Degrees of Separation
Did a math instructor at the Community College of Aurora whistleblow herself out of a job?
For the past three years Katherine Mills has railed unsuccessfully against a colleague named George Bruner, whom she claimed was unqualified to teach anthropology because he doesn't hold a degree in the field. Two weeks ago her complaints were aired publicly in Westword ("Teacher's Fret," August 29).
This time, however, Mills got a reaction. The day after the article appeared, she learned that her services would not be required next spring semester. The reason? Mills didn't have the proper scholarly credentials. Several other CCA instructors may now lose their jobs for the same reason.
The furor over CCA faculty members' academic qualifications grew out of a personal crusade. Mills, who actually has a degree in geology, began teaching math at CCA in 1987. At the same time, she started working on a master's degree in anthropology, which she earned in 1991. She supplemented her study with summer digs in Israel sponsored by the University of Maryland.
The work paid off: In 1991 Mills was appointed CCA's lead anthropology instructor. The accomplishment was short-lived, though.
Mills claimed she was booted out of the anthropology job in 1993 to make room for Bruner--a man who did not hold a degree in the field and whose latest college experience had been working as an administrator for the Colorado Community College and Occupational Education System. Mills was shuffled back to the math department, where she has continued to work for the past three years.
Bruner, whose degree is in business, remains chairman of CCA's anthropology department. In a recent memo, President Larry Carter stressed that "George Bruner is qualified to teach anthropology courses at the Community College of Aurora as verified by an institutional portfolio review process" conducted in April 1993.
And Bruner himself has fought back, although he has steadfastly refused to comment publicly on his credentials. "To preserve the integrity and reputation of CCA's faculty and staff, Mr. Bruner is determined to deal with matters involving CCA professionally and within the institution, not through the press," his lawyer, Gregory Parham, wrote to Westword in response to questions.
On September 3 Bruner filed a formal grievance against Mills for what he says was purposeful misrepresentation of his academic record and for airing the college's dirty laundry in public. (Despite his vow to keep a lid on the dispute, however, copies of the grievance made their way into most faculty mailboxes at CCA.) Then, two days later, Bruner, apparently fed up with being the only one whose schooling was being scrutinized, took the offensive.
In a second grievance filed on September 5, Bruner charged CCA president Larry Carter, as well as four deans and department heads, with not doing their jobs. The reason, according to Bruner's complaint: Several faculty members have been permitted to teach without the proper credentials. In case there was any doubt, Bruner provided a list.
CCA's math department was hit the hardest. In addition to Mills (who declined to comment for this story), Bruner tagged two other part-time math instructors, Jan Crissup and Mary Stratton, as unqualified to hold their positions.
Department chairman Paul O'Meara confirms that Mills's contract to teach math next semester has not been renewed because she doesn't hold a math degree. Although he denies the move was in direct retaliation for her publicly questioning Bruner's qualifications, he does concede that there is a connection.
"It was brought to my attention that [Mills] was talking about other people here who weren't qualified, and it was suggested to me that I look through my department," he says, adding that "there are a number of people with questionable qualifications" and that he is "still seeking guidance" on how to handle the credentials flap.
O'Meara may not be the only one asking for help. John Hart, an English instructor who claims he was fired in July for his attempts to organize part-time instructors into a union, notes that every person on Bruner's list is a part-timer (as are 85 percent of CCA's instructors). And while Hart acknowledges that some part-timers may not hold advanced degrees in their field, he points out that they often do not teach core, transferable courses, either.
Besides, he adds, some full-timers at the two-year college are just as vulnerable to claims of inadequate academics. "If the administration does anything with this, then they're going to have to open it up to everyone, including full-timers," Hart says. "And they don't want to do that. We have a full-time English professor with a degree in divinity. And I can name three others at CCA without the proper academic credentials.