BridgeValley Community and Technical College faculty held a no-confidence vote last week on college President Eunice Bellinger and chief academic officer Pete Soscia.
The vote was open only to the college’s 76 full-time, nonadministrative faculty — i.e. those fully eligible to serve on the Faculty Senate. Of those 76, 52 voted. Of those voters, 37 said they have no confidence in Bellinger and Soscia. Fifteen voted the other way.
BridgeValley Faculty Senate Chairman Bob Hayton provided the tallies.
Michelle Bissell, the college’s chief human resources officer, said the college has 88 full-time faculty members and 170 other employees, including staff members and part-time faculty.
After the Faculty Senate approved sending out the survey, Hayton sent Ashley Deem, chairwoman of the college’s recently reconstituted Board of Governors, an email asking, “Is there an option to guard against retaliation from the administration?”
Hayton told Deem this request was “due to the past practices of retaliation and dismissals of faculty and termination of programs for disagreeing with administration.”
Deem then addressed a memorandum to Bellinger and Soscia, saying she had “received an email requesting protection in light of the nature of the charges and the vote.”
“I’ve shared this with the full Board and we feel that, at this time and effective immediately, it is best for us to assume oversight over all personnel action, including, but not limited to, hiring, transfer, promotion, restructuring, termination, demotion, relocation, non-renewal, reclassification or any other adverse employment action,” Deem wrote.
“I anticipate that this will be a temporary limitation, until such time as the Board feels comfortable with the basis and outcome of the action taken by faculty,” Deem wrote. She asked Bellinger to let her know about any needed personnel actions so the board could address them at a meeting.
Board member Barry Holstein, a former candidate for the Kanawha County Board of Education, said, “a lot of the vote of no confidence was seemingly geared around personnel transactions.”
“Including myself, there’s a lot of new board members,” Holstein said, “and I think it’s prudent that we at least exercise some oversight from a notification standpoint, so we can get a better understanding and help the college come to a proper resolution.”
“I can’t comment,” Bellinger wrote to the Gazette-Mail. She did say she had “no knowledge of the no-confidence vote. I have been told the Board of Governors has all data.”
“Retaliation” was first on a list of allegations from full-time faculty against Bellinger and Soscia.
Hayton provided the list to the Gazette-Mail. He said many of the listed allegations were undocumented, but they contributed to the Faculty Senate deciding to hold the vote.
In 2019, when a past version of the Board of Governors was considering whether to renew Bellinger’s contract, employees declined to publicly comment on Bellinger’s performance at a public presidential evaluation forum in South Charleston.
Several employees expressed fear of retaliation then. Still, the old board renewed Bellinger’s contract.
The no-confidence vote doesn’t force Bellinger or Soscia out of their positions. Bellinger previously said Soscia is already stepping down from his position June 30 to become a regular faculty member.
Bellinger said she asked Soscia to step down because he was stressed and he had accomplished everything that she wanted him to do, including an academic reorganization that roughly halved the number of programs. She said that put the number of programs more in line with what other community colleges traditionally have.
The list of allegations Hayton provided include several regarding programs, including that the college is “discontinuing programs and eliminating faculty without following policy and procedure.”
Soscia didn’t return requests for comment.
“We’re deeply troubled by the fact that the faculty feels this way about the administration and we certainly aren’t taking it lightly,” Deem said this week.
“Those aren’t small numbers,” she said of the no-confidence vote. And she said this isn’t the first she’s heard of alleged retaliation.
“I have, since joining the board, received multiple letters, albeit anonymous letters, that have been forwarded to me from the HEPC [Higher Education Policy Commission] where there are allegations of retaliation,” she said.
The agenda for the board’s online-only meeting at 9 a.m. Friday includes a possible closed session “to discuss personnel matters.” The agenda lists “additional board comment and/or action” right after that.
Deem said she’ll bring up the no-confidence situation in closed session “and, if a formal vote is required, we’ll come out of executive session and do it at that time.”
The meeting also will feature discussion among the board members, the state Department of Environmental Protection and an HEPC representative regarding Building 2000 and safety and health concerns with it that Bellinger briefly raised, but did not detail, at the last board meeting.
At that May 7 meeting, the board also withdrew a proposed master plan that Bellinger had backed. The plan included vacating Building 2000, the college’s main building on its South Charleston campus, for the former Stone & Thomas department store building in downtown Charleston.
In early April, the West Virginia Senate confirmed Gov. Jim Justice’s appointment of five members of the now 11-member board. The chairman and vice chairman, who no longer was eligible to serve because he was elected mayor of Oak Hill, were among three members replaced, and two vacancies were filled.
The reconstituted board appointed Deem as the new chairwoman.