Faculty union at Hillsborough Community College casts vote of ‘no confidence’ in college president

It’s not the first time Dr. Ken Atwater received a no confidence vote.

click to enlarge Dr. Ken Atwater - Photo via hccfl/Facebook (screengrab by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay)
Photo via hccfl/Facebook (screengrab by Creative Loafing Tampa Bay)
Dr. Ken Atwater
Last week, Hillsborough Community College’s union, Faculty United Service Association or FUSA, cast a vote of “no confidence,” in HCC president Dr. Ken Atwater. Of the 219 voting FUSA members, 209 voted in favor of the “no confidence,” and just 10 members opposed.

Sheryl Sippel, president of FUSA and HCC mathematics professor, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that the faculty needs a raise.

“Our minimum starting salary has only increased $1,700 in 15 years,” Sippel said. “Our starting salary with a bachelor's degree in 2008 was $40,487. In 2023, it's $42,187.”

Sippel called the no confidence vote “a last resort,” and said faculty had tried to resolve the issues through bargaining and discussions with Atwater, who's been leading the college since July 1, 2010. FUSA even went to HCC’s board of trustees four times with concerns.

And this isn’t the first time FUSA cast a “no confidence” vote since Atwater took over in 2010. The first time was in 2015, which led to the creation of a faculty step pay system. Beginning in 2016, the 30-year step pay system had two components: a pay increase every year of teaching for experience and a periodic cost of living wage increase. “We felt it was going to resolve a lot of issues,” Sippel added.

A minimum and a maximum increase was included in the plan from 2016-2019. Under Atwater, FUSA says those wages remain stagnant after almost eight years. The administration got its own step pay system in 2019 and implemented a salary study recommendation for a 30% increase over three years. That was supposed to end in 2022 and faculty salaries were set to increase beginning this year.

“The college has made it clear that those 30% pay range increases are necessary to recruit and retain qualified administrators,” Sippel said. “This is the year where they were absolutely supposed to address faculty payments that needed to be increased. And there was no money in the budget.”

Sippel and fellow HCC FUSA members believe their wage increases are also needed to recruit and retain qualified faculty. In comments submitted by FUSA members to HCC’s board, many echoed concerns about cost of living, stagnant wages, and overwhelming workloads.

“I am living paycheck to paycheck and teaching overloads every semester and every summer, and we are told not to depend on overload,”Suzy DeVore, tenured theater professor at HCC wrote. “If I did not teach overload, I would not be able to pay my bills.”

Following the vote, board of trustees chairperson Nancy Watkins told Atwater to bring back a detailed workshop on the matter.

CL reached out to Atwater for comment, but instead heard back from Angela Walters Eveillard, Director of Marketing & Strategic Communications at HCC who wrote that, “We are still in negotiations and look forward to finding a resolution.”

Sippel says FUSA hopes to come to a “quick resolution,” too.
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