OPINION COLUMNS

President’s antics threaten college’s reputation

By Roy J. Eaton | Published Saturday, June 18, 2016
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I have often been accused of dreaming up things to worry about, but I am concerned about the reputation and management of Weatherford College.

Apparently, I am the only one who is concerned because after every issue comes to light, Weatherford College Board Chair Frank Martin expresses the opinion that the board is 100 percent behind college President Kevin Eaton and his management team.

Roy J. Eaton

Roy J. Eaton

Dr. Eaton has long been at odds with Wise County commissioners over the amount of money allocated to the college each year for the operation of the Wise County branch campus. He contends the county isn’t giving the college the full 5-cent tax rate approved by voters, and he is correct.

For several years, county commissioners have shaved a few tenths of a cent off the 5-cent rate – giving the college about 4.6 cents in fiscal year 2016- saving about $250,000 this year.

But commissioners continually complain that Eaton never shows up at budget hearings, only sending the two well-liked local administrators to ask for the money. His relationship with County Judge J.D. Clark has been tense and disrespectful.

We have also been told by several Weatherford faculty members that Eaton went on a tirade against Wise County during his speech at a fall convocation last year. The professors said they were embarrassed and shocked by the tone of the speech.

At a recent meeting of the Weatherford College board a board member remarked that maybe the college should be seeking an “exit strategy” from Wise County. A female voice, apparently a college administrator, said that was under consideration.

Later college officials said there were no plans to abandon the Wise County campus.

The financial management of the college came into question last year when the Texas College Coordinating Board discovered Weatherford had been incorrectly collecting funds for high school students enrolled in WC extension classes. That mistake cost the college $1.5 million that they will have to pay back to the state over a period of time. If the Weatherford College board was upset about the accounting mistakes, they never said so.

Last week the Weatherford Democrat unleashed a critical story that alleged Eaton was less than forthcoming in his job application to the college. The report alleged Eaton had said he was a certified public accountant, but the Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants said he was not.

“After he was hired by Weatherford College, Eaton continued to provide false or misleading information about his professional qualifications, including during sworn testimony required as part of a lawsuit involving the college,” reporter Christin Coyne wrote.

In response, Eaton said he had been hired as a staff accountant for a Houston firm but conceded he had never taken the exams to become a certified public accountant.

“I didn’t intend to represent myself as a CPA,” Eaton told the newspaper.

Board Chairman Martin said he didn’t think the CPA question was an issue and said Eaton had never represented that he was a CPA to him personally.

“I would say that he has been nothing but honest as far as I know with all the other board members. It is 100 percent behind him in all the things he has done,” Martin told the newspaper.

Another issue that the newspaper brought to light is a misdemeanor conviction of Eaton in Colorado in 2002, before he was hired as a teacher at Weatherford College. The conviction, which resulted in a two-year probation and community service sentence, involved a domestic disturbance with a former girlfriend, according to police reports.

Eaton said he told former Weatherford College President Don Huff about the incident before he was hired, but Huff told the newspaper he “didn’t remember” Eaton telling him, but that was “not to say he didn’t.” Martin said that Eaton told him about the misdemeanor conviction before he was appointed president.

Anger management is a serious issue. Often we deal with readers who are angry about a story they feel is unfair or puts them in a bad light.

In 2012, Kevin Eaton unleashed an angry tirade against one of our reporters over a story about the EMT and law enforcement training programs being cut just before the new campus opened.

“I have never been talked to like that before in my life,” the reporter said.

The sad thing about all this is that in my dealings with Eaton I have found him to be cordial and very knowledgeable about the role that community colleges play in the education of our children.

As late as Tuesday, after the Weatherford Democrat story, he came to the Wise County campus to sign agreements that will allow Midwestern State University to teach upper level courses at WCWC. Despite the obvious “elephant in the room,” he was cordial and thanked WCWC Associate Dean Matt Joiner publicly for his work in securing this important, new educational benefit for Wise County students.

For the future of Weatherford College, I am concerned that parents who read these stories will think twice before sending their teenagers off to a college where serious ethical and financial breaches appear to just seem “normal” to the elected board of directors.

That is a serious mistake.

Roy Eaton is publisher of the Messenger.

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