Caretaker Miguel Cervantes was fired without two-week notice

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Miguel Cervantes served as caretaker for the two-acre B-Street Permaculture Project for the past five years, until he was fired Sept. 16.A thick stack of papers, which outlined the three-step process for firing Miguel Cervantes from B Street Permaculture Project, sat on Professor Deke Gunderson’s desk.

“I can tell you what I know and what Miguel has told me,” said Gunderson. He made sure to emphasize that anything he’s quoted saying in this article is a reflection of his opinion and in no way associated with Pacific University.

First things to know: Cervantes has been with Pacific University for at least 25 years. He worked on facilities and worked on B Street for the last five years. He was responsible for the two acres of land that make up B Street, which is also owned by Metro Regional Government Agency.

Pacific University’s Human Resources Director, along with B Street faculty and staff had been working with Cervantes for six months “to address concerns that ultimately were not resolved,” spokesman Joe Lang said in a statement.

Cervantes was fired on Sept. 16, without a two-week notice.

Despite the efforts Human Resources made with Cervantes, many think something doesn’t add up.

“In my mind, it’s like you’ve committed murder,” said Gunderson. He explained that Cervantes is now living paycheck to paycheck and as a minority without a college degree, his career options are limited.

The first official step toward Cervantes being fired was a formal meeting. Gunderson understood that the meeting was regarding Cervantes’s timeliness. He was told he must clock in and out at Pacific’s campus instead of going to B Street. He was also told to remove the drums he had on site and that he or anyone else could not be on the site during unscheduled hours.

“Miguel was one of the few who encouraged students to come out and actually enjoy the land,” said Gunderson. “He took it upon himself to build a flood wall, which without, B Street wouldn’t be. He worked extra on his own time. Overall, he probably put more hours in that place than is recorded.”

The second step was a list of issues noted by Harold Roark, Director of Facilities. The list included more than 15 things Cervantes needed to fix. Some examples included trash on the floor and piles of rocks in disarray. Early in the list it states, “wood not stacked,” and later down the list claims, “unstacked wood.”

“To me the list looked like someone went to see what they could find wrong,” said Gunderson. “He had to deal with Metro coming in and cutting down a tree and telling him to deal with it. He had Pacific on him and then students coming in and not cleaning up after themselves. He was one man taking care of two acres.”

The third step was photos of the rocks and woodchips and other issues stated before with comments below them written by art professor Terry O’Day, such as “Miguel has no sense of tidy.”

Director of the School of Social Sciences Sarah Philips, O’Day, Roark and Director Center for Civic Engagement Stephanie Stokamer signed the packet that sent Cervantes off B Street and restricted him from completing his degree. Since he was an employee, Cervantes didn’t have to pay full tuition and was a few semesters away from a degree.

“I feel like this is the wrong way to have handled the situation,” said junior Brian Mejia, a student who created the Miguel Support Facebook Page. “So far it’s a lot of people asking what happened.” The page has 88 members.

In addition, Gunderson said that at least 20 faculty members are upset with the decision, but haven’t voiced their opinion.

Back when the environmental science department ran B Street, Gunderson said, they dealt with similar issues of tidiness.

“We saw cleanliness as a minor thing,” he said. “We can talk through this.”

Currently, Cervantes is unemployed, and Gunderson said he fears the firing has left Cervantes depressed.

“If people would like to help, they should write the people who made the decisions around here,” said Mejia.

A group of faculty members are meeting with President Lesley Hallick soon to discuss the possibility of waiving Cervantes’s tuition so he can finish his degree.

“We want to urge that this is the least that can be done for Miguel,” said Mejia.

Director of Human Resources Troy Strass said Pacific personnel issues remain confidential and so he cannot reveal details of Miguel’s firing.

“I can assure you Miguel Cervantes’ separation from employment does not reflect poorly of his character or his integrity,” said Strass. “It is always unfortunate and in this case particularly sad when the needs of the university and the preferences of the employee are not in alignment.”

He noted that Cervantes provided Pacific with many years of dedicated service and that if he sought re-employment with Pacific, he would remain eligible to apply for any positions as long as he met the qualifications.

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