The college says Garcia, who is a registered nurse with 15 years experience, owes it almost $5,000 for salary it paid when she spent two days a month as a family nursing practitioner at a local clinic — time required to maintain her RN and Certified Nurse Practitioner license and certification.
Garcia says when she negotiated her contract with CBC last August that CBC President Dr. Beatriz Espinoza, approved the time off.
Because the agreement was verbal, Garcia says she later asked the college to include the time off written into her contract, specifically noting that the time off would not be deducted from vacation, sick or personal accrued time.
“When I got the contract,” she says, “it still showed that I owed the money. I did not accept it.”
In late January, Garcia says, Espinoza told her “the bottom line is that the board will not approve the time off; therefore, I will not support it.”
Garcia considers the two days professional development; the college calls it a part-time job and maintains she owes the college the salary it paid for the days off.
“First, they told me I owed $7,000 for 10 days,” she says, “then they reduced it to $4,700. When I got paid on the 25th, they reduced my base salary by $1,200. If I did not pay it by March 25, I was told I would be terminated.”
The college fired her March 26.
In a statement Thursday afternoon, CBC said, “Coastal Bend College respects the privacy of former and current employees, and we will not comment on personnel matters. All decisions regarding personnel decisions at the college are made according to policy after conducting any necessary investigations.”
Espinoza, who was attending a Board of Trustee Institute conference in Santa Fe until Saturday, was unavailable for comment.
In the latter part of each nursing class, students go to clinics and to hospitals to monitor—and in some cases to assist—nurses in action in their environment. The process is known as “getting your ‘clinicals’”; each student must have 42 hours of them to be graduated.
The Texas Board of Nursing, based in Austin, is the governing board for nursing programs at state colleges and universities. It mandates that for students to participate, a registered nurse instructor with a master’s degree and with educational experience must be in place at all times.
Out of compliance
Garcia’s firing places the college out of Board of Nursing compliance and puts the graduation of 42 Beeville and Pleasanton nursing students at risk.
“There are a lot of students here who are really scared,” says Pleasanton nursing student Brandi King. “We feel as if CBC has left the nursing students at all the sites stranded. We feel betrayed.”
In Thursday evening’s statement, the college tried to allay their fears: “The college is committed to educating the next generation of nurses in our service area, and none of our personnel decisions will affect the quality of the nursing program at any of our four locations. We guarantee that all nursing students will still be able to finish their courses and the nursing program. CBC administration, faculty and staff are dedicated to ensuring that all students have the support they need to graduate and find gainful employment.”
Not being respected
Seventeen students in Pleasanton have jointly signed a letter to the Bee-Picayune.
“…we have concerns that have occurred over the past two years. We are concerned about the future of the nursing program…We have amazing instructors that we value and respect…but feel that they are not being respected or supported by Beeville,” the letter begins.
As examples, the students cite continuing problems with the college’s computers, broken air conditioners in September and lack of paper towels and toilet paper for a week.
“Some students from our campus went to the board meeting in February…when they returned, we started to be spied upon while in the computer lab.”
According to Garcia, nursing instructors at CBC, upset about the noncompliance, demanded a meeting with Espinoza at 3 p.m. Wednesday to voice their concern.
“Espinoza said she thought the college had 30 days to find an instructor and then asked if it was necessary for the instructor to be a nurse,” Garcia says she was told by someone who attended the meeting.
She says Sandi Emerson, who is the CBC liaison with the Board of Nursing, told the college it had until Monday to find a qualified instructor.
“They’re really scrambling,” Garcia says.
Failure to have a qualified instructor in place could lead to the Board of Nursing banning the college from accepting new nursing students for the program.
Garcia’s firing came into public notice at the regular meeting of the CBC board of trustees last Thursday, when Irma Trevino, a CBC Licensed Vocational Nursing instructor for the Beeville campus and the Pleasanton site, responded to rumors that Garcia was about to be fired by pleading with the board during the public comment portion of the agenda not to fire Garcia.
Two off-duty armed Beeville police officers—costing the college $25 each per hour—were present in the hall during the meeting.
“I’m outraged that they’re here,” one division chair exclaimed as she stood in line to sign her name to a mandatory board meeting attendance list.
“We don’t know why we are here,” said one officer. “We were just told to be here.”
Last April, a police officer also was present when the board fired 13 instructors—the first in a series of moves designed to stabilize the college’s financial health in the face of dropping enrollment and inherited fiduciary mismanagement. The officer escorted Espinoza to her car at the end of the tempestuous session.
Garcia’s dismissal is the latest development in a controversy surrounding the CBC nursing program. According to Garcia, two years ago, 100 percent of students who took the exam for their RN license passed; in one year it dropped to 71 percent.
Nursing instructor Blanche DeLeon says she is concerned about that deterioration.
“Those students may not be oil field workers, but nursing offers a student an opportunity for a better life and career,” she says.
At the board meeting, Trevino outlined problems in Pleasanton.
“If Dr. Garcia is terminated or let go, what’s the game plan for nursing?” she asked, pointing out, “As of right now, Dr. Garcia is covering in Beeville on Mondays for me because I am teaching in Pleasanton because of a faculty shortage. Tuesdays, Dr. Garcia is in Pleasanton because of a faculty shortage there. So, if she is let go, what plans do you have to solve the situation in Beeville and in Pleasanton?”
Under the rules governing board meetings, trustees are not obligated to respond.
Trevino stressed that both Beeville and Pleasanton are losing students because nursing instructors in Pleasanton are required to answer the phones, although the Texas Board of Nursing recommends a full-time nursing secretary, particularly at the Beeville campus.
Both sites, she said, are losing students “because there is no one answering phones, people (are) not leaving messages, (no one is) assisting students because… we are not allowed a full-time secretary.
“CBC can’t meet demands, so we must decrease enrollment because of lack of faculty support and clerical/secretary support, especially in Pleasanton.”
Ironically, later on the agenda was a PowerPoint program for board members about the CBC nursing program—presented by Garcia.
Concerned over lost teaching jobs
Also attending the March 20 board meeting was Dr. James Klein, associate professor of history at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi but who also is the state president of the American Association of University Professors which enjoys 145 chapters nationwide.
According to its website, the organization “defends academic freedom and tenure, advocates collegial governance and develops policies ensuring due process.”
Klein was concerned about the number of full-time CBC faculty who have lost their jobs or resigned and whether CBC was hiring too many adjunct instructors rather than full-time professors.
“I talked to 20-25 faculty members about forming an AAUP chapter here,” he says. “It’s not a union; it’s not a collective bargaining unit. Rather, it’s a 99-year-old professional association that allows its members to tap into national educational resources.”
A minimum of seven instructors is required for a chapter. Klein says he is certain a sufficient number of CBC instructors expressed interest.
“My assessment is that faculty morale is rather poor,” he says, expressing the same words the faculty senate used last April when it condemned the first round of layoffs.
“The college should be trying to improve that morale,” Klein says.
“This college,” Garcia says, “has so much potential. It’s sad the nursing program, which attracts so many students—therefore revenue—is being crippled.”
The brouhaha is not likely to be something that the CBC board would assume will disappear in time. Gerald Sansing, who is on the Del Mar AAUP chapter board and accompanied Klein to Beeville—reflecting on a similar termination of a nursing director in Corpus Christi—says, “I would not be surprised if Garcia’s firing doesn’t result in a federal lawsuit.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.