McCarthy’s Contract Sparks Fiery Debate

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Trustee Jacqueline Agee, Board Chair Mark Fazzini, and President Paul J. McCarthy at last Tuesday’s contentiuos Board meeting. (Photo: ENEWSPF)

Updated November 12, 2007 with one erratum 

Chicago Heights, IL—(ENEWSPF)— The decision by the Prairie State College (PSC) Board not to renew the contract of President Paul McCarthy sparked fireworks at last Tuesday’s board meeting and left many in attendance wondering about the board’s leadership capabilities.

Many individuals want reasons why the President, who is popular among faculty, administration, and students, will not be allowed to stay.

Board of Trustee Chair Mark Fazzini, who took the brunt of criticism for the non-renewal of McCarthy’s contract, said “Each year the President has both his past performance and the college’s achievements reviewed with him. Then the Board reviews his current contract for any changes or possible extensions. Any employee’s hiring, evaluation and/or discipline that the Board deals with is always by law conducted in Executive Session to protect the rights of an employee” 

Fazzini, seemingly unfazed by questions raised at the meeting by PSC English Professorand President of the Faculty Federation John Flannigan, as well as comments by SGA Presicent Bryce Johnsen and, places the blame on others who don’t fully understand the situation. “Unfortunately some individuals, for their own personal gain, are using the fact we discuss these issues in closed session to benefit their own cause, knowing it is improper for the Board to divulge Executive Session discussion in public.”

In response to the position of the college students Fazzini said, “I respect the student’s right to express their opinions, even if they do not have all the facts to understand an issue. And even though the Student Trustee is part of the discussion of all matters, she is prohibited from informing the student leadership of Executive Session discussions. Personnel matters are not for public discussion, no matter how much someone tries to make it so.”

Meanwhile, Trustee Jacqueline Agee, Board Secretary, took issue with the remarks of Bryce Johnsen who spoke for the school’s Student Government Association. Agee addressed Johnsen, “All you have done is said that I have not, that I have based, strike that, that I have not based my decision on anything hard or concrete.  But you’ve never asked me what I based my decision on.  You’ve asked the Chair.  But yet you stand up there and say, ‘You’re a rubber stamp.  You’re just making the decisions because of Mark.  You didn’t base your decision on anything.  You didn’t know anything before you got elected, so how could you make this decision?’ 

“But yet you’ve never asked me.  And that’s the same thing that I was trying to say to you, Bryce.  You stood up here and said that, ‘You’ve never been to the atrium, you’ve never eaten lunch here.’

“Were you talking to me, or were you talking to the board as a whole?  Because if you were talking to me, again, you don’t know that.  You never asked me if I had lunch downstairs, or how often I’ve come to the campus.  I didn’t know I was to check in at the office every time I’m on campus, otherwise I would have done that.  I’ve been here many a day.  I’ve been downstairs many a day.

“So from the very beginning it just seems like you guys have made your decisions about me.  I didn’t say anything about you, but nobody asked me my opinion.

“And, the one last thing is that, when I make a comment and then someone stands up very threateningly, and then stares me down throughout a meeting, I find that threatening.  And, as an attorney, I need to point that out.”  The latter remarks were apparently directed toward a student in the audience who never spoke during the meeting prior to this point.

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The Board Room was full for last Tuesday’s meeting. (Photo: ENEWSPF)

At this point, a student stood and spoke, “Point it out!  It doesn’t matter. I’m the Vice President of the Black Student Union and I don’t mean to threaten you in no way."   At this point Board Chair Mark Fazzini began pounding his gavel on the table in an attempt to restore order to the meeting.  The student continued, “I am a student here I pay my money. What? I’m still looking at you. What are you going to do about it?” the student shouted.

Meanwhile, Fazzini banged his gravel and the student was escorted out.

Agee’s remarks irked Student Trustee Lesliefaye Gogins, who said the Board Secretary personally attacked a student leader. “As a student, Bryce is my peer leader, but he is also my leader in student government.”  Agee’s comments clearly unsettled Gogins. “I am making my comment known as a recognized member of this board,” she exclaimed.  Fazzini, meanwhile, tried to restore order in the board room.

The issue over McCarthy’s future at the college was raised even before Tuesday’s meeting. Several months ago, faculty picketed outside the college after receiving news that McCarthy’s contract would not be extended beyond 2008.  In the midst of this transitioning period, PSC will be up for accreditation, which is causing concern among faculty and students.

In an interview, President McCarthy – who declined to discuss the furor his anticipated exit has caused – explained that the accreditation process is conducted every ten years.  There are three important methods to insure the quality of PSC as an institution, McCarthy said. One is student learning, which “involves the notion of providing evidence that the students are learning and progress is assessed.”  Another is “what’s the mission [of the college] and the value following that mission.”  Another consideration, he continued, is the financially stability of the college.

All of this is determined by the Higher Learning Commission creditors, who are due to visit the college sometime in October 2008. Upon the arrival of the creditors, it is expected there will be an investigation and a preliminary report will be issued.  If the college fails to pass the accreditation process, the school could be put on academic probation and would have to reapply for accreditation at a later date.

PSC English Professor, John Flannigan, and President of the Faculty Federation, singled out two board members – Agee and Trustee Phillip Faso — who voted to deny extending McCarthy’s contract.  “I am especially concerned that the two most recent additions to the Board apparently do not realize that their recent votes are perceived by most members of the college community as obstructions to the college’s continued progress and as rendering their participation on the board increasingly irrelevant.”   He continued:  “As far as I know, both trustees had no personal grudge against Dr. McCarthy and no prior dealings with him that would have influenced them to vote against his contract extension . . . But the fact that these two trustees’ decisions not to extend his contract were made before Ms. Agee and Mr. Faso had had any personal dealings with him or any appreciation for his record at the College, casts significant doubts on their ability to act thoughtfully and deliberately on important matters.”

Chairman Fazzini defended Agee and Faso, saying “I think every trustee here works very hard to determine every issue made on claims that are presented to them. We evaluate the material presented to us and then we make a decision.”  The board maintains its integrity when presented with issues and they are dealt with accordingly, he said.

Near the end of the meeting, several members including Fazzine, Agee, Faso, and Gogins apologized for the tone of some of their statements, but none of them retracted anything.


Other PSC Board News

  • A new Music Production A.A.S. Degree was approved.   The degree was developed in response to student demand and will provide the theoretical and practical knowledge needed to function as an independent music producer.

Editor’s Note: Board President Mark Fazzini sent an email to eNews Park Forest regarding this story:

The recent article is fairly portrayed, but you said at the end that I was one of the trustees that apologized for my tone. That is not correct. I did not apologize for my tone that night.  

Just thought you should know of the error in your reporting if you would prefer your article to be more factual.  

Thanks Mark

After review of the audio from the meeting, we have concluded that Mr. Fazzini is correct.  He issued no apology.  We regret the error. 

Related: PSC Student Govt. President Blasts Board Chair Mark Fazzini