Much misinformation and misunderstanding exists about the case of John Miller, the part-time instructor who was terminated from his job at Hancock College in August, 2015. The Executive Board of the Part-Time Faculty Association wants to get the truth out to the campus community.
On July 28, 2015, John Miller asked for, and got, permission from his supervisor to take a pellet pistol along when he took his EMS class on a hike into a wilderness area close to the Lompoc Campus. Rattlesnakes are known to live there and John’s intent was to use the pellet pistol to protect his students if one appeared. The pellet pistol remained in John’s backpack during the hike and was never shown to the students.
However, when John’s Dean, Rick Rantz, learned of the pellet pistol being taken on this hike he accused John of endangering his students and violating school policies. At a meeting on August 3, 2015, in the presence of Vice-President Railey as well as Mark James Miller and Richard Baker from the Part-Time Faculty Association, he informed John that while he appreciated John’s more than 10 years of excellent work as a part-time instructor, he was nonetheless firing him from his job. John repeatedly attempted to explain why he had taken the pellet pistol along on the hike and that he had gotten permission from his supervisor to take it along, but to no avail. Each time he tried to explain he was cut off in mid-sentence, and in a meeting that lasted approximately 10 minutes, he was terminated from his employment at Hancock College.
The PFA fought this through the grievance process, but to no avail. When those means were exhausted we took the case to arbitration. Both the District and the PFA agreed on having a well-respected, experienced state licensed arbitrator named Paul Crost hear the case. On January 19, 2017, the arbitration hearing took place. Both sides presented their evidence and called witnesses, which were cross-examined by the other side’s attorney. After the arbitration hearing, attorneys for both sides filed briefs, summarizing their positions.
On April 7, 2017, the arbitrator rendered his decision (click to read). He found the District did not have “just and sufficient cause” to terminate John Miller. He ruled that John should be rehired and given back pay, to make up for all the pay he missed since August 2015.
The Board of Trustees and the Administration refused to accept this ruling. At a special meeting on April 25, 2017, the Board heard President Walthers restate the Administration’s case against John Miller. He repeated many of the arguments that the arbitrator had already rebuffed, as well as new ones that hadn’t been presented before.
It did not hear from John Miller. Now living in Tennessee, (a fact the Board should have been aware of, if they transcripts of the arbitration hearing) John was only given three days’ notice that this “special meeting” would be taking place. He lacks the financial means to make another trip to California. Besides, in his mind as well as ours, the case had already been heard before a “fair and impartial” arbitrator. To say that the Board of Trustees is going to be fair and impartial in a matter like this, in which the president has put his personal prestige more or less on the line, is as silly as saying General Custer was fair and impartial to the Native Americans. Before the “hearing” had even started, Board President Pensa expressed his “outrage” that John Miller wasn’t there.
In a 4—1 vote, the board overturned the arbitrator’s decision and ruled that John Miller will not be rehired. It is, in a tacit admission of guilt, offering him $10,000 in “partial back pay.” It is unclear, as of this writing, whether John will accept this offer. But the true face of the board has been revealed.
A few days after this, President Walthers was overheard saying at an Academic Senate meeting, “We don’t allow guns on campus!” in a cruel and terrible distortion of what took place, as if John Miller is a reckless gunslinger.
Allow us to tell you a little about John Miller. He is a single father, trying to raise his teenage daughter alone. In his 10+ years as an instructor at Hancock, he received nothing but excellent evaluations and two commendations. With his livelihood taken away, he has had to go through his savings and his retirement just to live. When these were exhausted he had to take his daughter out of school here in Santa Maria and move in with relatives in Tennessee, having no other place to turn. Must President Walthers continue to blacken his name and reputation by continuing to distort the truth of what happened?
What has been done cannot be undone. But the truth can be told. And we want everyone else in the campus community to know what really happened and to keep in mind that if the district can do this to one of us they can do it to you too. By overturning the fair and impartial arbitrator’s decision and imposing their own, they have made a mockery not only of justice but of the grievance process. They have stated in no uncertain terms their belief that our collective bargaining agreement is a joke, because in any serious dispute they will fight the case to arbitration and if the ruling goes against them, they will overturn it, thus rendering our contract meaningless.
The John Miller case shows us how important it is to have binding arbitration. Without it, your contract can’t truly be enforced. When it comes to a showdown, the Board can simply overturn any decision that goes against it.
Many community colleges have binding arbitration: Cabrillo, Cuesta, El Comino, Glendale, Los Angeles, Los Rios, Palomar, Peralta, San Diego…The list goes on, while Hancock continues to lag behind.
There will be more information come in regards to what happened to John Miller, but the PFA wanted to get this out to the campus community as soon as it could so we can start spreading the word of the injustice that took place.
The Executive Board of the Part-Time Faculty Association