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Employee unrest blindsides college boss

Red River head says she's not going anywhere

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'I was not given any warning' — Red River College president Stephanie Forsyth

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'I was not given any warning' — Red River College president Stephanie Forsyth Photo Store

Red River College president Stephanie Forsyth is under siege by her own employees -- yet wondering Friday what all the fuss could possibly be about.

Forsyth said Friday demands from unionized workers for a leadership review completely ambushed her.

"I was not given any warning" and was not copied on a letter from the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union president Michelle Gawronsky sent to Red River's board of governors, Forsyth said.

The letter points to a $2-million shortfall in the college's budget and the departure of senior staff, and alleges exceedingly low campus morale and a lack of confidence in RRC's leadership.

'I was not given any warning' -- Red River College president Stephanie Forsyth

Education and Advanced Learning Minister James Allum has sent his own, and Finance Department staff, to look into the allegations, said an aide; Allum received "a number of serious allegations about financial and human-resource issues at Red River College. The minister has a responsibility to look into the allegations, which is why he immediately directed his department to undertake a review into those allegations."

Forsyth said she has been in constant communication with her board since the union letter arrived Thursday morning. She told students and staff in a school-wide memo Friday the board will contact MGEU to hear its concerns.

"The (MGEU) memo is from the regional office, not the local office," Forsyth said. "We've enjoyed quite a good relationship with the union."

The union letter does not even define leadership or refer to her by name, said Forsyth, who is on a five-year contract that expires in October 2015.

Red River staff said the board of governors was not available for interviews Friday.

"Leadership isn't for the faint of heart," Forsyth said with a chuckle, declaring she isn't going anywhere: "We've got lots to do. I'm very excited."

Forsyth said Red River is running a $2-million shortfall on a $175-million budget, but expects to balance it by the end of the fiscal year June 30, mainly through vacancy management.

Budget shortfalls are increasingly routine for universities and colleges, whose best-case scenarios aren't covered by government operating grants and capped tuition. Universities typically tell faculties months ahead to prepare budgets contingent on having less money than the year before.

Forsyth would not discuss the "professional and personal reasons" around the departure of Stan Chung, academic and research vice-president, who came to Red River from British Columbia barely a year ago. Chung could not be reached Friday.

Forsyth contended there has been nothing unusual about the number of administrators who have left during her tenure -- they've had career changes, some have retired, some were at the end of contracts, some left for family reasons, she said.

Forsyth told the Red River community in her memo there have been "grossly exaggerated" media reports about her salary.

The union said Friday afternoon it wants to meet with both the college board of governors and Forysth.

"Over the past several months, many MGEU members have been vocal in expressing concern over the direction and decision-making of senior leadership at Red River College," said MGEU spokesman John Baert.

"The MGEU's elected leadership felt it was important to bring those concerns to the RRC board chair. We intend to meet with the RRC president and the minister of education and advanced learning to discuss the situation. Our members feel invested in the future of RRC, its reputation, and the quality of programs provided to students, and we are willing to fully participate in any way we can to ensure those things are protected and maintained," said Baert.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2014 A9

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