Meeting aired Whitman concerns

Whitman Center business dominated the Sept. 24 MCCC Board of Trustees meeting.
Of the three-hour affair, more than two-thirds went to address Whitman rumors, set the record straight, and hear reaction from the community.
Members of the college board began the discussion by explaining the college’s rationale for canceling spring-summer semester classes at the Whitman Center next year.
Although some members of the public accepted the board members’ explanation, not everyone was pleased with that they heard.
“Major decisions were made that negatively impact the Whitman Center,” said Sandy Kosmyna, who served as Director of the Whitman Center for over seven years until stepping down this summer.
 “I felt overridden,” she said, talking about getting an e-mail one day without being involved in the decision.
“Please don’t take it out on us,” said Judith Hamburg, a leader in the Citizens for Whitman Center group.
Hamburg also played offense, referring to the new Career Technology Center, which is now under construction, as a white elephant that shouldn’t have been built during a time of declining tech enrollment.
“I drove by,” she added. “Whitman’s parking lot is full tonight.”
Vice Chair William Braunlich heatedly defended the CTC building as an “800-pound gorilla” instead of a white elephant.
He said the CTC building will provide an influx of jobs for the community, going so far as to call it a godsend.
Before she was done, Hamburg added to her comments a list of organizations and names that insisted they care about the continuation of the Whitman Center.
With Board Chair William Bacarella out of town, Braunlich led the meeting.
 “There is no plan to close the Whitman Center,” he said. “I can’t emphasize that enough.”
Once the Board opened the floor to the public, reactions were varied.
Pearl Albert-Green was one of several members of the public who lauded college efforts to advertise the Whitman Center, expressing a change of heart after hearing trustees defend their decision.
Others, including Hamburg and Greg Stewart, weren’t satisfied.
“I am disappointed you’re taking no for an answer,” Greg Stewart told the board.
He admitted he heard good things from them as well, but urged that the community must know what efforts they are taking to keep the Whitman Center alive.
“Let Bedford know what is and is not going on at Whitman,” Hamburg said.
To that end, Vice President of Student and Information Services Randy Daniels and Director of Marketing Joe Verkennes presented some of the information the board used.
Verkennes highlighted the advertising efforts made by MCCC on behalf of the Whitman Center.
He pointed out that Monroe’s ads exceed the limits of Monroe County, spilling over into Toledo, Lenawee County, and Downriver area by 25 miles.
An overall decline in enrollment played a part in the Whitman cancellations, board members said.
Although 2012 enrollment is near MCCC’s average ten-year levels, Daniels said Spring enrollment was down 13 percent between 2011 and 2012.
He also noted that only 9 percent of MCCC enrollment over the last five years consisted of students who studied exclusively at Whitman.
Additionally, a 2007 survey found that about half of students attending Whitman took classes at main campus, too. This led the Board to conclude that while cutting spring-summer semester at Whitman might inconvenience some students, they may not necessarily miss out on courses altogether.
Board members said that, bottom line, the decision to cut classes for June and July at the Whitman Center is a cost-containment measure.
They emphasized that any reductions in Whitman operations are rooted in budget requirements.
On top of declines in enrollment, falls in tuition revenue and property taxes have created a budget shortfall.
The Board also cited seat-filling efficiency as a reason to cut Whitman classes.
The Whitman Center typically fills about 75 percent of the spots in the classes it offers – already 5 points below main campus’s efficiency.
That figure was below half for the Spring and Summer 2011 semesters.
David Nixon, MCCC president, added the economic upturn to the list of factors contributing to enrollment figures.  Community colleges tend to fare better during recessions, he said.
“In 2007, the Whitman Center was rocking,” Nixon said.
This was so much the case, he added, that the college considered expansion at Whitman.
Those days are in the past, though. Nixon called the May decision not to offer Spring and Summer classes at the Whitman Center a difficult but fiscally responsible decision.
“Fall and Winter classes are not affected,” he said.
Not everybody was satisfied with the board’s reasons. Some were downright skeptical.
“Fifty-thousand dollars in this doesn’t seem like a whole lot of money,” said Jim DeVries, a 40-year veteran of MCCC’s teaching faculty and a candidate for the board this November.
DeVries argued that, considering the $780,000 shortfall in a multi-million dollar budget, the Whitman cuts aren’t justified when the project savings are less than $60,000.
A few solutions surfaced.
Some students want to go into a trade, not a field of study, said Larry O’Dell, a 35-year veteran of the Bedford school system.
 “We know what your mission is,” he told the Board, “but what is your vision for the Whitman Center? If we don’t meet the needs, someone else will.”
The key to making the Whitman Center thrive, former Director Kosmyna said, was to keep it open.
She also made the point that because significant events take place there, such as COMPASS testing, choosing to exclude Whitman classes from the Spring and Summer plans would still affect Fall.
“I fear this is one step closer to permanent closure,” Kosmyna said, and stepped away from the microphone.
It was noted that in the wake of Kosmyna’s resignation as Director of the Whitman Center, the position has not been filled.
Braunlich explained that the Board left the full-time director position open to see the effect. Because the position is in the budget, he said, the college could potentially save money by leaving the position empty.
Board members and administrators reported taking turns as acting directors of the Whitman Center.
Although the Board announced no reduction in Whitman staffing for the Fall 2013 semester, Trustee Thayer wondered whether Whitman students might feel forgotten or considered unimportant without a facility director.
“This board is committed to continuing the Whitman Center,” Braunlich said.
 “We need the private sector. We need resource infusion,” he added.
He noted that the community has to get behind MCCC if it’s to be successful.
In addition to placing a new emphasis on Bedford as a source of enrollment, Braunlich asked that someone beyond the Board of Trustees help to create a Whitman Center Volunteer Bank.
Dr. Sally Dunn volunteered for an active role in that solution when she spoke.
“I am very optimistic about the establishment of a joint Whitman Center committee,” Braunlich later said in a statement.
“The MCCC Board of Trustees greatly values the Whitman Center as a vibrant and important part of the MCCC educational enterprise,” he said, “and has no plans whatsoever for wholesale closure.”