Management and labor?

Management and labor?

Legal questions — and controversy — surrounding the election of a Parkland College faculty member to the college's board of trustees are as predictable as rain in April.

Who's the boss?

Parkland College President Tom Ramage or Parkland faculty member Rochelle Harden?

Well, obviously, Ramage is the boss. But the issue has been turned upside down because Harden, a 12-year member of the English faculty, was among those selected by voters to serve on the college board of trustees in the April 4 election.

So she's now on the verge of becoming both labor and management, Ramage's boss and his employee.

It's difficult to see how that dichotomy stands. But it's easy to predict how it will be sorted out — the courts will be called upon to make a judgment.

From a pure policy standpoint, it's unwise in the extreme to mix the traditional role of a faculty member with the traditional role of a trustee.

The conflicts are both obvious and numerous, nothing that can be washed away by abstaining from a vote or two.

That's why Parkland lawyer Lorna Geiler informed Harden that she cannot, by law, fill both roles and must choose one of two options, resign as a faculty member to serve on the board or vice versa.

Harden, who dismissed the conflict issue during the campaign, is unconvinced. She has consulted a lawyer and reviewed some cases herself and is convinced her case is bulletproof, saying that the state statute Geiler cited "doesn't apply. It doesn't apply. It doesn't apply."

Harden, of course, is entitled to her opinion on the issue. But, unfortunately, she's even extended her argument to suggest there's something personal — even sinister — about the issue being raised.

"Why am I perceived as a threat? I have no idea. Are they afraid that I'm going to go through the books and demand an independent audit? I really don't understand the animosity. I'm disheartened a little bit," she said.

That kind of grandiose rhetoric is as unhelpful as it is unwise. This is business.

The apparent conflict of interest is a more than fair question to raise under these unique circumstances, especially considering Michael Monaghan, Illinois Community College Trustees Association executive director, said it's his opinion that "you cannot serve as both an employee and the boss."

There is, of course, no dispute about Harden's election and her eligibility to assume office. She waged a spirited campaign in the 12-county district and was chosen to fill a six-year term being vacated by outgoing board member Donna Giertz.

(Ironically, Giertz, too, was a faculty member. But she waited to run for the board of trustees until after her retirement as a teacher.)

But while voters are entitled to make their choices as to who serves, they are powerless when it comes to resolving potential conflict issues like the one here. This is a legal issue, not a popularity contest.

It's also a controversy Parkland doesn't need, a pointless distraction from the issues at hand.

That's why it's in the interests of both sides — the college and Harden — to quickly resolve it.

Harden could short-circuit the controversy by resigning from the faculty to serve on the board, an unlikely option given her desire to have her cake and eat it, too. Absent some definitive decision by this aspiring trustee, it's off to court they go.

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