I feel like I just got punched in the gut by Mike Tyson. At least he didn’t bite my ear off, but who knows, maybe that’s next. After scores of members of the Brookdale community poured their hearts out and offered up great ideas for averting the impending Reduction in Force (RIF), the Board of Trustees went ahead and voted to approve it, essentially terminating many dynamic, dedicated and good people who work at Brookdale Community College. Only one brave trustee had the courage to vote no to the RIF. I wish there were others like her.
Many of my colleagues and I gave it our all, but it was to no avail. The board already had its mind made up. Our commentary and pleas were just a formality that had to be entertained. Like a couple others, I spoke twice; once before the vote and once after the vote. I was the last person to speak during the second round and I gave the board some parting points to consider.
Here are some of the alternatives that I presented and questions and concerns that I raised:
1. Charge all students $25 per semester to pay for the Fitness Center (this would generate $650,000 from student fees alone). Make employees pay too (this gets you closer to $1 million). Launch a marketing campaign to make the community aware of the Fitness Center’s existence.
2. Better market the Children’s Learning Center as well. No one knows about this Brookdale gem. They should. If you have the best product, you don’t kill it because it is not generating enough revenue. You let it be known that what we offer here is the best preschool education in the county; your kids should be here.
3. Essential to our mission and helping students achieve success are our learning assistants and student development specialists (counselors). They need to be retained. How does drastically reducing their numbers better serve students?
4. The Teaching & Learning Center (TLC) and Educational Technology Services (ETS) are wonderful resources to assist faculty in carrying out their jobs. Who will help with our technological needs once they are gone? How would tonight’s Board of Trustees meeting have functioned without them?
5. The Brookdale Foundation needs to do a much better job at securing donations. Considering the county we reside in, we should have a sizeable endowment. Where have all the Bankiers gone? (Bankier donated a significant sum of money to the college and hence that name has been immortalized on our library).
6. The position of vice president of government and community relations should be unfrozen so that we can get a charismatic person serving in this role to start building relationships with elected officials at the county and state level, essentially convincing them of our worth and our need for additional funding. The right person in this person position could potentially bring in millions of dollars to our financially strapped college.
7. The college should consider closing one or two Higher Education Centers (HECs). This move would save millions of dollars. Moreover, closing one or two HECs will become a necessity with declining enrollment.
8. Charge our four-year partner institutions more to reap the benefits of our Communiversity. We get the short end of the stick. We need to maximize these relationships for our benefit, not theirs.
9. A more long-term consideration would be turning BCC into both a 2-year and 4-year college. This move could generate scores of dollars. Think about it from this perspective: There is no public 4-year college in Monmouth County. Maybe there should be. I know that I would have loved to have that option and countless others would too.
But perhaps the quickest and least painful way out of this fiscal situation was offered up to the Board of Trustees by Freeholder John Curley, who publicly declared that he would put his political reputation on the line and endorsed a $15 per credit increase in tuition. This move would virtually eliminate the entire budget shortfall. His remarks were met with thunderous applause and a standing ovation by the audience.
This increase would have students paying only $225 more per semester; that is not really a significant sum by comparison to other community colleges in New Jersey and insignificant compared to Rutgers tuition, where most of our students head to after Brookdale. The students themselves don’t even seem to mind this increase; some even called for it. One student said that the proposed increase was “not even real money” when compared to what he will have to pay at Rutgers next year.
Freeholder Curley stated that he would work hard to convince the two other freeholders on the Board of School Estimate to approve of the increase. If approved, that tremendous gesture would save all of the jobs that just got eliminated.
Others had great ideas too, but in the end the board did not reflect on any of them. The big problem that I have is the rush job that this was; not even a full month has passed since the board’s initial RIF vote on Nov. 13 and the final RIF vote on Dec. 11. That is not nearly enough time to have an effective dialogue on something so grave as this RIF vote. So, I asked them to postpone the vote until January, but it was to no avail. I also suggested that they give programs that are in the red a year to become solvent. Give them a chance to right the ship. They did not even get a chance.
Also, the ideas that were presented to college President Maureen Murphy that she shared with the board totaled over 400 pages. How many trustees read through the whole thing before voting on it? I compared that to all the folks in Congress that did not read the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) before they voted to approve it. I think some on the board may have chuckled at that remark, but unfortunately they did not reconsider their vote. A student even pulled up the board’s own bylaws and showed them that they could reconsider their vote that night only, but that did not happen either.
I reached out to Brian Williams, NBC Nightly News anchor and managing editor and a former Brookdale student, for support and he sent me an incredibly touching letter to read on his behalf. I want to publicly thank him for doing that; it really means a lot to me and countless others that he took the time out of his busy schedule to share some of his personal thoughts about Brookdale Community College. Thank you, Brian Williams!
Like Brian Williams, I, too, went to Brookdale. I received a dynamite education during my time here, was actively involved with extracurricular activities to enhance my educational experience, gave the student commencement address, and even met my future wife in the honor society. In short, it was an amazing experience. I don’t think anyone could love Brookdale as much as I do. I loved it so much, I knew that I wanted to return. Luckily for me, I secured my dream job at a place that is like a home to me.
But now I feel as though I am losing so many incredible members of my family and I am devastated by this. As I told the board, this is my worst Brookdale experience. I was so saddened by their votes. I asked them to reconsider, almost imploring them to reconsider and suggested that the greatest amount of courage would come from the trustee who makes that motion to reconsider, but they closed me down and called for a motion to adjourn.
In the end, it was not former college president Peter Burnham’s indiscretions and fall from grace that was the worst day in Brookdale Community College’s history. It was Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014, that will forever mark the saddest day in Brookdale’s long and glorious history.
Jonathan Moschberger is an associate professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science at Brookdale Community College.