Education

Professor Says Dallas College Paid $12.3 Million in Severance to Laid-Off Employees

Dallas College professor Richard Menchaca addresses board members on Nov. 9.
Dallas College professor Richard Menchaca addresses board members on Nov. 9. Screenshot/Dallas College
Richard Menchaca came prepared. It was Tuesday, Nov. 9, and the Dallas College professor was armed with a litany of allegations against his employer of 55 years.

Standing before the board of trustees in a black button-down shirt, Menchaca outlined his grievances with the school. He recounted an employee email sent by Chancellor Dr. Joe May promising to instill a workplace culture of care and respect.

Menchaca wasn’t convinced.

“Chancellor May’s version of care and respect is to lay off at least 448 Dallas College employees since March 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic,” he said. “Four-hundred and forty-six of those laid-off employees [were persuaded] by Dallas College into signing non-disclosure agreements, NDAs, in exchange for being paid six months’ — ”

“Mr. Menchaca, your time is up,” a board member interjected. “If you can just wrap it up in 10 seconds or less.”

Had Menchaca finished his remarks, he would have told the room that the NDAs prevent former employees from ever suing the school, or even publicly criticizing it. He would have said the college has dished out more than $12.3 million in taxpayer money in severance pay.

And he would have noted that since March 2020, at least 1,074 Dallas College employees have left the school. On top of the layoffs Menchaca mentioned, hundreds of others have resigned, retired or been fired.

Another 60 full-time faculty have been placed on wind-down contracts because the school plans to eliminate their programs, Menchaca later told the Observer. As an integrated reading and writing professor, he’s on the list, too.

What was once a district composed of seven independently accredited colleges had united under one name in 2020, a move that Menchaca said ultimately took the “community” out of “community college.” He has accused the administration of breeding a toxic work environment where employees are treated as dispensable.

In recent months, many have claimed that Dallas College’s vision of a “one school” operation has come at others’ expense. Menchaca says the college is running like a corporation where faculty are evaluated by “student success,” which is defined by the number of graduates and degrees produced.

In June, one student told FOX 4 that a Dallas College online course didn’t offer any lectures or even list the professor’s name. And earlier this fall — in what Menchaca calls the second-largest voter turnout of the full full-time faculty to date — 71.43% voted “no confidence” in the chancellor. (The school has disputed these numbers, noting that of its 3,200 total faculty members, 266 full-time faculty participated in the vote. But Menchaca says the school is including adjunct professors to skew the numbers.)

Now, Menchaca says he’s fighting for faculty who are too afraid to speak out because of retribution and retaliation. He claims that several of his colleagues have sought therapy and medical care because of work-related stress, a factor which he believes pushed two to suicide. 

"Before all this started, we were a community of brotherhood and fellowship, collaboration and cooperation." – Professor Richard Menchaca

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Following the Nov. 9 meeting, Menchaca accused board members of violating his rights. For one, he said, the rules were changed — without warning — to slash speakers' time limit from 5 minutes to 3 minutes. Given that there were only five speakers, he argued that the adjustment was unreasonable.

But while the first speaker was able to talk for more than five minutes, Menchaca was told to wrap up after three minutes.

The First Amendment allows reasonable time, place and manner restrictions during board meetings, said Adam Steinbaugh, a lawyer with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. In general, board members are allowed to shorten the public comments sections, but it has to be viewpoint neutral. "They can’t change who gets 3 minutes or 5 minutes based on their viewpoint," he said.

Dallas College’s board of trustees fully backed the school’s reformation, which was made for the sake of students and which many faculty also support, spokesperson Alex Lyda said by email.

Merging the colleges meant that organizational changes had to be made, he said.

"As part of the process, educational offerings and services that were duplicated at each college (now campus) became available across multiple campuses, necessitating new staffing levels across the College," he said.

When "staffing redundancies" were spotted, certain roles had to be eliminated, Lyda continued. But the school then offered those employees the chance to "participate in an internal process for an additional 1,800 new roles" that had been created:
"Those employees who were not successful in the internal process (or who did not participate), and whose roles that would not exist in the new structure, were offered individualized severance packages based on years of service.

"Any time an employee separates from Dallas College we are required to have the employee sign a separation agreement that contains confidentiality and other provisions. In exchange for signing a separation agreement per standard procedure, each employee became eligible for one month of severance for each year of service, up to a maximum of six months."
Regardless, Menchaca has other complaints. He wants the board to refrain from nixing three-year rolling contracts for faculty, a proposal that he thinks will face a vote on Tuesday. Eliminating such agreements means that employees won’t have the opportunity to correct mistakes if they mess up, he said.

The removal of three-year contracts would stifle academic freedom, Menchaca added, silencing professors whose views don’t align with the administration’s. Faculty may soft-pedal hard-hitting lectures, which could help them keep their jobs in the short-term but would ultimately hurt student learning.

Still, some faculty disagree with Menchaca. Without naming names during the Nov. 9 meeting, history professor Matt Hinckley apologized to the board for his colleagues’ “embarrass[ing]” conduct. He insisted that the majority of faculty support the consolidation.

But no matter where one lands on the restructuring of Dallas College, most would likely agree that the school’s culture has changed.

“Before all this started, we were a community of brotherhood and fellowship, collaboration and cooperation," Menchaca said. "We’re no longer that.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter