Leslie Thomas was a favorite staff member among students and teachers alike — students awarded her the “Favorite Faculty/Staff” award every year, and her peers selected her to represent them on the Board of Regents.
That’s why when the director of student life was fired Friday, students took to the streets of campus and social media to voice their support and demand answers.
Students protested at Hume Hall and the Student Center during office hours Monday and have been rallying support on Twitter with the hashtag “#justiceformrsthomas.” An online petition with 650 signatures is also circulating and calling on the governor to conduct an investigation into the administration of KSU.
Thomas released a statement to the media Monday afternoon explaining her experience — good and bad — at the university.
She said she worked for seven different supervisors in a matter of 25 years with no issues and no poor evaluations, but that changed when Lorenzo Esters, vice president of student success and enrollment management, and Jaqueline Gibson, assistant vice president of student success and enrollment management, arrived at KSU.
“At first, it appeared that Dr. Esters valued my position, hard work and dedication,” Thomas wrote in the statement. “However, the day that Dr. Jacqueline Gibson was hired on November 1, 2012, I was immediately placed on 90 days probation.”
She said she was placed on two more 90-day probation periods and given three negative evaluations, the first of her career.
The State Journal has requested Thomas’s performance evaluations, but the university is legally allowed three days to respond.
Thomas said Gibson exhibited a “serious bias” against her.
“On a daily basis, I was harassed, disrespected, discriminated against, and faced hostility,” she said.
She eventually filed a grievance accusing Gibson of harassment, which The State Journal obtained a copy of in late August.
“I do not think it was handled appropriately or fairly,” she told The State Journal. “They basically blamed me and said I couldn’t get along with a new supervisor, even though they were my eighth supervisor.”
The State Journal has requested a response and committee findings related to Thomas’ grievance from the university.
She listed several more complaints with the administration, such as the elimination of a service trip to New Orleans and an annual black history trip.
“The administration saw my relationship with the students as a threat,” she said. “They thought eliminating their favorite trips would weaken my support base. It didn’t.”
She said she was also required to work 30 hours of overtime on a regular basis, was denied flex time and was moved to a smaller office because the university was realigning student services.
She said she administration had been obvious in its displeasure with her approach to leadership and campus relationships.
“I chose to run for staff regent because the staff morale on campus is lower than I have ever seen it,” she wrote. “My platform was based on me speaking up on their behalf because many of them fear retaliation.”
Because Thomas is no longer part of the staff, she can also no longer serve on the Board of Regents. The Board meets Friday, and it is unclear when the position will be filled and by whom.
KSU spokeswoman Felicia Lewis said it is university policy not to comment on personnel matters.