Larry Lambert, the college’s Online Instructional Support Specialist and Blackboard expert, was put on indefinite paid administrative leave and escorted off campus by Director of Human Resources Marvin Castillo. Lambert said he was given no reason why he was placed on leave.
“I was blown away,” he said. “I asked him ‘can you tell me why you are doing this?’ and he said ‘no I can’t.’ I read the letter (Castillo gave me) and I saw that I had to give him my keys. I had to leave my computers in my office. I was told that I can’t pick up any of my personal stuff except for my phone and (Castillo) said that he had to escort me off campus.”
Lambert has worked at Southwestern College for 17 years and in higher education for 30 years. He is generally held in high regard by faculty who rely on him to keep Blackboard running smoothly.
Last year Lambert was vocal about his concerns with the transition from Blackboard to Canvas, which he opposed. In an article published in The Sun last year, “Blackboard erased by Academic Senate,” Lambert insisted that it was an unfair comparison between Canvas and Blackboard Ultra.
“Blackboard has a brand new version that’s coming out and it won’t be ready really until summer, possibly fall,” he said. “What the Academic Senate is going to compare with Canvas is ridiculous because that version is going to be gone shortly after they decide to make the decision. They’re going to try to make Blackboard command demo a system that’s not ready to be shown yet.”
Canvas is slated to replace Blackboard by spring 2018.
Castillo said under the terms of the labor contract he was not allowed to divulge information about Lambert’s situation.
“I am unable to talk to you about any ongoing personnel actions,” he said. “I can’t even confirm that Mr. Lambert is on administrative leave.”
Lambert said Castillo personally handed him his notice and escorted Lambert off the premises. He also said he was cut off from all campus communication.
“I can’t use any of the campus resources,” he said. “My email was shut down. I’m not supposed to come on the premises or be any way associated with the campus, and I’m supposed to have my cell phone and be available for a phone call during regular business hours for the entire time of whatever suspension that I have.”
SWC’s classified union contract states: “From time to time it may be necessary for the District to place a classified employee on paid administrative leave. This may be to investigate a matter, to facilitate organizational actions, or to address other issues of a temporary or transitory nature. Administrative leave is NOT discipline and employees so placed are not to be stigmatized or otherwise negatively affected based solely on being on this form of leave.”
Lambert contacted his union, the California School Employees Association. CSEA president Matthew Millus said he was only able to confirm the personnel action placed on Lambert.
“I can only say that Mr. Lambert is on paid administrative leave pending conclusion of a fact-finding investigation,” Millus said. “The district has not divulged the scope of the investigation, nor is the district obligated to at this point. Mr. Lambert has the full support of the chapter leadership in resolving this situation and restoring the support for distance education and Blackboard. We are awaiting contact from the district to determine the appropriate course of action.”
Lambert said he is suffering great distress.
“I’m feeling some extreme stress and I already have physical problems that have surfaced because of stress over the last couple of years with everything that is going on with the college,” he said. “I have (an) arrhythmic heart and inflammation in my gastrointestinal tract and my lungs.”
Lambert said he has had a long and successful career at SWC. He is the recipient of a national award called “Blackboard MVP” recognizing his talent as a Blackboard administrator. He was also presented the Southwestern College Sun Champion of Journalism Students Award at the 2014 Celebration of the Sun.
“I’ve been in higher education for 30 years and have never been treated this badly. Ever.”
Story originally published in print on March 6th.