Attorney: LMC prez looking to respond

Published 9:13 am Friday, April 15, 2016

Lake Michigan College President Jennifer Spielvogel is looking forward to having an opportunity to present her side of the story after being suspended last week by the college’s board of trustees, according to her attorney.

The board suspended Spielvogel with pay during a special meeting April 8, pending a just cause hearing for her possible termination. That date has not been determined.

In the meeting, the board expressed several concerns with her leadership, including that she violated policy and had unapproved and unauthorized costs expensed to the college.

“As a recognized leader in higher education for more than 30 years, Dr. Spielvogel was looking forward to leading LMC and expanding its reputation in the lakeshore community,” said Grand Rapids attorney Brad Glazier in a press release. “She is disappointed to know that she may be denied the opportunity to serve LMC’s students, faculty and administration.”

Glazier, in a phone interview, said his client first became aware of the board’s concerns a few days before the special meeting was held. She learned about it, he said, upon being asked some questions by an attorney for the college.

However, Glazier said Spielvogel was not given an opportunity to respond to the board’s concerns or make any sort of presentation at the special meeting.

The board discussed the matter in a closed session for two hours before voting unanimously to suspend Spielvogel pending a just cause hearing.

In meeting minutes, the board said it believes just cause may exist to support her termination based upon the following factors:

• Inadequate goals and objectives

• Unapproved and unauthorized costs expensed to the college

• Policy violations

• Renovations to the president’s office

• Her planned inauguration

• Purchase of a chain of office medallion

• Improper management behavior

• Improper comments

• Lack of professionalism

According to meeting minutes, board trustee Stephen Small made this comment after the decision was made: “It is with a heavy heart that just three months ago we were really happy and thought for sure we made the right choice, and now it’s ashes. Hurts a lot.”

Board Chair Mary Jo Tomasini then commented that she “is very disappointed,” according to meeting minutes.

When contacted via email for additional comment, Tomasini said:

“As a public institution of higher learning, Lake Michigan College sincerely values, respects and upholds the rights held by media organizations and members of the general public to access public information. In fact, our remarkably engaged and informed constituency is part of what makes Lake Michigan College so special.

“As stewards of the college, we have a responsibility to preserve and protect its resources. The college is in the midst of a sensitive legal issue and is following due process to determine a resolution through a hearing that will take place in less than thirty days.

“Releasing details in excess of the facts and statements already published regarding this unfortunate situation in the meantime, not only places the college at unnecessary legal risk, but also compromises our obligation to protect the rights of an individual who is still employed by LMC and deserving of respect.

“Should Dr. Spielvogel want the public to have access to additional information, it is her right to request an open just cause hearing. Both parties are currently working to finalize the date, which will be communicated publicly.”

Glazier said he and his client have yet to receive any documentation supporting the board’s allegations.

“In order for there to be any due process we are entitled to some specificity in regard to the charges,” he said. “I am hopeful that we will get some documents. I am surprised that we haven’t already received some documents.”

Glazier said the reasons for the suspension primarily relate to expenditures incurred by his client during her first 90 days in office.

Specifically, Glazier said the board was critical that Spielvogel incurred travel expenses for attending a national higher education conference where she was an invited presenter. He also said the board was critical of typical expenditures related to establishing the office of the president.

“Instead of denying the expense items or reviewing college’s travel expense policy, the board appears poised to terminate Spielvogel’s employment,” he stated in the release.

Under the terms of her employment agreement with LMC, Spielvogel is entitled to be paid through the end of the contract (June 30, 2018), unless LMC can prove that it had just cause for the termination.

Glazier said he expects his client will have an opportunity to present her side of the story to the board during the just cause hearing. However, he said he and his client would not be allowed to cross-examine any witnesses called by the college.

Glazier said if the board votes to terminate Spielvogel’s employment at the hearing and fails to pay her what is due under her contract, she could file suit for breach of contract and seek damages for her wrongful termination.

Spielvogel was hired in January to succeed retiring president Robert Harrison after 16 years of service.