Current, Former CCRI Faculty Critical of New Leadership, Direction

Sunday, February 28, 2016

 

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Current and former CCRI faculty are weighing in with concerns regarding recent changes -- and additions -- at the college.

Recent changes at the Community College of Rhode Island, which include a newly appointed president and a number of new hires, are drawing criticism from a current and former faculty —  including some who are afraid of going on the record for fear of repercussions. 

In December, the Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education named Meghan Hughes, Ph.D., as the fifth President of CCRI.  Since then, the college has announced the addition of a Vice President of Student Affairs, posted a position for Chief of Staff to the President, and now an Executive Director for Small Businesses Initiatives. 

“The change in leadership was driven strictly by political agenda. The General Assembly has aggressively introduced legislation to define higher educational policy,” said former CCRI professor Joe Allen. “I began tracking this when Senator Paiva-Weed used her economic summits to force the business communities concerns into the CCRI mission statement — recall the 2010 report Community College of Rhode Island: Building a 21st Century Workforce. The current political appointment of Meghan Hughes as CCRI president is designed to ensure any policies handed down from Smith Hill to the Council on Postsecondary Education are implemented without delay."

“As a former faculty member, I can tell you that the general faculty is rarely included the formulation of institutional policy. Those who say otherwise have not paid attention to how the results of faculty forums are dismissed when the next political agenda item is presented to the administration. This is due to administrative secrecy and to agendas outside the institution which are supported by the administration,” said Allen. “However, some of the problem is due to faculty fear. Many faculty will not speak out for fear of retaliation with respect to schedules, promotion and tenure. If faculty do participate they usually will not challenge or question policies supported by individuals with titles. The groups who do challenge anything are labeled as troublemakers and vigilantes.”

One currently faculty member who wanted to weigh said that he did not want to be named.  “We are in the midst of trying to negotiate a number of things, and I don’t want to undermine these pursuits.”

Current, Former Faculty on Record   

Steve Forleo, who is currently a professor of English at CCRI and is adviser to the student-run college paper, recently penned a Guest MINDSETTER™ piece for GoLocal entitled “CCRI About to Undergo Political Takeover.”

“It's no secret this shift is politically driven. We have a venture capitalist governor intent on transforming the founding vision of Dr. William Flanagan's "people's" college, (where student-learners came to pursue life-long learning through a broad array of course studies as well as training the region's workforce) into a business led manufacturing hub. Students are referred to as customers, moving through the assembly line one-size-fits-all model,” said Forleo. “To me, it's all about fabricating political capital for seeking higher office.”

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CCRI Warwick Campus

“The "culture change" we hear being bandied around here ironically has more to do with administrative bloat than anything else. In just a few short weeks the state is picking up the tab for two newly created positions, one stripping out higher education experience, while the other appears nothing more than another corporate layer of bureaucracy. And there's more hires on the horizon,” said Forleo. “Rhode Island must be made aware of the political takeover. Certain politicians, and by extension, subsequent hires, may be cozying up to billion dollar foundations like Gates and Lumina. These foundations love the top-down, outcomes data approach.”

Allen questioned the Chief of Staff position, as it compared to the job duties of the existing Assistant to the President position. 

"Ms. Hughes is hiring a Chief of Staff. Among the qualifications listed are a minimum of ten years of prior experience in a senior administrative support role with responsibility for organizing, coordinating and supervising a support staff; demonstrated experience developing, organizing and coordinating programs and events," said Allen. "Is this position a replacement for the current Assistant to the President, Deb Zielinski, who’s duties include the day-to-day operations of the President’s Office at the multi-campus community college. Beyond her administrative role, she serves as the president’s liaison to the college community, plans major college events, serves on various college committees, and is a resource for faculty, staff, students and the general public?

CCRI said the new Chief of Staff position, with a salary range starting at $68,564, is not duplicative of Zielinski's position. 

"Deb provides administrative support for a wide range of activities, and she is internally focused. She manages the President’s calendar, schedule and travel arrangements as well as the President’s correspondence. She also manages the logistics and planning of events at the President’s residence along with campus-wide events," said Rich Coren, Director of Communications for CCRI.
 
"The Chief of Staff is an entirely different position. This position will provide executive level support and serve on the President’s executive team along with the Vice Presidents and Associate Vice Presidents. He or she will support and assist the President’s work with the Vice Presidents, student government, the Rhode Island Board of Education, the Rhode Island Office of the Postsecondary commissioner and the CCRI Foundation," said Coren. "It should be noted that URI has a chief of staff, and both RIC and URI have people who represent the college on external affairs and advise the president on policy. CCRI’s new chief of staff will deliver both of these responsibilities."
                                       
"As far as the Vice President of Student Affairs, that is not a new position.  CCRI has previously had Vice Presidents of Student Affairs and it is a standard role at a community college," said Coren. "This Vice President is focused on improving graduation and transfer rates, and she is working closely with both student services and academic affairs."

  

 

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