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Unanswered questions about abrupt departure of Alumni Relations Director rattle WWC community

Gabriel Sistare and Ricky Ochilo, staff writers

The sudden departure of Alumni Relations Coordinator Jonathan Hettrick has triggered concern throughout the Warren Wilson College campus.

An e-mail, sent by the President for Advancement Sallie Grace Tate on Apr. 28, said that Hettrick would be “leaving Warren Wilson College to pursue other opportunities.”

Following up on dialog that was initiated on the faculty-talk list serve soon after the e-mail was sent out, many faculty and staff members expressed their concern and confusion about Hettrick’s departure at an advancement office “Lunch and Learn” on Friday, May 1.

Program Director of Social Work Dr. Alison Climo was concerned about the impact that Hettrick’s departure could have on the culture of the College.

“We are so demoralized,” she said. “It is heartbreaking.”

Climo felt uneasy about the situation surrounding Hettrick’s departure.

“Something about the process doesn’t feel right,” she said. About Tate’s e-mail, Climo said, “I feel like there is this tone that is distressing.”

Library Director Christine Nugent said that something is now broken at the College.

“This will take some time to get through,” she said, acknowledging the unsettling feeling many staff and faculty members had after hearing about Hettrick.

Vice President for Administration and Finance Jonathan Ehrlich said that members of the community were making unwarranted assumptions and acknowledged that the College cannot legally talk about personnel issues.

College President Sandy Pfeiffer tried treassure concerned members of the community and said that everyone needs to work together.

“We need to get to know each other better,” he said.

On May 4, Tate sent a second e-mail elaborating on the initial notice of Hettrick’s departure.

“We regret the brevity of earlier communication about this matter,” the e-mail read.

The e-mail acknowledged the years of service that Hettrick put towards the College and mentioned his tireless work organizing alumni events at Warren Wilson.

The e-mail mentioned that “steps will be taken to get a search underway for a new alumni affairs leader.”

“What happened?”

For many, the administration’s lack of transparency raises the question of whether there was a credible reason that led to Hettrick’s departure or whether he left under duress. According to Climo, however, there are personnel policies that must be followed when an employee leaves. Climo explained that it is “absolutely illegal for the administration to discuss personnel issues.” The policies protect the employees of the College but also leave room for many unanswered questions.

Regardless of the personnel policy, the administration has chosen not to inform the community of certain circumstances that led to Hettrick’s departure.

In an e-mail to the faculty list, Climo asked the question, “What happened?”

“As it stands, the administration’s tactics in handling Hettrick’s sudden departure from the College have left many baffled,” Climo said. “I suspect there is a deeper sense of fear, sadness, shock and disappointment in how this whole thing unfolded.”

For a majority of the community, the administration’s depersonalized announcement reflected a lack of respect and gratitude for an employee who served diligently to strengthen the College’s alumni relations.

Climo mentioned that had the administration included a legal statement in the context of Hettrick’s departure explaining that the law does not allow the administration to fully disclose reasons involving an employee’s departure, then went on to inform the community of Hettrick’s contributions, the announcement may not have felt “like being slapped in the face out of the blue.”

Evidently, the anger fueling in the community is primarily a result of the administration’s failure to show a genuine appreciation and acknowledgment for a long serving community member.

Hettrick’s Contributions

Jon Hettrick made many positive and meaningful contributions to the College. His devout sense of humility and yearning to build relationships with alumni and current community members reveal his strong will for the College and creative leadership. Lucy Lawrence, Professor of Social Work, recognized that Hettrick served the College wholeheartedly for seven years.

“He made strong, meaningful relationships with a broad base of alumni—from the Farm School boys to the Dorland Bell teachers to our most recent graduates,” Lawrence said.

She added that during his time as Staff Forum Co-Convener he strengthened the process of shared governance and shed light on many issues that called for community participation. Lawrence firmly believes that Hettrick’s “passion and dedication to [the College's] ideals have been steadfast.”

Alumnus, current student, respond

On Saturday, May 2, Billy Peard, Class of ’07, sent a formal letter to Pfeiffer, Tate, and Director of External Relations Ann Bass.

In the letter Peard said that he will not be contributing to the College financially or with volunteer hours and encouraged his fellow alumni to do the same.

Peard suggested that the alumni make a pledge to one another not to contribute to the Annual Fund between now and June 30.

Peard claimed that he is “a fierce supporter of the College when Warren Wilson is deserving of such support.”
In an interview Peard said said that he has spoken with fellow alumni spanning three decades who are deeply disappointed in the administration.

“I think that an important element of trust has been attenuated if not completely broken with a series of bad decisions over the course of two years,” Peard said.

Peard redirected the issue away from Hettrick and said that the point is a change in style of management within the Advancement Office.

“[Advancement] simply ignores or is ignorant of what Wilson is all about,” said Peard.

Peard suggested what President Pfeiffer and the College could have done differently.

“There is one thing that I feel President Pfeiffer can do at this critical juncture to begin to rebuild trust among the alumni,” Peard said. “He can dispense with the current Vice President for Advancement and replace her with an individual who demonstrates a greater level of competency in fundraising and a greater appreciation for the College’s 10,000+ alumni.”

Peard received a response from Pfeiffer but not Tate.

Junior Hannah Jacobs sent a letter of concern to Grace Tate, College President Sandy Pfeiffer, staff and faculty members, and exiting Student Caucus Co-Convener Gideon Burdick.

In the letter Jacobs showed her disappointment for what she assumed was the firing of Hettrick.

“Replacing someone who has dedicated so much time and effort to the community seems to me to be a cruel and unfair way to change the way in which one facet of the community operates,” the letter read.

Jacobs said that she has received no reply from either Pfeiffer or Grace Tate.

Regarding the situation of Hettrick’s departure, Jacobs said she assumes there was some agenda behind it and  that it was not characteristic of what the College has done in the past.

“This is the sort of action a corporation would take,” said Jacobs, highlighting that this decision was a departure from the typically community-based atmosphere of the College.

John Hettrick declined to comment and Sallie Grace Tate was unavailable.


2 Responses to “Unanswered questions about abrupt departure of Alumni Relations Director rattle WWC community”

  1. mm.. strange )

    Posted by desnudas | July 19, 2009, 7:30 am
  2. It’s good to see a main topic that’s controversial and deviant to the veiled administration’s wishes. The content certainly had a chance to be pleasantly displayed, but it could have done with some real research and better, perhaps more aggressive journalism. Also, the flow and appearance of the article is disjointed. Maybe it’s just me, but the layout on this site makes the journalistic style format feel strange.

    It’s really great thing that I can feel like critiquing any college’s blog would be helpful or useful in the least. Kindles the hope, ya know?

    Posted by CT | January 24, 2010, 9:22 am

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