College director on leave, pending investigation

Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2001

WASILLA (AP) -- The director of the Matanuska-Susitna College has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into complaints about his management style and personal behavior, university officials said Wednesday.

Stephen Sylvester was hired last fall to head the college, which has about 1,500 students and is part of the University of Alaska.

The investigation, called a campus assessment, began about three weeks ago after complaints were sent to university president Mark Hamilton, said university spokesman Mel Kalkowski said.

The concerns included anonymous letters complaining about offensive jokes and comments allegedly made by Sylvester. Sylvester, reached by phone Wednesday, said he had not heard any of the complaints and would not comment.

This is not Sylvester's first brush with trouble in academia.

Among the documents sent to the university president were copies of newspaper articles about Sylvester's experience at Montana State University-Northern. He was employed there as a professor and dean of the College and Arts and Sciences before getting hired by the University of Alaska for the Mat-Su campus.

According to the Montana campus newspaper, ''Northern Light,'' 13 of the 24 faculty members Sylvester supervised signed a petition in March 2000 asking that he be removed as dean.

He also was sued by a former professor who accused Sylvester of ripping down flyers that had been posted on bulletin boards advertising a speech on campus the professor was giving. Sylvester recently lost an appeal in the case.

Members of an Alaska search committee who recommended Sylvester along with two other candidates for the job at Mat-Su say they were not aware of the problems he had in Montana.

''We would have appreciated knowing all those things at Montana before we hired him,'' said Barb Mishler, an English professor at Mat-Su college who served on the committee.

The university's assessment of Sylvester was ordered by UAA Chancellor Lee Gorsuch. The assessment team is interviewing faculty, students and staff members and will forward its report to the chancellor.

Those serving on the team are Soren Orley, the associate vice chancellor for budget and finance; Ron Kamahele, human resources services consultant; and Jim Liska, philosophy professor and past president of the faculty senate.

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