MESA, AZ – Officials at Mesa (AZ) Community College say the removal of 15 adjunct faculty members from teaching in the school’s fitness centers had to do with their failure to meet new certification requirements and was not an issue of age discrimination.

Before the school year, the contracts of the 15 faculty members, including a former president of the college, were not renewed. The 15 members had received certification by the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), but that organization is not recognized by the Mesa Community College exercise science department, according to department chair Ann Stine.

Instead, the community college requires adjunct faculty to be certified by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) or the National Academy of Sports Medicine. All of these certifications are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. In addition, the ACSM and NSCA, which Stine prefers, require a college degree.

“As an educational institution, we’re promoting academic excellence,” Stine says. “We’re limiting all liability risks. How you do that is with education, degrees and certification. I felt very compelled to require that of our own staff.”

Stine adds that she wants to be confident that when students do internships at the fitness centers, they are supervised by qualified instructors. Because the community college has a diverse population with different age groups and related health issues, all rec center staff must have the same standard knowledge base, she says.

Theo Heap, who is 80, had taught exercise classes at the fitness centers after stepping down as the school’s president in 1988. He told the Maricopa County Community College District’s governing body at a recent meeting that he and the other faculty members were discriminated against. Heap plans to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Heap had worked at the school since 1966. He also had served as the school’s athletic director, and the gymnasium at the school is named for him.

“It’s a sad situation,” Heap says. “I feel real bad about it because for 42 years, that college has been my whole life. I’ve lectured all over the world in health and physical education, but I’m not qualified to lecture at my own school.”

Confusion arose when the 15 faculty members were told by one of the fitness center managers and an exercise science faculty member that the department accepted the ISSA certification. Stine says she had never heard of the ISSA and had informed the faculty more than two years ago of the required certification.

Because of the confusion about which certification was needed, Mesa Community College administrators offered to reimburse the faculty members for the ISSA certification and pay for the certification required to teach in the school’s fitness centers. Administrators also encouraged the faculty members to meet with Stine to discuss the matter, but Mesa Community College spokesperson Sonia Filan says few of the faculty members responded.

“This institution values and respects all employees, including adjunct faculty members,” Filan says. “That is the reason we have listened to their concerns. We have given them opportunities to come to the table. We recognize we made some mistakes. Ann recognizes she’s made some mistakes. This has always been about the required certification in order to enhance the academic excellence. We are an academic institution. We are not an LA Fitness center or another fitness center that may not have the same requirements.”

Filan and Stine dispute claims of age discrimination, saying that some of the faculty members who were not renewed are in their 30s, and the ones who are now teaching in the fitness centers are in their 20s through 50s. In addition, about half of the dismissed group is still employed by the school in the physical education department, Stine says.

“My hope still is that they’re willing to come to the table,” Stine says, “and that those who desire to get the appropriate certifications do so and that we’re able to work them back in.”