BOARD OF TRUSTEES: WHERE ARE YOU?
Here we are eight months and eleven negotiating sessions into contract negotiations and where are we? STALLED.
We were scheduled to meet with the Board of Trustees’ attorney, John Gross, and the College team on Thursday, 1/23/14. However, on the afternoon of 1/22/14 our NYSUT Labor Relations Specialist, Judy Sandler, received a call from Mr. Gross indicating that he had not met with the BOT, as promised, to discuss the outstanding contract issues. This means he was unprepared for our upcoming negotiating session scheduled for the next day.
Why should this have occurred? After all, he had 41 days between our last negotiating session on 12/12/13 to meet with his client, the BOT. He claimed he was planning to meet with the BOT on the night of 1/21/14. However, the snow storm prevented this. In other words, the plan was to wait until the last minute for Mr. Gross and the BOT to meet and discuss our contract. Without such a meeting, their team was now unprepared to move forward with productive discussions with the NCCFT Negotiating Committee.
Putting aside that it was irresponsible to wait until the last minute to discuss our contract with the Board, there were many options for the Board and Mr. Gross to “meet” and discuss. The virtual meeting possibilities are endless in today’s wired society. Yet they chose not to avail themselves of any of these options. This is an excuse we would not even accept from our students.
We have to ask: is our contract a priority?
It should be!
The stakes are high!
Board of Trustees: Where are you?
On January 2, 2014 Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos released his office’s financial audit of Nassau Community College for the academic years 2006-2007 through 2010-2011. (The press release announcing the audit is here; the audit itself is here; and the college’s partial response—the full response is included in the audit report itself—is here. You can read a copy of the Newsday article about the audit here, and Acting President Saunder’s letter to the editor in response here.) As summarized in the press release, “the major findings included inadequate billing and collection practices that resulted in $14 million being uncollected from 2006—August 2011 while reserves were drawn down to pay for operations and tuition was increased in 2013.” The audit does note, and the college describes in its response, the measures the administration has taken to begin to address the operational inefficiencies that led to this deficit, but those measures do nothing to answer the questions the audit raises for us.
Just how accurate, for example, is the financial picture the administration has been drawing for us since at least 2009, when, under Michael Freeman and Donald Astrab, they refused to accept the millions of dollars in savings our offer to extend that contract would have realized. They told us that we were the problem, that what we were offering would not have made enough of a difference. They did not tell us—and we assume they knew, since those uncollected funds had to have been reflected somewhere in the budget, even if we could not find them—that they themselves were responsible for a significant portion of the deficit with which we were struggling. At the very least, in other words, this audit raises for us the question of just how much good faith the administration brought to the bargaining table back then.
The title of Comptroller Maragos’ press release implies that the $14 million in uncollected funds is partly responsible for the tuition increases of the last several years and for our current financial woes: “Maragos: $14M Went Uncollected at Nassau Community College Yet Tuition was Increased.” While we share Maragos’ incredulity, we are also aware that the question of whether those increases were necessary is more complex than his title makes it sound. Still, there is one part of the position he takes to which we need to respond. The press release quotes him as saying:
We urge the College Administration to implement all [our] recommendations including strengthening the management team, reducing administrative expense and [increasing] student faculty ratios [so that they are] in line with comparable Community Colleges in order to minimize future tuition increases.
The County Comptroller, in other words, would like the college to keep tuition as low as possible by increasing the number of students per faculty member—asking us, in other words, to do more with less (a refrain we’ve been hearing for more than a few years now)—while at the same time “strengthening the management team,” which is more likely than not to result in the hiring of additional administrators, not to mention the possibility of more “team-strengthening” raises, such as those that were handed out when Donald Astrab was president.
We find the short-sightedness of this logic breathtaking. It treats the revenue producing component of the college for an area where costs can and should be cut. Student do not come to Nassau Community College because of the strength of its management team, or because it has been able to hold administrative costs down. They come, bringing their tuition dollars with them, because of us, the faculty, because we refuse—no matter which part of the college we work in—to treat the education it is our job to help students claim as anything other than the citizen-nurturing process that it is, one that our democracy depends on. We already teach classes that are much larger than they should be. It is disheartening at best to learn that Nassau County would like to see those classes grow even larger.
Finally, Comptroller Maragos’ audit, which he titled a “Limited Financial Review of Nassau Community College” does not cover the last two academic years, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, and so we find ourselves wondering not only how much of that $14 million remains uncollected, but also how much, if any, the college continues to lose. We also wonder about the costs of outside contracts, the College’s financial relationship to the NCC Foundation and other financial matters not addressed by this Limited Financial Review of the College.
These questions are especially pertinent because we are in the middle of contract negotiations. We’ve already told you that the college is refusing to accept salary savings as having a positive impact on their projected budget, a position that—especially given what we have learned from reading this audit—certainly begs the question, Why not? We will update you further about negotiations in an upcoming blog post. For now, just be aware that the questions raised by this audit highlight just how challenging our negotiations have become.
There is a Board of Trustees meeting tomorrow, January 21st. We urge you to attend and, if this post has raised questions for you, to bring them. The Board needs to hear what you have to say.
When: Tuesday, January 21st at 8 PM
Where: Tower, 11th Floor
To Speak: Call Ann Brandi at 2-7205
We look forward to seeing you there!
On October 19th, the Faculty Council of Community Colleges (FCCC) passed unanimously the “Resolution in Opposition to a De Facto Core Curriculum.” This resolution calls on SUNY to “suspend the implementation of Seamless Transfer requirements” and to “engage in established state and local campus shared governance processes” in order to resolve the very serious curricular questions that have been raised about Seamless Transfer. So far, the Academic Senates of Nassau Community College, Suffolk, Westchester and many other community colleges have endorsed this resolution. We are gratified that this groundswell of opposition to Seamless Transfer is rooted in a commitment to shared governance, because shared governance is what gives two-year institutions the independence and flexibility to meet the needs of their individual communities.
We are also gratified that this opposition is spreading beyond the walls of higher education. The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) has also drafted a resolution opposing SUNY’s “de facto core curriculum.” The NCCFT, along with many of the Community College locals in Election District 39, has signed this resolution as a cosponsor. Modeled on the FCCC resolution passed last month, this resolution will be submitted to the NYSUT Representative Assembly in April. If approved, it will authorize and direct NYSUT to pursue all avenues available to it, legislative, political, and legal, to help SUNY’s two and four-year campuses in opposing Seamless Transfer as it is currently defined. NYSUT has also assured the NCCFT that we will have NYSUT’s full support if SUNY takes any action related to Seamless Transfer that harms this or any campus within the SUNY system.
As you are aware, Acting President Saunders has vetoed the recently passed senate resolution directing the College Wide Curriculum Committee (CWCC) to postpone voting on the proposal put forth by the Ad Hoc Committee on Seamless Transfer. In light of the FCCC’s resolution and NYSUT’s draft resolution, we believe that postponing the CWCC’s vote is the only responsible thing to do and we urge you, the membership, to support unequivocally an override of Dr. Saunders’ veto (though if the Senate Parliamentarian calls the veto out of order, the override is moot). We also urge you to support the motion we will introduce at the Academic Senate to withdraw the charge to the CWCC and to disband the Ad Hoc Committee on Seamless Transfer until we have a clear and definitive policy that does not result in a de facto core curriculum and/or remove our ability to shape curriculum to serve our particular community. We believe that the best way to encourage such a policy is to oppose the Seamless Transfer initiative in its entirety—for all the reasons we have outlined in our previous posts (here, here, here, and here). Indeed, there is mounting evidence to suggest that the promised “seamlessness” of Seamless Transfer is far from the reality, and we will write about that in future posts.
The NCCFT Executive Committee is so convinced that the Seamless Transfer initiative is the wrong policy at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons that we, along with NYSUT’s legal division, are investigating possible legal actions against SUNY in the event that we are forced to move forward. In order to preserve these legal options, however, we must first exhaust all administrative avenues for exemption from the policy. For that reason, if it becomes necessary we will call on the Academic Senate to request blanket waivers for all our AA, AS, and AAS programs. We urge you to let your senators know that you support the NCCFT Executive Committee’s position and that you expect them to:
- Vote to override Acting President Saunders’ veto
- Insist that the Academic Senate support the NYSUT resolution
- Vote to pass your Union’s motion to withdraw the charge to the CWCC and disband the Ad Hoc Committee on Seamless Transfer
- Support the request for blanket waivers in the event these are needed to preserve our legal options
The NCCFT Executive Committee will not be complacent when our academic freedom, shared governance, local control or collective bargaining agreements are put at risk, but we can only succeed with your support.
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher’s idea of “systemness,” especially as she defined it in her 2012 State of the University address, sounds good in theory. “Systemness,” she said, “is the coordination of multiple components [within a system] that, when working together, create a network of activity that is more powerful than any action of individual parts on their own.” Indeed, if a September 2012 SUNY press release can be believed—and we have no reason to think it can’t—“systemness” may already have borne fruit that is a good deal more than theoretical. The “shared services” initiative, which began in August 2011 charges SUNY campuses with “work[ing] to identify and eliminate duplicative administrative services and to collaborate on business, finance, and procurement operations.” According to SUNY, this process has enabled the redirection of more than $6 million to student services and resulted in more than thirty full-time faculty hires. Assuming that no one has actually lost a job as a result of this administrative consolidation, who would not applaud those numbers?
The problem is that when “systemness” is applied to the academic services SUNY offers, it becomes a one-size-fits-all solution, mandating a kind of homogeneity across SUNY’s thirty community colleges—rural, urban, and suburban—that would appear to contravene our mission. Recognizing the role of a community college in “serv[ing] the needs of the community” where the college is located (NYS Education Law, Article 126, Section 6301), SUNY made it clear in Section 601.6 of the Community College Regulations that a community college education should be flexible enough to serve a wide range of students, offering them “sufficient time to explore appropriate career goals,” while also permitting them to “change [their] chosen field of study” if they so desire. Moreover, a community college education should provide “appropriate instruction” to those students whose “basic educational skills need improvement,” and it should make “provisions for [both] individualized instruction [and] ‘nontraditional’ learning resources.” All of this, the regulations stipulate, is in the interests of giving students academic choices that should include “developmental studies, certificate and diploma students, and associate-degree studies, either transfer or college” (Community College Regulations, Part 600, 7-8).
“Systemness” threatens this flexibility and inclusiveness not just because SUNY Seamless will almost certainly create a cookie-cutter educational paradigm that will be imposed throughout SUNY from the top down. “Systemness” itself is part of a national trend in which corporate and other well-funded groups work to take curriculum design and content out of the hands of local educators so that public education can be redefined as job training, and in which teaching is being reimagined as “content delivery,” reducing teachers to technicians whose primary role is to operate and manage “content-delivery systems.” So, for example, as Acting President Saunders discussed at last year’s General Faculty meeting, SUNY plans to measure our campus’ performance using a so-called “Campus Report Card.” This report card, however, will not be designed by us—the people who know this campus, know our students, and understand the educational mission and vision of the institution—but by an outside agency. Not only are those who have seen the report card concerned that it does not adequately reflect our campus’ achievements. They worry that, if it becomes part of the performance-based funding scheme that we know SUNY and Governor Cuomo’s office are preparing—based in part on whether or not students get jobs when they leave here–we will, to the detriment of our students and their communities, lose any voice we might have had in how our work as a campus should be evaluated and therefore over what and how we teach. (SUNY, in collaboration with the governor’s office, has already tried to impose this scheme once. NYSUT was able to lobby against the proposal at that time, but we have no doubt that we will see this proposal again.)
It is, of course, possible to treat “systemness” as, actually, less than the sum of its parts: to applaud the benefits of “shared services,” for example, while tweaking SUNY Seamless and treating both as if they were actually two separate and unrelated initiatives. The problem with that sort of complacency, however, is that it fails to connect “systemness” at SUNY to the “systemness” that is at least implicit in the anti-teacher, anti-intellectual, pro-business, and anti-union educational reform that is being pushed throughout the country. That is a complacency we cannot afford and it is one to which the NCCFT refuses to surrender.