CFCC Board shares confidence in president’s leadership following employee complaints

Updated: Jan. 30, 2020 at 8:14 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - It was an unusually full board meeting at Cape Fear Community College on Thursday night. Many faculty attended to see what would happen when the Board of Trustees met for the first time to discuss recently disclosed concerns about President Jim Morton’s leadership by two executives who just resigned from the college.

After seeing televised interviews with former Human Resources Director Sharon Smith, and former Information Technology Director Kumar Lakhavani complaining of what they called a hostile work environment at the college where retaliation against employees was commonplace, the board still expressed “confidence in the leadership team for the college.” Chairwoman Ann David read a statement the board prepared during an hour long closed session, elaborating that they feel the college is moving in “a positive direction.”

Board Member Jimmy Hopkins said “he’d never been more proud to serve on this board and serve with Jim Morton,” while Mary Lyons-Rouse added Morton was doing “great things” in his big role.

Board Member Pat Kusek, who has been a vocal Morton supporter since he was promoted to the role of President in 2018, was more emphatic. When the board returned to open session, she blamed the media for publishing the concerns about Morton that she felt were without merit.

“It’s unfortunate that we have one network and one reporter" pushing this agenda, Kusek said. She added Morton was doing the job the board hired him to do, and people are “resistant to change.”

Bill Cherry echoed his support for Morton. None of the other nine board members spoke, and those who were approached by WECT after the meeting declined to to comment. Morton also declined an interview request.

While WECT has been contacted by at least 30 current and former employees who also shared concerns about Morton’s leadership and a hostile work environment, those employees are apparently too fearful to contact the board. They say they’ve seen other employees who have come forward with concerns be pushed out of the college, and that any complaints made to the board are simply handed over to Morton. David said the board has not received any complaints from “current employees” about Morton, although Smith did contact the board with her concerns in October before resigning in November.

David also said there had been “an outpouring of support for College administration form faculty and staff” since our story aired detailing Smith and Lakhavani’s concerns, as well as concerns from other senior college employees and former employees who spoke to us on background.

Earlier this week, the CFCC Faculty Association began the process to try to remove Faculty Association President John Branner from his position as their chief representative. This comes after Branner stated on the record at a College Council meeting January 22 that he was unaware of any complaints from faculty involving President Jim Morton.

The day of the meeting, WECT was copied on an email sent to the entire Board of Trustees, and to New Hanover Commissioners, asking the trustees to step in and provide a neutral platform for employees to safely express their concerns and opinions.

“Since the allegation surrounding President Jim Morton and his inner circle have surfaced, the college’s employees have been in a constant state of anxiety. The faculty at CFCC has been advised to direct any concerns about President Morton to the Board through the procedures in the handbook. However, it is the consensus among employees that there is not sufficient protection from retaliation by going that route. Several employees have noted that any information that has been presented to the board in the past, has made its way back to Mr. Morton quickly,” the email said.

The email is anonymous, simply signed “Supporters of the NEW Faculty Association of Cape Fear Community College." Staff allege in the email that contrary to Branner’s statements, several faculty members have shared their concerns with the board over the last few months, and “many of them have provided time/date stamps to document their submission to individual members of the board.”

Branner also spoke toward the end of the Trustees meeting on Thursday night, thanking the board for their support of his volunteer service as Faculty Association President, and expressing his desire to continue to serve.

Editors note: A previous version of the story incorrectly said Trustee Bruce Moskowitz echoed his support for Jim Morton during the board meeting. It was actually Trustee Bill Cherry.

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