Two weeks after St. Paul College faculty staged a protest, the community college's president abruptly announced Thursday that he will retire next month.
Late last year, an accreditation team investigated concerns by faculty who said the school's president's leadership style "is grounded in fear and intimidation." The Higher Learning Commission accreditation team, which was conducting a routine 10-year review, said it confirmed that employees feared reprisal if they spoke candidly and were concerned about remaining anonymous if they provided information.
In a letter to the college community on Thursday, school President Rassoul Dastmozd explained he will retire effective June 30, but didn't say why he was leaving the college, which is part of the Minnesota State school system.
"It has been an honor and privilege to serve our faculty, staff, students, and community since 2011 as the President/CEO of St. Paul College," he said in his announcement. He noted that his early retirement will allow for a smooth transition for his successor.
Devinder Malhotra, chancellor of the Minnesota State school system, said he will recommend an interim president at the board of trustees' June meeting. He invited people to express interest in the job or nominate others.
A search for a permanent president would begin in the fall, Malhotra said. "Before we launch the search, I will visit the campus to meet with students, faculty, and staff to listen and learn about the leadership characteristics that the college needs to fulfill its mission," he said in a letter Thursday to the college community.
On April 16, some of the school's faculty gathered in solidarity, according to a Facebook post on the Minnesota State College Faculty page. The post states: "A truly courageous show of solidarity by Saint Paul College faculty who walked in together for 'mutual respect, support, appreciation, and honor' and to move their college forward. #SPCForward."
Mindy Travers, who teaches business at the school and is president of the faculty union on campus, said there's been a fear of reprisal for those who speak candidly. Staff turnover is high because of the president's leadership style and the culture that it created, she said.
The accreditation team noted it received an anonymous complaint about Dastmozd's leadership style from a faculty member before its October 2018 visit. The report noted that the complaint also was formally addressed in a harassment claim.
The concerns noted in the report required college administrators to appear earlier this week in a hearing before the Institutional Actions Council.
The accreditation team noted in its report that some employees feared retribution for speaking out or questioning the status quo. "Faculty reported their voices were not heard and that there is a general lack of transparency throughout the institution. Faculty also indicated that even the budget itself is not publicly available," the report states.
Travers said the report paints a dire picture of what the work climate has been like. "The problems in the report go back to one person, and that's the college president," she said. "There's been a lot of turmoil for employees."
And yet, those who have stayed have continued to do their jobs well, Travers said. "It remains," she said, "an excellent place for learning. … We're excited about a new beginning."
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788