Developing: One year later, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College faculty express little confidence in college president hired to lead after controversy

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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It sounds like the going is still rough for the faculty, staff and administration at Asheville-Buncombe Community College, an Asheville institution that has struggled to get comfortable with new leadership since the retirement three years ago of long-time president K. Ray Bailey.

I’ve received a copy of what appears to be a summary of the discussion at the Feb. 18 meeting of the college’s faculty association. The summary details a number of complaints, many centering around the apparent lack of communication between administration and staff, as well as a number of other gripes about specific college issues. I say “appears” because I haven’t yet confirmed the document, but it has come from a source I trust.

The briefest of background: President Hank Dunn was hired in January 2010 to get the ship righted after the short and controversial tenure of President Betty Young.

I’m not up on all the recent or proposed changes happening on campus, but it sounds like there’s a lot going on, and that a lot of people still aren’t happy. One telling comment included in the survey reports that morale among the faculty is worse now than it’s ever been, with some people telling each other “BBB,” or “bring back Betty,” a snarky reference to Young, the college’s first woman president who replaced Bailey. She started work in September 2007, was inaugurated in May 2008 and resigned by December of that year. She cited campus “discontent.”

That discontent remains, according to the document I’ve received. Below find a sampling. Meantime, anyone care to shed more light on what’s going on at A-B Tech? How can this unrest still be going on? Has Dunn really failed to get a handle on things, and if so, why?

These questions – and this leadership issue in general – is key because AB-Tech is a critically important institution in Asheville. As our economy shifts, more and more people are seeking out community college courses for retraining. The college has a $54 million budget and serves a part-time student body. It has about 18,000 continuing education students and about 9,400 curriculum students. 

From the faculty association meeting summary:

– Why do we have hiring committees (who knows who will work within the group currently in place) and Hank Dunn then makes the decision?

– Afraid for our jobs. If this interviewing committee is not going to have any input, then I don’t want to be on this committee.

– Promoting fear on this campus.

– Lack of coherence in any policy that has been changed. Failure in the line of communication and morale.

– One person has been fired. Four people have been on administrative leave because they complained. Two faculty suspended for speaking up.

– Why was the decision by the VP of Student Services overturned? Student was put on probation and that was overturned by President Dunn.

 – I get the feeling that we are left out of the decision making. He has got to allow us the opportunity to work with him. I thought he was going to work with us and not against him. He is giving us no acknowledgement. Work with us and come up with solutions.

 – How about him walking with students. You have to understand who the students are. A teacher asked on his test “Who is President of A-B Tech?” and no one knew who that was. Hank Dunn needs to get out and visit on campus. 

– When is Hank Dunn going to step up and reflect the progressive nature and values of this community?

– Does President Dunn really value the knowledge that faculty and staff have about our students and community?

– Isn’t a technical community college supposed to support “technical” programs? If everything is going to be based on dollars, then will we end up as a college that only offers English and Math because they’re cheaper to run? This college has a rich history of hands-on technical programs that have enriched the community in other ways than a stop before four year schools.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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  1. abtechemployee July 28, 2013

    There is a reason most of the faculty here keep their mouths shut in public, huddle in dark corners when we talk, and secretly chant Bring Back Betty!
    That is how bad Dunn is. He ignores hiring committees as a matter of routine, hires under-qualified and inexperienced new faculty over adjunct faculty who have been working here for decades holding out hope that one day funding will come through for a full-time position, and when they do come along, he hires who ever he liked regardless of qualifications, and in a great number of cases, completely ignoring the recommendations of the committees who actually work and teach in their fields every day. And he DOES fire people just for voicing opinions that conflict with his. Hank Dunn is just a good ol’ boy out to make himself rich at the expense of our community. I have been teaching at AB Tech full-time for over 10 years. My children are about to start college and I absolutely will not have them come to AB Tech so long as Dunn is here. He has no place in our community and he is destroying this school.

  2. linda March 24, 2011

    I live with an ABTech professor and he comes home every day with his stomach churning and it all relates to some action Dr. Dunn has instituted usually as an edict. This man removed a loved leader a week before Christmas. Does this sound like a compassionate person? Sharon, since you think this is a non-event, my wish is that you have to live through something like this. Surprisingly, he revealed his stragety the other day: Call the editorial board of the newspaper, nip this in the bud by talking to them in a charming way, own up to a few minor things and deny the hell out of the others.

  3. .Don March 23, 2011

    Dr. Dunn is the problem. Running 4 week classes that are normally 16 week classes is not bringing the campus into the 21st. century. It's stupid, pure and simple. And, there was no teacher training for these new classes which violates good educational practices. Spend some time googling Dr.Dunn, Ivy Tech, "Achieving the Dream" and then get back and make comments.

  4. phantasyland March 16, 2011

    ABT Employee's comments are brought to you by the ABTCC PR department, where our job is to push Dunn's agenda's and combat backlash in the public in hopes that we get to keep our own jobs!

  5. Dougall March 16, 2011

    To ABT Employee
    Well you are obviously one of those that is an Admin, because if you were a FT Staff you would be looking at a pay-cut.
    What's really embarrassing is that you would obviously sit around and ignore what is being done to your co-workers instead of speaking up just in hopes of keeping your cushy salary or perhaps your new title??????? from one of those newly created positions???????

  6. ABT Employee March 16, 2011

    Dr. Dunn isn't the problem. He is actually trying to bring us into the 21st century. Many folks here are set in their ways and unwilling to embrace necessary changes. I'm embarrassed by the childish and unprofessional behavior I see among faculty/staff every day.

  7. Bob March 14, 2011

    So the ashvegas blog does the muckraking work of the Citizen-Times? That's what one could read into this and similar scenarios.

  8. Ash March 14, 2011

    Media Watcher, I discovered after I posted this entry that the newspaper had been pursuing this story for at least a week or two, but has yet to find people to go on the record and discuss their discontent. The newspaper is definitely on the job.

    The newspaper's policy in general is that anonymous sources are not used in news stories. Exceptions are rare.

    I like the role of shedding a little light on topics that otherwise would wither in the dark, and if I had the time, I'd track down and fully report every important story that gets tossed my way. But I don't have that time. That's why I ask the blog audience for thoughts, feedback and ideas.

  9. Kelvin March 14, 2011

    Great questions MediaWatcher. I too would like to know exactly how investigative stories like this might be handled by the Citizen-Times since Jason Sandford and the Ashvegas blog are involved in publicizing the rumors and rants. Others have asked to know how this journalistic and blogging relationship are handled by the C-T and Gannett, Jason's employer. Surely there are guidelines but neither seems willing to come clean on the standards. Enquiring media minds want to know.

  10. Dave March 14, 2011

    Without doubt, A-B Tech is way too staffed-up with administrative personnel. There are literally people who do nothing (or very little) to draw a paycheck.

    Some of these lazy bureaucrats have worked at A-B Tech for years and are a legacy of the aptly named "country club" administration perpetuated by K. Ray Bailey over his long tenure as President.

    It must be easier to "create" admin positions as opposed to faculty because they continue to add do-nothing bureaucrats at an alarming pace.

    It seems that all the new leaders fall into this unfortunate murky mess of mediocracy that is administration at A-B Tech, as well as other community colleges across NC.

  11. Media Watcher March 14, 2011

    Thanks for further info. When a story with public interest implications like this is developing, when does a journalist have an obligation to move in and cover it in a thorough, investigative way? Does the Asheville Citizen-Times' prohibition against using anonymous sources impede Ashvegas's (ie, Jason Sandford's) ability to write about this? Are there other constraints? Will Angie Newsome's new Carolina Public Press be able to step up? Voters are going to be asked to vote on the new sales tax for AB-Tech. Don't the voters deserve the full story? Does Mountain Xpress have anyone (Nelda Holder? Margaret Williams? David Forbes?) on this? Ashvegas does a service by passing on rumors. But should a newspaper take on the job of probing and reporting in full?

  12. Ash March 14, 2011

    Media Watcher, this story is definitely touching a nerve, judging from the back-channel reaction I'm receiving. The issue is that people are scared, scared to come forward, scared to speak on the record.

  13. Jennifer S. March 13, 2011

    When employees are fired for speaking out and college leadership squelches communication to the outside (journalists asked to leave meetings, a new college email signature forbidding forwarding and sharing emails), I don't think a lack of comments in a news blog means a news "non-event."

    The students are not directly affected by the issue, faculty are fearful of their jobs and unwilling to speak out to leadership or media, and leadership suppresses public awareness of internal issues. Who is going to speak out?

    The idea of the college never being happy with a leader doesn't hold up at all to me: K. Ray reigned for decades with tremendous approval, and I'm not aware of any complaints about interim president Richard Mauney, an internal candidate who was never even interviewed for the president's job.

    I think the problem is not Dunn, Dr. Betty or a college that whines about leadership. I think the hiring process is fundamentally flawed.

    The college's Board of Trustees does not seem to be invested in the college or in finding it good leadership; their agenda seems to be something else. I'm curious if Gold Hill Associates did the search for both candidates. If so, two failures is a very poor record.

    Board of Trustees:

    A friend who heads a UNCA department tells me search firms are challenged in that colleges will lie to be rid of their own bad candidates and fob them off on some other college.

    Sure sounds like A-B Tech needs a whole new search paradigm involving serious legwork in exploring college morale and job effectiveness in previous positions.

    Meanwhile, the failures involved in these two college presidents include the following costs:

    * job search for Betty Young, her $200K salary, salary for her personal assistant, and her severance

    * job search for Dunn, his $200K salary, his personal assistant

    I'm guessing the total expenditure is about $500,000 (half a million dollars) spent on people who seem to be so incompetent the college might as well have burned the money, left Mauney in place, and had a better net result.

    Written as a proud A-B Tech former student invested in my community.

  14. Dougall March 13, 2011

    This IS a story. Not just Faculty and Staff still discontent with a leader. This is a leader with NO empathetic heart. Yes – he is getting rid of Faculty and Staff if they voice their opinion. The AB Staff and Faculty do not know that he requested $100,000 from the ABTech Foundation to fund his Tax Ref. campaign. That money was donated by the Faculty and Staff to the foundation to be placed in unrestricted funds, okay so it's unrestricted and there really can't be any griping, but were the Faculty and Staff notified of this, especially since most do not support it????? No they were not. He changed FT staff hours from 35 to 40, essentially a 13% pay cut, so if anyone went digging during this campaign that would be something they couldn't say anything about. So the Staff has sacrificed that paycut to get him his Tax Ref.

  15. DS March 13, 2011

    There is more to this story, trust me. I am hopeful that somone will investigate this sitiation. The president, along with his influx of administrators, is terrorizing the entire campus. In addition, the wasteful spending has to stop, period.

  16. Cece March 13, 2011

    I'm positive it's much ado about nothing. A lot of folks at A-B Tech long for the days when K Ray Bailey ran the place like it was his own little country club. Fortunately, those days are over and there are some older faculty and staff malcontents who will simply never be happy, regardless of who is in charge. Just a small groups of mediocre employees whining, and looking to stir the pot.

  17. Media Watcher March 13, 2011

    This story doesn't seem to be hitting the nerve that the Damore/Mission Hospital story did. Is Sharon right? Just the usual discontent at any organization? Or is there more?

  18. Sharon March 13, 2011

    So…what's really news here? The faculty, staff and students will never be happy with a leader. This "developing" story is a non event.

  19. DL March 11, 2011

    I've heard very similar reports from faculty members. Those who have publicly questions some of Dunn's programs and decisions have been demoted, or their contracts have not been renewed for the next term. This is especially troubling at an academic institution, where freedom of thought and expression should be valued and defended.

  20. Agnes Cheek March 11, 2011

    I wonder why at a time where people are screaming about "cutting teachers" and the whole sky is falling routine, AB Tech just hired 10 positions..only one of them was an actual teaching position. The other 9? All admin positions. The bureaucracy in public education keeps growing while the teachers and students continue to pay the cost.

  21. White Lightnin' March 11, 2011

    Stick 'em. Uh, huh, huh, stick 'em.



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