One, possibly more lawsuits pending as
A pending lawsuit, an investigation into a civil rights violation
and the resignation of seven staffers are shaking the education
department at Fort Lewis College. And while everyone involved
is shying away from specifics, the once noteworthy department
at the local liberal arts college appears to be in crisis.
Fort Lewis College’s teacher education
program has traditionally been considered one of the college’s
greatest assets. The program touts itself as having national pre-accreditation
with the Teacher Education Accreditation Council as well as approvals
from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and the Colorado
Department of Education. In promotional materials, it is noted
that FLC Teacher Education students have attained a 95 percent
composite pass rate on the state licensing exam and that students
in Elementary Education reached a 98 percent pass rate. In addition,
the college plans on dedicating a new, state-of-the-art, $11 million
education/business building later this month.
However, appearances can be deceiving.
“There have been five grievances filed
against (dean Virginia Engman),” says Gene Taylor, associate
professor of teacher education, noting that one or more lawsuits
are likely. “There is a civil rights investigation underway.
There are problems there.”
And, he notes, things will probably get worse.
“You’re looking at the tip of
the iceberg,” Taylor says.
At the start of this semester, Taylor began
a one-year leave of absence and is now working as principal of
the Southwest Open School in Cortez. However, a total of six staff
members in the education department have formally resigned, and
at least one more will resign in the near future. Linda Simmons,
associate professor of education, plans on stepping down at the
end of this school year.
“It’s obvious that there are
some problems because of the number of people who have left,”
While Simmons chose to avoid going into specifics
because of potential legal ramifications, she said the problem
began with new mandates from the state, and the Colorado Commission
on Higher Education in particular.
“Our problems really began when we
received these state mandates,” she says. “That caused
people to start butting heads.”
When asked for the details of the mandates,
Simmons is blunt.
“It was a hundred things,” she
says. “Their fingers were in everything.”
She briefly mentioned that Engman has been
the department’s dean for several years, but the real rub
came in July of 2001 when a new department chair was appointed
without any consultation of the faculty.
At the end of the summer, Tim Cashman left
Durango and his teaching position with Fort Lewis College for
a post at the University of Texas-El Paso. He says that the reason
for his departure was not the new mandates but the way they were
handled by the administration and Dean Engman in particular.
“I don’t know if it was the directives
so much as the way they were handed down by the administration,”
Cashman says. “There was an overall lack of leadership at
the level of the dean’s office.”
Cashman notes that he was offered a position
at Fort Lewis College again this year but chose to follow “his
best interests” and move to El Paso.
“I loved the department at FLC, but
the overall environment created by the dean’s decisions
encouraged me to look at other options,” he says. “I
was offered a position to teach again this year. I just didn’t
think the future looked very good.”
Gary Knight is the interim chair of the teacher
education department, a post formerly held by Maggie Cason. Knight
taught in the department for 27 years before retiring three years
ago. He agreed to return for a one-year appointment and kept his
comments on the situation brief.
“That’s all personnel stuff,”
he says. “We just don’t talk about personnel issues.”
He did note that the department is currently working to fill two
of the vacancies.
“We’re in the process of a search for two faculty
members,” he says. “That’s all we have funding
for. But we also have some very good people here on one-year appointments.”
Taylor says that he is enjoying his stint
at the Southwest Open School and is unsure of future plans.
“I can go back in a year, but I’m
really enjoying the calm waters,” he says.
He also notes that a grievance committee
is currently looking into some of the problems with FLC’s
“My hope is that it’s settled
within the college,” he says.
Simmons also hopes that the problems are
remedied even though she is leaving the college after this year.
“I still have tremendous respect for
Fort Lewis,” she says. “But something has got to be
done, because we’ve got to heal.”
Engman did not return the Telegraph’s