A Culture of Fear

Updated: Aug 15, 2019

Many people have conveyed gratitude to the brave administrator who came forward with a letter about the negative workplace that President Blake has created. As of this writing, that letter has been read more than 1600 times.

Administrators suffering under President Blake are terrified to speak up. Why are they afraid?

Administrators are at-will employees. Every two years, their contracts are renewed by the Board, typically in pro forma fashion. That changed at the March 2018 Governing Board meeting. The five-member Board emerged from closed session and voted unanimously to reduce the contracts of three long standing administrators (former Dean of Counseling Brian Stockert, VP of Student Services Adrian Gonzales, and the former Director of Public Affairs).

Those individuals were blindsided. I was in the governing board audience and sitting directly in front of Brian Stockert when it happened. He was shocked. Adrian Gonzales was at the dais and looked completely bewildered. The actions were widely considered a ‘public shaming’.

A few months later, Trustee Evilsizer remarked that their shortened contracts were meant to ‘serve as a warning’, ostensibly for some wrongdoing or poor performance. But what did they do wrong? None of those three individuals were ever given a reason for their punishment. Not from President Blake, not from the trustees (remember these were the trustees who named VP Gonzales as Palomar's interim president). Clearly, President Blake said something pretty harsh about those three employees in closed session to provoke such drastic and unprecedented action.

On that day, a very clear message was sent to all of the administrators. Cross President Blake, and she will smear your name to the trustees (even if falsely), or put you on administrative leave with an unsubstantiated investigation.

This puts administrators in a terrible position; many are afraid to say ‘no’ to President Blake (even if she asks for something that is illegal or unethical). Instead of being able to offer their expertise in a respectful manner, administrators are now expected to be ‘yes people’. This power differential (1) enables the president make unrealistic demands of her administrators that could be classified as abuse (e.g. asking for personal favors at her home), (2) has created a toxic environment where administrators work in fear, and (3) resulted in the loss of meaningful checks or counters to President Blake’s decision-making.

For the past twelve months, I have repeatedly called on the Board to conduct a third-party, anonymous survey of all employee groups to assess the campus climate so that oppressed employees could safely share their experiences with the trustees. Board President Mark Evilsizer has refused to heed that call. Therefore, if any administrator or other employee would like to submit a statement to our blog as a way to safely share their experiences, I will guarantee complete anonymity.

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