Report examines concerns about Honors Program leadership, scholarship 'loopholes'

Honors office staff 'did not know who they could trust'

Hayley leads a chant as the group makes their way past Warriner Hall, April 16, in Warriner Mall. While Hayley essentially planned and organized the entire protest, her fellow leader, Gwen Hackett, led many of the chants during the actual event.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story will be updated with more information.

A long-awaited report was sent to honors students Friday regarding events that took place over the past year. 

It lists findings and recommendations to several “areas/themes” including concerns regarding the hiring process of the Honors Program director, the elimination of the associate director position and “loopholes” in two Honors scholarships.

On April 8, 2021, the Central Michigan University’s Office of General Counsel (GC) charged Mary Martinez, Interim Executive Director of the Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity (OCRIE), and Beth Timmerman, Director of Internal Audit, with conducting an examination of CMU’s Honors Program and its office.

The report was released about a year after students protested the alleged "unjust" removal of Associate Director of the Honors Program Judy Idema. The protest came after messages were sent to people within the honors program by Taylor Idema, an honor student, who believed her mother was fired unjustly. 

“We are committed to maintaining the rigor, relevance and excellence of the Honors Program, and we deeply appreciate the time and thoughtfulness that has gone into this report and its recommendations,” Davies said in the message, also signed by Honors Council chairperson, Bob Dvorak.

As of April 19, the report has not been endorsed by the Honors Council. 

According to the report, 21 people were interviewed between April 13 and July 30.

The report stated the examination was “fact-finding in nature and not an investigation to find fault." Nine areas were identified throughout the examination which Martinez and Timmerman formed observations and recommendations for.

See a breakdown of the report below or view the full document:

1. Selection of Honors Program Director

The first observation stated that individuals on the search committee for the current Honors Program director and Honors Program office staff “expressed concern about the hiring and selection process” that were brought to Human Resources (HR) and the Office of the Provost.

Recommendations were made to remind senior management of any concerns with future searches, review procedures that determine if a position is posted internally or externally, and use the University’s Affirmative Action Officer in future searches for Honors Program Director and similar positions.

2. Honors Program Office Culture

The second observation said, with changes being made like a new director, Honors Program staff felt the program “they helped build was being threatened” and they did not know why. It also said staff felt overwhelmed due to the Honors-specific academic advisor being made a general academic advisor and the limited availability of the new director. 

The examination said, overall “the staff did not know who they could trust.”

Recommendations included training the Honors Program Director, Senior Vice Provost of Academic Affairs and any supervisory positions in the Honors Program on CMU’s leadership standards, a qualified neutral facilitator engaging the Honors Program office and Honors Council in team-building and trust-building activities and the Honors Program Director finding a mentor.

3. Position Elimination

In the third observation, Martinez and Timmerman questioned the mid-semester elimination of the associate director position.

“It created an awkward position for faculty, staff and students,” the report said. “Waiting until the end of the semester to eliminate the position would have been less disruptive.”

It also brought into question the “sudden expedited removal” of a staff member whose position was eliminated on April 1.

Last year, Judy Idema, assistant director of student engagement, diversity and wellness for the College of Medicine, held the position of Honor Program associate director. She was laid off when her position was removed by Nicole Barco, Honors Program director.

On March 31, 2021, Idema received a letter from Barco stating the position's removal was "based solely on the needs of the department to ensure efficient and effective operations and is not performance-based.” 

On April 16, 2021, 15 CMU students gathered to protest Idema's firing.

Idema was not mentioned by name in the report.

As of April 18, 2021, Idema is still employed at CMU as the assistant director of student engagement, diversity and wellness at the College of Medicine.

The report recommended that HR provide guidance by “asking critical thinking questions to help diminish negative implications of actions."  

4. HR Management

The fourth observation stated the proposed restructuring of the Honors Program was “fast-tracked” and addressed concerns regarding the elimination of the associate director position and the creation of two support staff positions.

It also said staff members were concerned about the Honors Program’s management, leadership and “what was described as “unethical” behavior.”

The observation also said HR and Faculty Personnel Services (FPS) met with a student that posed concerns about the workplace environment within the Honors Program Office.

“The student reported to the President feeling interrogated during the meeting,” the report said.

Recommendations included re-evaluating the process for requesting a position elimination or reduction, requiring an HR representative to be present in situations involving “adverse job actions,” additional training and support for supervisors, a support person for students when being interviewed by HR or FPS, and training HR staff and supervisors on how to handle unethical or concerning behavior, respect confidentiality and that retaliation will not be tolerated.

5. Personnel Management

The fifth observation addressed concerns of noncompliance with CMU’s Leadership Standards including “potential or perceived retaliation”.

Recommendations said senior management, HR and/or FPS should “closely monitor” the management of Honors Program personnel, adverse job actions or discipline be evaluated for the potential of retaliation and required training on CMU’s Leadership Standards for those with supervisory responsibility, both in the Honors Program and “up the chain of command”.

6. Allegation of violence in the workplace April 1, 2021

The sixth observation stated there is “insufficient evidence” to support a claim that workplace violence, as defined by CMU policy, occurred in the Honors Program office on April 1, 2021.

Recommendations were made to remind employees of CMU’s expectations regarding workplace etiquette and for offices including HR, FPS, Student Affairs and General Counsel to review policies about workplace violence.

7. Financial Scholarship Implications

The seventh observation said that separate from the examination, CMU leadership revised the Centralis scholarship policy in which a “loophole” existed in the scholarship policy.  

The Centralis Scholar award is a full-ride scholarship and the Centralis Gold award is a full-tuition scholarship. Winners are selected after a competition every Fall semester and granted membership into the Honors Program.

According to the report, the "loophole" allows recipients to be refunded any money from their scholarship that was not applied towards tuition or on-campus housing. Refunds were determined to be in conflict with the university’s scholarship policies and some refunds were “substantial, above the out-of-pocket costs”.

“The practice will be eventually phased out and discontinued,” the report said.

The Centralis policy was updated in March 2021 but the previous policy will remain in effect for three years, so students who received the scholarship prior to that date are not affected.

Recommendations were made to review scholarship funding for sustainability, clarify the role of the Honors Council, review future Centralis Scholarship policy revisions, build a monitoring function to ensure refunds comply with the Tuition Benefit Plan policy and employee certification, test a sample of 1098T tax forms for accurately reflected refunds and consider an internal audit into the awarding of Centralis Scholars and Centralis Gold scholarships.

8. Honors Council

The eighth observation acknowledged the need to better understand the role the Honors Council plays for the Honors Program. It stated there are “no clear expectations” between the council and the director of the Honors Program and that the power given to the council in the Curriculum Authority Document (CAD) were brought into question.

Recommendations included regular meetings between the Honors Program director and Honors Council chair “to facilitate transparency and accountability” and a review of the CAD to ensure concurrence with CMU policies and governance.

9. Ethics Hotline Report

The ninth and final observation stated the Ethics Hotline Report #70 was closed and no recommendations were identified.

An addendum to the report offered follow-up recommendations, observations and explanations.

It said the decision to eliminate the associate director position was vetted through HR.

“The decision to reorganize and eliminate the associate director position appears to be very sound, based on our review,” they said. “Those decisions are separate and apart from the expedited removal of the former associate director, that occurred on April 1, 2021.”

The addendum also said the Honors Program office culture appears to be improving but there is still discontent.

“The director is taking positive steps to advance the program but there appears to be some disaffection with her and her decisions,” it stated. “This appears to possibly be related to disagreement with the decision to reorganize the department and take it in a new direction as well as residual animosity about the April 1, 2021 removal of the former associate director.”

Lastly, the addendum recommended the Honors Council review and consider appropriate university policies when making future Honors Program policy determinations “to avoid such conflicts.”

At the March 22 Academic Senate meeting, senator Joanne Dannenhoffer asked Davies when a report about changes in the Honors Program would be released.

The report addendum is dated Feb. 21.

Davies said at the meeting – one month and two days after the addendum date – that the report was delayed by some people who were taking vacation time.

In the April 14 message, Davies said the recommendations made in the report “are either completed or ongoing.”

“The few remaining items are in the process of being implemented,” he said.