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Interview: Professor and union negotiator on Lake-Sumter State College's decision to fire him


Lake-Sumter State College has fired one of the faculty’s chief negotiators working on their first union contract with the college this summer.

There’s an administrative hearing on the case Thursday, Sept. 9, in Clermont.

The assistant professor, David Walton, has a PhD in archaeology and taught at Lake-Sumter for six years. On Wednesday, he told me how he learned he was being fired.


DAVID WALTON: It was quite shocking for me. I received an invitation to meet with the college president in early June, and I had no idea what the purpose of that invitation to meet with the president was. And I was actually out of town visiting family in Ohio. And I reported that I couldn't make the meeting but I would be happy to do a virtual meeting.

And the next morning, I received, completely out of nowhere, a termination letter. And that was very strange considering I was awarded continuing contract, last spring, in spring 2020, and I was not expecting to lose my position.

WMFE: From what I've heard and what I've read, there aren't any issues of misconduct or anything like that that's going on, right?

DAVID WALTON: That is correct.

WMFE: Well, they have to have some reason. What reason did the president give you?

DAVID WALTON: I was not given a reason at first, and then about two weeks later, I was given an explanation that the vice president of academic affairs, Michael Vitale, was sitting in his office one day and he did a review of teaching histories of individual faculty members at the college, full-time faculty, and he had an individual, personal concern about the specific courses I was teaching and he apparently deemed that individual, personal concern over the specific courses I was teaching, deemed that worthy enough to immediately terminate my continuing contract.

WMFE: One of the things that strikes me is that there would be ways to go about this if, if he's unhappy with the courses that you're teaching. I mean, there's a solution other than firing you. I mean ... did you talk with them about that?

DAVID WALTON: There was never a conversation of what the vice president is alleging were his concerns. And in the depositions that we took on August 13, he admitted that he did not even look at my performance evaluations, my annual performance evaluations, and he did not speak with any other of the deans or academic staff officials below him in the hierarchy to sort of understand the context of my teaching history and why it was the way it was.

WMFE: Now, you have been involved with United Faculty of Florida. Correct?

DAVID WALTON: That is correct, with Lake-Sumter. Yep, that is correct.

WMFE: From what I can understand, when this all happened, you were one of the two chief negotiators for the first union contract. Do you believe that that's part of the reason this is happening?

DAVID WALTON: So, right, there's the difference between belief and what can actually be pursued as a legal strategy. We are not including that in the legal strategy for my case. However, deep down, I think it's hard not to imagine how my role in negotiating for my colleagues and standing up for them to the administration, difficult to imagine that that plays no role in this decision.

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.