Degree or No Degree

Chattanooga State president under fire for hiring as a top aide someone he met in Barbados who had not yet formally earned her college degree.

October 28, 2014
Chattanooga State President Jim Catanzaro, author of 'Spiritual Surfing: Riding Life’s Turbulent Waves to Victory'

Jim Catanzaro, the longtime president of Chattanooga State Community College, met Lisa Haynes, now a top aide, in Barbados.

He later hired Haynes, a native of the island nation, for a newly created job. At the time, she didn't have a college degree. Then he bumped her pay up to $108,000 this year. Now, roughly a third of the college's faculty have backed a no confidence vote in Catanzaro’s leadership and the hiring has drawn scrutiny from state higher education regulators.

Catanzaro, who has been president of the 13,000-student community college in Tennessee for 25 years as of Nov. 1, said he met Haynes while he was visiting the island nation.

Haynes, he said, thought she had graduated from Duquesne University with a marketing degree in 2005.

She applied for one job -- associate vice president for fund development -- and didn’t get it, Catanzaro said. Then she applied for another, senior executive assistant to Catanzaro. She got that job. But when she was hired last fall, she had not actually been awarded her degree by Duquesne. Now, she also has another title: chief innovations officer.

The president blames the college's decision to hire a top administrator who lacked a degree on an inadvertent mix-up: Haynes was given a choice to graduate with one of two majors. She picked marketing but did not have all of the requirements, even though she did have the requirements to graduate with a business communications degree. She apparently thought she graduated, but she technically hadn’t.

This month, Duquesne retroactively awarded Haynes her degree after it “concluded that Ms. Haynes should appropriately have been awarded her degree in 2005 based on the curriculum she completed,” according to a Duquesne spokeswoman.

That was too late, though, for Chattanooga faculty members, who wonder how she got hired without a degree to begin with. Her pay also raised eyebrows.

“It was the fact that she didn’t have the credentials and then it was the amount of pay assigned to her,” said Faculty Senate President Kenneth Goldsmith. “From the faculty perspective, it was, ‘Wow.’ ”

Goldsmith said departments can’t hire adjuncts unless they have the right degrees. Otherwise, colleges risk running afoul of accreditors.

“Whether she has the degree now retroactively or not didn’t take away from the faculty position that she wasn’t qualified," Goldsmith said.

A spokeswoman for the Tennessee Board of Regents said she was unaware of any executive-level job in the system, which includes Chattanooga State, that does not require a degree.

Chief innovations officer is a new position at the university -- one Haynes took on in June, after the title was approved by the college’s board.

Catanzaro said her job was to help build an entrepreneurial culture at Chattanooga State. He said, among other things, that she’s working with the University of West Indies in Barbados to bring Barbadians to Chattanooga.

Catanzaro said he was in Barbados visiting the ambassador to the country when he met Haynes. The ambassador, Larry Palmer, has a house in Chattanooga, Catanzaro said, though his official residence is in Barbados.

“She is able to penetrate that culture and that’s of tremendous assistance,” Catanzaro said.

Haynes is originally from Barbados. The questions over her degree had temporarily jeopardized her visa to work in the United States, Goldsmith said.

The Tennessee Board of Regents expanded an annual audit of the college once it heard questions about Haynes's hiring, Catanzaro said.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported the situation is being examined by both the regents and the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury.

Catanzaro said he’s received pushback before in his 25 years at the college. The president, who made $190,000 in 2013, said in a telephone interview that perhaps he should not have given Haynes the extra $15,000 stipend she got on top of her $93,000 base salary. Haynes and a vice president both received $15,000 stipends because they picked up responsibilities from a departing vice president.

“I didn’t give them at a good time; it was unwise of me to do it,” the president said, especially given the faculty's hopes for salary increases that haven't come.

While about 71 of the college's 240 faculty backed a no confidence vote, student representatives are standing with Catanzaro.

Student Government Association President Emily McElroy, who is getting an associate of science in chemistry, said faculty were “jumping to extreme conclusions based on rumors” in their opposition to Catanzaro.

“We’re going to back the administration until all facts are in,” she said.


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