‘People are just burnt out, fed up’: Retired professor on HACC leadership, morale

Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Weeks after a vote of no confidence in Harrisburg Area Community College’s President John “Ski” Sygielski and senior leadership, a longtime HACC professor is sharing his thoughts as well as those from current employees who are too afraid to speak out.

John Heapes worked at HACC for 46 years, and retired three years ago. He said he worked under every president the college has had, since its founding in 1964.

Heapes said many employees want to talk about low morale, high turnaround, financial and staffing issues, but the college strictly prohibits them from talking to the media.

In Heapes’ eyes, the College’s issues can be traced back to a major split in priorities between the administration and faculty.

“The administration prioritizes a business model, while the faculty prioritize a quality of education model, ” said Heapes.

He says that difference in ideology has bred chaos behind the scenes among faculty, and has contributed to what he said some current employees call a toxic work environment.

“You gotta give equal priority to the quality of education,” Heapes said.

He said a previous HACC president initiated a tradition of faculty and administration working together in “shared governance” to solve issues, but that practice is no longer honored by President Sygielski.

“They [the faculty] feel that the essential components to make it [shared governance] work, like trust and communication, have been irreparably damaged,” Heapes said. “You leave [a meeting with him] and you think, he’s heard me, well a month goes by, two months go by, and nothing changes.”

Heapes said Sygielski runs HACC as a business and has been responsible for implementing three reorganizations since he was hired in 2011, which has caused confusion and a sense of uneasiness, according to a current employee.

“Just when a model is put in [place] and you get used to the people in positions and you know who to report to, it changes,” Heapes said. “People are just burnt out, fed up.”

One current employee spoke to us on condition of anonymity, and said that Sygielski has no regard for human resources, and has a reputation for creating walls between faculty and the Board of Trustees, even prohibiting communication.

That employee said, “that is the president’s MO. He creates walls and gets the board to follow along, meanwhile they aren’t hearing the whole story. HACC employees don’t have a way to get in touch with them. If we somehow find their email addresses and send an email to one of them it gets returned.”

Low morale, funding and enrollment issues are further straining the relationship between employees and the administration, said Heapes, who believes HACC has recently had an overwhelming amount of administration personnel.

“When you have that kind of interaction over and over again, after a while you say well this isn’t working,” Heapes said.

HACC confirmed Monday it is eliminating the Vice President position at each of its five campuses, effective June 30, 2020.

ABC 27 asked HACC’s media relations team about the timeline of the vote of no confidence in President Sygielski, and if the Board of Trustees knew about the potential faculty vote before they voted to renew Sygielski’s contract until 2023.

The following is what HACC sent to our newsroom:

Internal discussions about extending Dr. Ski’s contract began as early as October 2019.

The HACC Board of Trustees voted to extend Dr. Ski’s contract at their Dec. 3, 2019 meeting, which began at noon. 

The HACC Faculty Organization president shared a draft of the resolution with Dr. Ski during a 2 p.m. meeting on Dec. 3, 2019.

The survey to vote on the resolution was open from Dec. 9 through Dec. 13, 2019. 

On Nov. 21, 2019, the HACC Faculty Organization president informed Dr. Ski that she wanted to meet with him and members of the Cabinet to brief them on the vote.

On Nov. 24, 2019, Dr. Ski informed the HACC Board of Trustees about the upcoming meeting with the Faculty Organization president.

On Nov. 27, 2019, the HACC Faculty Organization president met with Dr. Ski and members of the Cabinet to discuss the vote.

HACC did post a news release on its website after we started asking questions, with more information about their One College reorganization, and suggested answers to our questions could be answered there.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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