Students appeared before the College of the Mainland Board of Trustees on Monday to protest the ouster of one of their favorite instructors, Nancy House, whose contract to teach papier-mache class in the college’s Lifelong Learning program was recently terminated.
All students were over 50 years old, a requirement for taking classes in the program, and showed up about 20-strong at the afternoon board meeting to express their displeasure.
One who took the podium, Shana Mathew, praised her former teacher, House, for inspiring artistry and whimsy in her students, then held up a headless, life-sized papier-mache dog.
“In the spring of 2019, I signed up for Nancy’s class and started a project, a papier-mache model of a beloved dog I had to put down. I began creating my Mattie,” Mathew said. Later, Mathew said she won’t be able to finish Mattie since House’s class is no longer offered.
The papier-mache class was about more than just paper and glue; she learned armature, musculature and proper structure in House’s class, Mathew said.
“This didn’t just hurt Ms. House, but the whole community,” she said.
Two presentations by House’s former students preceded Mathew’s.
Vicki Soukup, who has been a Lifelong Learning student since she retired from her faculty position in neurology and psychology at University of Texas Medical Branch, characterized House’s dismissal as “an administrative decision seemingly made with no consideration for students.”
“Nancy House resigned as director of the program, then was told her class would be canceled,” Soukup said. “We were stunned, then we were told it was none of our business.”
Soukup went on to praise the program for its value to people in their 60s, 70s and 80s, both for art instruction and to bring people together socially.
“As a clinician, I never thought I’d win a juried art show, and it was all made possible by Nancy House’s papier-mache class,” she said.
Ann Yell who, along with student Claire Rhoads, organized a petition demanding House’s reinstatement that drew 362 signatures, appeared before the board to quash rumors that the petition was instigated by House.
“I’m here to support the return of Nancy House’s class and to request a public apology from the administration,” Yell said.
House was both a student and instructor at the Lifelong Learning program for seven years, and had previously served as its director for a two-year period. She resigned in March because she needed more time at home, she said.
Shortly after, she was informed by an email from the college’s Department of Workforce and Continuing Education that her contract to teach would not be renewed.
“As an adjunct, I was under contract and when the contract’s over, the job is over. I understand that,” House said. “But it was handled very poorly.”
Students who showed up for the board meeting said they disagreed with the administration’s decision to end the class and also with the manner of House’s dismissal.
Dawn Wilcox of La Marque, among others including House, attended a July 10 meeting with President Warren Nichols to address participants in the Lifelong Learning program.
“When I asked why Nancy was fired, he said to me, ‘That’s none of your business,’” Wilcox said.
Nichols could not be reached on Monday afternoon, but the college’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations Bob Wright said the college could not discuss personnel matters publicly.
The college has taken steps to talk with students about the papier-mache class and whether they want to see it continue, and will begin looking for a new teacher if the class is viable, Wright said.
The class has previously had strong enrollment and students from her classes have garnered numerous awards, including Allison Louis of League City whose papier-mache turtle, out of 485 entries in the Texas City Art Show, won the People’s Choice Award, House said.
“We understand they’re going to put papier-mache back in the catalogue, but it’s not about the class,” Soukup said. “It’s about how they did this.”
Repeating words she’d spoken to the board a few minutes prior, Soukup enunciated slowly, glancing around a circle of House’s former students.
“Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about things that matter,” she said.
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