External honors investigation "not in the best interests of the program" as director steps down

Honors Council to discuss director position and search this fall

The Central Michigan University Honors Program has had several changes over the summer, including the cancellation of an external investigation into the program and the resignation of its program director, Nicole Barco.    

On April 8, 2021 CMU’s Office of the General Counsel tasked Mary Martinez, interim executive director of the Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity, and Beth Timmerman, director of Internal Audit, with conducting an examination of CMU’s Honors Program and its office.  

About a year before the report's release, Barco eliminated the Honors Program associate director position, held at the time by Judy Idema. Idema is now assistant director of student engagement, diversity and wellness for the College of Medicine.

On April 16, 2021, a group of students, who alleged Idema's removal was "unjust," gathered to protest Barco's decision.          

On April 14, members of the Honors Program received the report of findings from Martinez and Timmerman. The report listed several "themes," including concerns with hiring processes, office culture, the removal of the associate director position and human resources management.

"There was a consistent theme that staff did not know who they could trust," the report reads. "With everyone being overwhelmed and lacking trust, the Honors Program Office environment became unhealthy."

Student Government Association President Taylor Idema criticized the report at the April 19 Academic Senate meeting, saying the Honors community was "left with a lot more questions than answers." 

At the May 3 Academic Senate meeting, former Interim Provost Richard Rothaus announced an external investigation after he said new concerns "motivated others to come forward" with other allegations of problems in the program.

"These include significant ethical and behavioral allegations involving faculty, staff and students," Rothaus said at the senate meeting.

As of Aug. 12, a spokesperson with University Communications said CMU is no longer moving forward with the investigation and provided a statement from Rothaus.

“The parties that brought forth complaints and the interim director are in agreement that it is not in the best interests of the program to conduct another investigation," Rothaus' said statement said. "We think we have reached a transition point with the Honors program where people are ready to look forward.”

On July 26, a University Communications press release announced Barco was stepping down from her position as Honors Program director. As of Aug. 16, she has returned to a faculty teaching and research position in the Department of English Language and Literature. 

Barco was appointed as director for a three-year term from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2023 by former Provost Mary Schutten. She replaced Phame Camarena in the role, who is now the dean of New Mexico State University's William Conroy Honors College.

The Honors Program Director is responsible for chairing the Honors Council as a non-voting member, as well as course scheduling, overseeing the Centralis scholarship program and developing honors-designated courses.

Before she was the Honors Program director, Barco was the Cultural and Global Studies program director. She was also a Presidential Administrative Fellow for the 2019-20 academic year.

Patty Williamson, the chairperson of the Honors Council, will serve as interim director. To find a permanent replacement for Barco, Harris said Patton will meet with the Honors Council early this fall to review the position's description and set up a timeline for the search.