook of Walmart --keep prices low. When Walmart tries to be more high end, such as with it's clothing lines, it doesn't go well; Nwacc needs to recognize what it's core competences are and exploit those. Trying to be everything to everybody, as it seems they are doing now, may very well lead to being nothing. Didn't UA-Fort Smith used to be a community college? The community needs and deserves a quality, low cost alternative to the other offerings in the area.
Posted by: FreedomAtLast
September 11, 2012 at 8:21 a.m.

NWACC on Denying Marty Parsons Appeal Plea

Photo of Wrongfully Fired NWACC CFO, Marty Parsons (A Good Guy!)

What service does the NWACC board serve, then, if they continue turning a blind eye to all the corruption, fear, and intimidation perpetrated by the top CEOs at NWACC and leaving them unchecked to carry on?  Where is everybody whose job it is to reel these crooks in?  If it's not the board, then who is it?  The Arkansas Department of Higher Education, then?  And where might these people be?  Below is the article published to NWA Online concerning Marty Parsons' appeal denial.  Truly disgraceful.

HOW WE SEE IT: Board Right To Deny Appeal Plea

Posted: September 10, 2012 at 2:56 a.m.

The decision by trustees at NorthWest Arkansas Community College to reject a request for an appeal hearing for the college’s fired financial officer does little to settle the questions observers have about the entire situation. But it was the right call. Marty Parsons is the former senior vice president for administrative services and fi nancial offcer for the college. He was fired Aug. 1 by the college’s president, Becky Paneitz.
Parsons’ two-year stint in the role came to an end when Paneitz determined he overstepped his bounds by contacting trustees directly on issues, including criticism of her. According to Parsons’ personnel records, he had been counseled on a number of shortcomings and given an opportunity to correct them. By Aug. 1, Paneitz had enough. His request to argue his case to the full board went nowhere. Two trustees supported the appeal, but six deemed it to be none of their business. Based on advice from their lawyer, board members steered clear of second-guessing the only employee who directly reports to them, Paneitz.

Board member Hadley Hindmarsh, in an email, argued for the appeal because of public scrutiny and at least the possibility evidence derived from an appeal could adversely affect the college president. That, she suggested, represented the potential conflict of interest board policy required before an appeal should be granted. Giving Parsons an appeal would have made for a good deal of drama and it might have been very interesting to watch, but the board has established its job isn’t to run the day-to-day aft airs of the institution. They hire a president for that. Institutions such as the community college are seldom well-served by a board wanting to substitute its managerial judgment for that of the leader hired to take care of such matters. No doubt a hearing would have given Parsons a venue to re-assert his criticism of Paneitz. We cannot today suggest he does or doesn’t have any legitimate gripes, but we can recognize a micromanaging board isn’t a workable scenario for the college.

At one point, trustee Mark Lundy, chairman of the Finance Audit Committee, said Parsons did a good job by bringing some financial matters to light. “He really raised the expectation that there should be sunlight in the finance (department),” Lundy said. “I think he really moved us ahead on some things.” But Lundy voted against the appeal because he knows the right thing to do is for the board to entrust the president with decision-making authority on personnel matters. If the board doesn’t like what that leader has done, the board can always respond with clear, policy-oriented direction or by picking someone else to serve as president.

The board should pay close attention to what’s happening within the college and give clear direction to its president to carry out what’s necessary to meet students’ needs. But if the board considers it kosher to step into the president’s shoes regularly, there will be relatively few qualified candidates ready to take the post when Paneitz retires next year. The lawsuit will probably come, but that will place the matter exactly where such a dispute should be: in an impartial judicial hearing.
Opinion, Pages 5 on 09/10/2012


"This unsigned opinion piece is the lamest attempt at devil's advocated faux 'realism' I've seen in my 50+ years and falls directly on par with what I would expect from the want-to-be spin doctors at our local community college. The Northwest Arkansas community can read and has read the official documents attached to the Parsons termination. Parsons was not counseled on issues and given 30 days. The memorandum was handed to him just after he refused to sign the typical resignation document (yes, another past CFO has confirmed same treatment at bullied 'resignation') and was consequently fired. There should be no appeal for appeal. That's non-sensical. Hearing the facts of Parsons wrongful termination is a rightful action of anyone with a boss. If a decision is made based on fear of floodgates for appeals opening at the hands of Paneitz's former direct reports, there's an issue. If this is in student/taxpayer best interest, the APPROPRIATE avenue was to manage the problem (Paneitz) not drag the institution into it. Great job. I would bet the farm this shallow oped came as a direct result of a plea from community college leaders. Again, lame."
Posted by: becauseicare
September 10, 2012 at 6:38 a.m.

"I have been reading about this issue in your paper since it began. I don't think the board considering Marty Parsons' appeal would rise to the level of a "micromanaging board". As you state the board's job is to hire a president to manage the day to day affairs of the college; you miss the point, however, in thinking that Marty Parsons' situation is a day to day affair. He was not a secretary or a janitor, he was the senior vice president for administrative services and the financial officer of the college. Since it is the responsibility of the board to hire a president, it seems it should also be the responsibility of the board to evaluate the president's performance, and determine if the president is acting in the best interests of the college. Stating that a lawsuit is the place where such matters should be seems like a reckless and irresponsible conclusion. Lawsuits benefit lawyers more than anyone else usually. It is a sad day when an organization's entire plan to deal with an issue such as this is to turn it into a lawsuit; there is almost always a waste of resources when a lawsuit is involved, and should only be resorted to when there is no other option. I guess I am confused about what the board's role actually is then? There have been, in the past, considerable funds spent at this college to provide dedicated meeting space for the board--space was actually converted from revenue-generating classrooms to a meeting room for the board; why? What is the board's purpose and where would someone in Marty Parsons' position go if he believes there are unresolved issues with the president's performance or how his personnel matters are being handled? Is there no one who has followed Enron, WorldCom, and our country's most recent financial crisis enough to realize that endorsing an organizational structure that has no checks or balances on powerful managers can be very dangerous. I can't imagine that the most efficient, ideal outcome can be a lawsuit. Maybe the school should convert the board's meeting space back to classrooms so it can generate some more revenue to cover the cost of the lawsuit. If the editorial staff thinks that potential presidential candidates will give pause to a board that would have granted (or even considered, by reviewing the evidence) this appeal, think what a presidential candidate will think when the school is involved with a lawsuit of this nature instead! I don't really see how this matter could be considered a regular matter subject to the risk of micromanagement? Also, it was the only remedy offered per the college's policies and procedures. Why is it even offered as the next step in the personnel policies if it is not the board's role? I think the board just doesn't want to be involved because this community is very intertwined and its members possibly worry about repercussions to their own livelihoods? Not sure. But I guarantee a lawsuit will cost everybody money."
Posted by: FreedomAtLast
September 10, 2012 at 8:26 a.m.

"Sounds like the president doesn't want the financial matters to be transparent."
Posted by: Vickie55 
September 10, 2012 at 10:27 a.m.

"I haven't seen where his personnel records have been released for public review for anyone to state that he was counseled. If that is in fact true, where is the documentation or another official at the University who can support those claims? NWACC is truly the only place I have ever heard of where the President has full control over all employees with no accountability for her actions. Is her to plan to leave the college in such disarray that going forward everyone's opinion will be that she was irreplaceable? All of the taxpayers should be concerned."
Posted by: katwilldan
September 10, 2012 at 10:53 a.m.

"OoH, Please, ME ME ME! ... let me be the first to step up and pay more for the college's lawyers to welcome a completely avoidable lawsuit. Can this STINK get any worse??? What an awful system of fear, and intimidation we have in place at NWACC. I believe that I am not alone in demanding that our elected board do more than just show up at staged meetings... that they will hear the cries for accountability and transparency and re-write whatever policy that allows this president to make wreckless decisions - unchallenged."
Posted by: MrLowell
September 10, 2012 at 3:07 p.m.

"I can't offer anything new to what has been said by others comments, but I can't sit still either after reading this article, which sure seems to have spin doctor involvement. This whole situation is an outrage! In no case, in an institution that uses public money, should one individual be the sole authority. This is the sort of thing that went on in the past and we, as southerners, are still trying to change that perception. Aren't we past the "good ol' boy" practices of the past? As stated before, "If the board doesn’t like what that leader has done, the board can always respond with clear, policy-oriented direction or by picking someone else to serve as president." But how can these issues be brought to light when apparently there is no mechanism to communicate with the board to present concerns or irregularities? The board needs to act NOW to remove Becky Paneitz and put a "checks and balances" system in place. No one's professional or financial future should be subjected to the whim of one person."
Posted by: AR_taxpayer
September 10, 2012 at 3:34 p.m.

"Board WRONG to deny appeal plea. I feel let down by the recent happenings at NWACC. I'm concerned for the future of our college. I hope that everyone in our community is aware that all nine trustee positions are up for election this November 6, 2012. "Six deemed it to be none of their business". Waiting ever-so patiently for the truth to come out."
Posted by: seeksthetruth
September 10, 2012 at 9:16 p.m.

"I think the college is a great provider to the community despite its leadership. Translation: I do not believe its top leadership has a thing to do with its success. I believe they more than likely battle every day to push initiatives through and accomplish goals for the students, faculty and staff. This situation makes me wonder what the top leader has on a few keep officials to keep their support of her so blind and emphatic. There's a story there. Mark my words. Find the most vocal staunch supporters at the top and start there."
Posted by: jddendinger
September 11, 2012 at 5:41 a.m.

"Before making such a bold statement as "Board Right to Deny Appeal Plea", perhaps the public interest would have been better served by determining if the NWACC Board of Trustees has operated outside their policy governance model in other decision making.  If that has occurred, wouldn't that render the theme of this editorial a moot point? Let's help you get started... Example 1: Enrollment Drop Forces Budget Scrutiny"
By Amye Buckley
Posted: September 11, 2012 at 3:32 a.m.

"w Reclassified one position and added another under Path to Accelerated Completion and Employment, a federal grant." How is "reclassified one position" policy governance?"
Posted by: SoJami
September 11, 2012 at 9:16 a.m.