BCC Board Terminates Sweet’s Employment
By Space Coast Daily // April 18, 2013
Board of Trustees votes 3-1 to terminate
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Upon review of a three month investigation by Brevard Community College officials, the BCC Board of Trustees voted 3-1 to terminate the employment of Associate Professor Sharon Sweet, who was accused of encouraging students in her math class to sign cards pledging to vote for Democratic candidates in the 2012 November election.
Sweet, a tenured math professor, has been on suspension with pay since September pending final disposition of the case.
Originally investigated on four charges, Sweet was judged to have violated two – including prohibition of BCC employees from soliciting for political candidates on campus, and the policy that requires employees to conduct themselves professionally.
According to a BCC statement, Sweet was investigated on the following allegations of misconduct:
• Professor Sweet’s support for political candidates during work hours violated College policy that prohibits an employee from soliciting political support for a political candidate during regular work hours or on College property.
The investigation found that Professor Sweet strongly encouraged or mandated that students from several classes sign a pledge card that stated, “I pledge to vote for President Obama and Democrats up and down the ticket.”
She also misrepresented her intentions to multiple students, indicating at various times that she was conducting voter registration for the college, that the pledge cards were non-partisan voter registration forms, and that the pledge was a “statistical analysis.”
Such actions violate Section 500.1(B), BCC Board of Governance Manual.
• Professor Sweet’s in-class voicing of her political views and actions regarding the distribution of political pledge cards created a hostile academic environment that violated College policy which governs workplace behavior. The investigation found that Professor Sweet’s actions caused students to feel considerable discomfort, to believe their privacy was being invaded, to fear their grade could be negatively impacted if they refused to sign the pledge cards, and to feel intimidated.
Such actions constitute harassment, incompetence, misconduct and unprofessional behavior in the workplace in violation of Section 308.3, BCC Procedures Manual, and Section 400.4, BCC Board Policy Governance Manual.
• Professor Sweet performed below the expected standards of employee comportment and accepted productive work standards.
The investigation’s evidence calls into question Professor Sweet’s compliance with college policy in compromising student learning time in class to impose her personal political beliefs, and misrepresenting her intentions regarding the distribution of partisan political pledge cards in class. Such conduct violates the College’s Employee Comportment requirements, set forth in Section 500.1 (D), BCC Board Policy Governance Manual, and 308.1, BCC Procedures Manual.
• Taken in its totality, Professor Sweet’s conduct constitutes “just cause” for termination based on Article 17.1(b) of the agreement between the District Board of Trustees of Brevard Community College and the United Faculty of Florida, 2012-2015. The college has notified Professor Sweet of the investigation’s findings and recommendation for her dismissal. She has 10 college working days to respond in writing.
The BCC statement said that all students in the five math classes that she was teaching at the time were contacted and asked to participate in a voluntary written survey regarding the incident and her actions in class. Some 43 of the 85 students enrolled agreed to participate. The findings showed that Professor Sweet’s actions violated several College policies. As a result, BCC President, Dr. Jim Richey, will recommend to the Board of Trustees that Professor Sweet be dismissed from employment at the College.
WILL APPEAL THE BCC BOARD DECISION
Addressing the BCC board, Sweet stated that she didn’t see the partisan part of the pledge card. Sweet’s attorney, Thomas Brooks, indicated that he will appeal the board’s decision.