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Language Arts Lab staffers threaten to quit if coordinator is replaced in May

GRCC's Language Arts Tutorial Lab in Cook Hall (Alena Visnovsky/The Collegiate).

A group of Grand Rapids Community College Language Arts Lab staffers are demanding answers after learning that Maria McKee, interim Tutorial Coordinator, is going to be replaced in May.

According to Language Arts tutor Brooke Plummer, over half of the staff members in the Language Arts tutorial lab have come together to call for the college’s swift response.

“We’ve made it clear that failure to heed our demands will result in the immediate loss of more than half of current staff,” Plummer said. “So if Maria goes, we go.”

On March 17, The Collegiate reached out to Mckee who explained that she wasn’t fired and will continue her position as Tutorial Coordinator until May 5.

“I just want to clarify that I wasn’t terminated, these were the conditions of my contract,” stated McKee.

According to Plummer, McKee had no knowledge of the ultimatum until The Collegiate reached out for comment.

“We had a group email that was just between us tutors, because Maria has no knowledge of this at all. So we took the initiative to have a meeting and see, what can we do about this,” said Plummer. “We were not going to sit idly by without doing everything we could to preserve her position, and at the very least answer these questions and change things within the contract to make them more relevant within the staff now and let them know that we are paying attention.”

According to Plummer, McKee has been an indispensable part of the Language Arts tutorial lab for over three years, navigating the chaos of the pandemic and putting her students and employees first.

“She just single-handedly created everything to be remote so students could still get their work in. She scanned chapters of textbooks that students had said they needed. She went out of her way just wanting to help the students,” said Plummer. “In late summer my health took a sudden decline, which resulted in me moving back near my hometown. Maria personally set up accommodations for remote work while I was in recovery.”

Despite McKee’s understanding of her contract, her staff disagreed with her imminent dismissal. 

“It was just a matter of this person who was the previous coordinator said, ‘actually I am coming back,’ and it was a very quick exchange. It was (a) shock, we were all in shock,” said Plummer. 

“(We) are questioning in great scrutiny the contract policies that GRCC employees have… There seems to be a hiccup or just not full transparency in what contract policies provide for (interim) employees because there was a coordinator previously who was able to just take back the role without really giving any explanation, without any notice and it meant that it was going to uproot Maria’s entire life.”

Upon learning of McKee’s ending contract, the staff at the Language Arts lab began crafting a letter for GRCC President Charles Lepper and the Dean and Associate Dean of Student Success, Eric Mullen and Anna Isackson. The letter sent on March 17 stated two possible solutions demanded by the staff.

“Our demands are twofold, in order of preference… Offer Maria a permanent position as the rightful Language Arts Tutorial Lab Coordinator… If, for whatever reason, Maria is not offered a permanent contract based on her successful track record alone, we demand the position of Lab Coordinator be published as an official GRCC job posting, which Maria can apply to and interview for.” 

The letter was signed by nine Language Arts lab tutors and was sent out on Friday, March 17. According to Plummer, McKee had no knowledge of this ultimatum.

The Collegiate contacted Mullen over email for a comment to which he stated, “It will take time, likely toward the end of day on Monday at least, to prepare a response and address the concerns and requests in the letter shared by Language Arts tutors.”

The Collegiate also reached out to President Lepper and Communications Director Dave Murray. Murray responded by email, stating, “It would be inappropriate to discuss a specific employee’s situation.”

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