Maryam’s 13th Speech to Board of Trustees

13th BOT Speech 28 April 2015

Good Evening.
I’ll start with reminding you of the presentation given at last month’s BOT meeting by VP Blakely and AVP Montague on Retention, which had minor references to faculty throughout, a reference to the role advisors can play in retention towards the end of the presentation, and no mention throughout whatsoever of counselors. Yes, the college wants greater and greater enrollment numbers, and yes, the college wants more and more money. Even so, I propose that retention should ideally involve better serving the students we already have. Sadly, I’ve heard of several instances within the last month that involved troubled students being told at the counseling front desk that “personal counseling is no longer available at the college’. Students in obvious crisis were asked what they needed to see someone about (within the hearing of other students waiting), and were told to write down their name and take a seat.

Please understand that the counselors we do have on campus are working very hard with students, and that they do still provide short term personal counseling. Our staff of counselors and advisors are working to help students. This moment in the semester is particularly challenging for all of us. Just this morning I spoke with a few of our counselors who are working exhaustively right now with distraught students across the college. We have excellent counselors here – we just need more. Even a remedial review of the ‘literature of retention’ reveals that providing quality counseling, not simply advising related to their ‘career pathway’, allows students the support they need to navigate the many difficulties that may be part of their landscape. Unless we believe that we are in a position to only admit and enroll students who have little stress in their lives, who come to us with excellent self-esteem, and marvelous coping skills, we need more counselors. When the college announced last fall that we would no longer have therapists, and that the focus was shifting to advising students on their career and academic pathways, I (and many of my colleagues) raised our concerns. If we wish to attract and retain students to this institution, we need to return to this philosophy: “Our college strives to make a positive difference in people’s lives through accessible and excellent educational programs and services. We provide a caring, open-door teaching and learning environment. We provide excellent teaching, counseling, and support services. We reach out to people who have limited income or other barriers to success.” That is our mission, and ought be our focus, even if providing counseling didn’t make it to the list of strategic goals.

The public portion of tonight’s meeting will end with the “Public Hearing Regarding the 20`15 -2016 Budget.” President Bellanca and VP Johnson shared a version of this report with each of the three unionized groups’ leaders last week. They did this last year as well. While I do see that as a gesture of communication (albeit a top down gesture), I will share with you what I told them both. The Faculty Union does not have a direct role in the college’s budgetary process – but an underused resource on our college campus, the department chairs, play a very direct role in the budget. I hope next year, Dr. Bellanca and VP Johnson will honor my request to provide the budget preview with Department Chairs, as that group will have firsthand knowledge of the process, will have a sense of how their part contributed to the whole, and will have more intelligent questions to pose than I did.
I wish I was able to report to you that things here at WCC are getting better. This is an environment where paranoia runs high, and morale runs low. I hear comments every week from staff and faculty members about how drastically the work climate here has been damaged. This is an environment where a well-respected Administrative Leader, CIO Amin Ladha, who has been a part of the college landscape for close to 20 years, mysteriously disappeared from the college sometime in February. Though he still appears in the Staff Directory, he is not on campus and no one appears to have stepped into the leadership role he fulfilled. Amin reliably welcomed faculty input for his projects, and has long been an intelligent, communicative and warm resource for many of us here on campus. He is missed.

Trustee Davarti spoke last week about the closed atmosphere he has noticed on our campus. We remain in an environment that does not operate with transparency. Agreements are made that affect faculty, and yet faculty only learn about those agreements after the fact. Decisions continue to be made about curriculum and students without faculty input or awareness. Faculty have been reduced to a ‘constituency’, and one that the administration need not heed. Communication here at WCC needs to improve, and soon. My hope is that Dr. Bellanca, who has been in three meetings this term with my Chief Negotiator, David Fitzpatrick, which were collegial and professional, will rescind the year-long moratorium on Liaison. Let’s work together, and be willing to have the necessary, difficult conversations.

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