A month after a no-confidence vote against its president, Inver Hills Community College is facing another uproar, this time over the decision to ban a popular sociology instructor and union activist from campus.
Dave Berger, who has taught at Inver Hills since 1991, said he was notified last week that he was being placed on indefinite “investigatory leave” and told not to return to campus.
Berger, 52, who is the grievance representative for the faculty union, said that he was given no reason for the action and that he was told not to discuss the case with students or co-workers. “I have no idea what the reason is, and it’s just freaking me out,” he said.
He declined to speculate on the motivation, but supporters are suggesting that it was retaliation for his role in the union’s no-confidence vote against President Tim Wynes on Jan. 25. The union has blamed Wynes for low morale and criticized his spending decisions and budget cuts.
Wynes could not be reached for comment Friday. But a spokeswoman denied that the action was a response to Berger’s union activism. “A complaint was brought forward and we are looking into it,” said Erin Edlund, the director of advancement, marketing and public relations. “President Wynes and the rest of the administrative team at Inver Hills would not retaliate against an employee based on their union activity.” She declined to go into specifics, calling it a personnel matter.
Officials at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system declined to talk about Berger’s case, referring all questions to Inver Hills. But MnSCU issued a statement, saying: “Employees being placed on investigatory leave may not be provided the details of a complaint for several reasons such as securing the integrity of the investigation and protecting the rights of both the accused as well as the complainant.”
This week, one of Berger’s former students created a Facebook page, “Bring Berger Back,” to pressure the college to reverse course. “Nobody, including the faculty, really knows what’s going on,” said Jeremy McCouch, 21, a psychology major at Inver Hills. “He’s not allowed to have contact with anybody.”
The Facebook page, which had garnered more than 325 “likes” as of Friday evening, says: “We strongly condemn the heavy handed tactics that have been used by the administration to silence Dave and intimidate other faculty members who might feel the need to speak out.”
David Riggs, the faculty union president, said he could not comment on the details of the case. But he noted that the union has an active grievance against the administration in connection with a previous investigation of Berger’s union activities.
The union’s website also states that faculty members and staff have faced “intimidation and threats of reprisal” for criticizing the college administration.
Berger said he plans to fight to keep his job. In the meantime, he said, he’s most upset about being cut off from his students. “I can’t even tell the students about the results on their last test,” he said. “I’ve been cut off of the [campus] e-mail, and they’ve probably been trying to contact me.”
The ban also means he can’t appear in a campus play that makes its debut next week. “This is what you call poetic justice,” he said with a laugh. He noted that the play, “Enemy of the People,” is about a whistleblower who is persecuted for exposing a town’s dirty secret. “I was the bad guy in that. Now somehow I switched roles.”