Financial troubles have plagued Roxbury Community College in Boston for years. Now faculty unrest appears to be on the rise.
Faculty and staff at the small two-year college protested against President Valerie Roberson and her administration Thursday on the campus.
"We have a new administration and they have come into the college making draconian changes without regard to what has existed here for 40 years," said Ruth Kiefson-Roberts, an English professor at the college and president of the faculty's union chapter. "One of their first acts was to get rid of the entire middle management. Many of them had been here for decades and came up through the ranks. They left the college leaderless."
After the protest, 65 percent of 130 faculty and staff members voted no confidence in Roberson, Kiefson-Roberts said.
About 30 classes last fall were left without instructors the first week of the semester. Some of the classes were only filled two or three weeks after the start of the school year, she said, adding that adjunct instructors and full-time faculty members were also assigned to classes without taking their expertise into account.
Maximum class sizes were raised to 32 students without consulting with departments, Kiefson-Roberts said. The English for speakers of other languages program was "dismantled" and then reopened as "new and improved," she said, and some staff members have received the cold shoulder from administrators for complaining about the changes.
Roberson responded to the protest in an emailed statement to Inside Higher Ed: "Protests and rigorous dissent have always been great hallmarks of campus culture. Our faculty and staff are passionate about the college. Given that we are in a period of significant institutional change, it is not surprising to see some long-term faculty members expressing concerns about the future."
Roxbury was listed as one of about 560 institutions that is subject to heightened cash monitoring by the U.S. Department of Education. The college has drawn concerns about its financial status over the years.
Lorita Williams, Roxbury's vice president for advancement and community engagement, said change is difficult for people, but what is happening within the college is being done to make it more efficient and better for students and faculty.
"There are fears, but they're unfounded," Williams said.
The maximum classroom size is tied to the faculty union contract, which allows up to 32 students. And most of Roxbury's classrooms can't accommodate 32 students, Williams said, adding that the college of about 2,500 students has an average class size of 16.
There are administrative positions that have not been filled, but the college is looking for the right people and they haven't eliminated positions, she said.
Roberson told The Boston Globe that there were administrative layoffs and some grant-funded positions weren't filled, but that others voluntarily resigned.
"We're making the college more efficient. We're looking at our situation and addressing and fixing problems. We're increasing the level of service and making students a priority so we're serving them first and foremost," Williams said. "It's about them and if there are things we can do for them to have a better experience, that's the priority…. We're changing for the good of the students and when you do that, hopefully it's good for the faculty as well, because they're just as important."
Even so, some faculty and staff at the college say their concerns haven't been acknowledged.
"There's just no communication from those in charge," said LaVerne Banks, an administrative assistant at the college and chief steward for the college's American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (A.F.S.C.M.E.) chapter, which is Roxbury's primary staff union. "It's like the [protest] never happened. They aren't going to acknowledge it. They won't acknowledge anything we do. We gave the president a document in October outlining issues we had, and she never responded. It's like going up against a brick wall with these people."
Kiefson-Roberts also fears the administration is changing the mission of the college to provide more vocational training with less of a commitment to higher education.
However, Williams challenges the notion that Roxbury's administration is changing the college's mission.
"The philosophy has not changed, but what has changed is we're offering more programs, more certificate, noncredit programs and those who aspire to get a degree and go on to a four-year college can," Williams said, adding that they're also working with businesses to help with workforce training.
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