Faculty at Tacoma Community College have drafted a four-page letter outlining frustrations with TCC President Sheila Ruhland and telling the college’s board of trustees it’s time to seek a new leader.
The faculty members’ complaints against Ruhland are wide-ranging. They include allegations that Ruhland didn’t inform staff when the college’s accreditation was placed on probation this summer, and that she has shown “a pattern of racial insensitivity” in public interactions.
Ruhland, who became president of the college in March 2015, did not respond to requests for comment.
The Nov. 9 letter, which was signed by the president of the TCC faculty union and two other faculty leaders, also cites fear surrounding new hiring and firing practices under Ruhland’s watch, along with a lack of leadership in addressing problems with a new state software system that handles student registrations and financial aid.
The letter goes on to complain that two high-level employees — the college’s vice president of administrative services and the director of financial services — were placed on administrative leave with little or no information provided to the faculty.
“We sincerely regret to inform the board that the decisions and policies of the current college president have caused damage to TCC’s governance, students and reputation in the community,” the faculty letter reads.
“We need a new president — one that puts students first, who fosters a sense of community, and who possesses management and leadership skills — to guide us.”
Ruhland came to TCC after serving for four years as the president of Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
In an email to faculty and staff last week, Bob Ryan, the president of the college’s Board of Trustees, said board members plan to “give their full attention to the points raised by the TCC faculty.”
We need a new president — one that puts students first, who fosters a sense of community, and who possesses management and leadership skills.
Letter from faculty leaders at Tacoma Community College to the college’s board of trustees
“Once we have had the opportunity to consider individually and consult as a group, we will respond,” Ryan said.
“On behalf of the board, I thank the faculty for bringing their concerns to our attention.”
Ryan said in a phone interview Monday that the five-member board is trying to schedule a meeting before Christmas to discuss the faculty members’ concerns.
That meeting would be in a closed-door executive session, he said. Ryan wouldn’t discuss what actions the board members were likely to take or whether they would consider replacing Ruhland.
“I really couldn’t speak to that until I’ve had a chance to speak to all the board members,” Ryan said.
The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which accredits schools throughout seven states, put TCC on a year-long probation in June due to the college’s failure to submit required financial audits on time.
Right now, TCC is one of only two colleges on probation throughout the accrediting commission’s seven-state region.
Failure to fix the audit problem within the year-long probationary period could cause TCC to lose its accreditation, which would restrict the kinds of degree programs the college could offer and limit students’ access to federal financial aid.
Ryan said the college has been working to address the college’s probationary status and expects to resolve all issues by January.
Right now, TCC is one of only two colleges on probation throughout the accrediting commission’s seven-state region, according to the commission website.
Faculty leaders said that though the probationary action stemmed from financial audits that predated Ruhland’s arrival, employees were disappointed to learn about TCC’s change in accreditation status from “outside sources,” and not from the college.
TCC spokeswoman Tamyra Howser said the college notified staff and faculty via email of the accreditation issue in September, about three months after the college was placed on probation.
The letter also criticizes Ruhland’s reaction when confronted about the accreditation issue, saying she “deflected questions and placed blame on others.”
Ryan, the board president, said TCC was relying on the State Auditor’s Office to complete some of the interim financial reports required by the accrediting agency. The State Auditor’s Office was late in finishing some of those reports for the college, he said.
TCC is now searching for an outside public accounting firm to do that work, he said.
Once we have had the opportunity to consider individually and consult as a group, we will respond ... I thank the faculty for bringing their concerns to our attention.
Bob Ryan, president of the Tacoma Community College Board of Trustees
Other concerns discussed in the letter include Ruhland’s alleged behavior toward people of color.
For instance, the letter claims Ruhland said that she attended an event put on by the college’s Center for Multi-Ethnic and Cultural Affairs, “and boy can they dance.”
Ruhland also has confused the names of three black female employees in public on several occasions, the letter claims, and used “Dr.” to address a white male with a doctoral degree while addressing a black woman with a doctorate by only her first name.
Ryan said members of TCC’s board of trustees takes the accusations of racial insensitivity seriously. “It is something we will be discussing when we meet,” he said.
The letter also complains about changes in employment practices, asserting that “people have been released from their positions and escorted off campus by security,” a practice the faculty letter calls “demeaning and uncalled for.”
Another complaint centers around Ruhland’s reaction to the state’s bumpy rollout of a new community college software system called ctcLink, which handles student tuition payments, financial aid, transcripts and registration.
Although the program is run by the state, “a lack of leadership from the president has contributed to the ongoing chaos,” the letter says.
The faculty letter claims “people have been released from their positions and escorted off campus by security,” a practice the letter calls “demeaning and uncalled for.”
Other parts of the letter express concern about the suspension of the vice president of administrative services and the director of financial services, who the letter says were placed on administrative leave. Faculty and staff “were not informed about the impacts of the personnel decisions on the day-to-day operations of the college,” the letter says.
“We are unsure who is minding the shop,” faculty members told the board.
When asked about those allegations, TCC officials said they couldn’t discuss personnel matters, such as employees who may be on leave.
David Howard, the president of the TCC Federation of Teachers who signed the letter, declined to comment further, except to say he stands by the concerns put forth by the faculty.
“... I feel honored to work with a group of professionals who care so much about their students and our community,” he wrote in an email.
The faculty letter was also signed by Pattie Green, the facilitator of TCC's faculty forum, and Mary Fox, a faculty leader on TCC's instructional council, which helps develop academic policies and serves as a communication channel between the faculty and the administration.
Pamela Transue, the former TCC president who retired at the end of 2014, said she never received a similar letter from the faculty during her tenure, but it’s “not really uncommon” for faculty at other colleges to send letters of complaint about their presidents.
She said she has been trying to stay out of the dispute between the faculty and Ruhland, and couldn’t comment on the substance of the letter.
However, Transue said it can be difficult for a new leader to take over for someone who served as long as she did. Transue led TCC as its president for 17 years.
“In general, it’s always hard for an incoming president to follow a president who has been there for as long a time as I was,” Transue said.