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Genesee Community College eliminates six, doesn't renew seven full-time positions

By Mike Pettinella

Genesee Community College has cut 13 full-time jobs -- a move necessitated by the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the two-year college’s financial picture, an official of the two-year institution said today.

“We did have some full-time positions that were not renewed or retrenched,” said Justin Johnston, vice president of Development & External Affairs. “Notice was given today but it doesn’t take place until the end of December. Thirteen positions.”

Johnston said that six of those positions are traditional faculty members and seven are non-teaching administrative employees. He would not disclose the specific job titles.

“These individuals will continue to work in their roles for the next two months and may seek employment elsewhere, so we cannot comment on personnel matters on an individual level,” he said. “Seven folks’ positions will not be renewed, which is part of our process that we follow in a regular union model, and six of the positions are being eliminated.”

This latest action comes on the heels of the summer layoff of 27 part-timers at the college, which previously had enacted measures in reaction to reduced funding and revenue triggered by COVID-19.

Five-Step Plan in Place

“We had a five-step plan to respond to the pandemic and the associated budgetary impact,” said Johnston, who moved into his position nine months ago. “The decline in funding that we’ve received has necessitated this plan and this is going back to the beginning.”

He mentioned an across-the-board pay freeze -- management, confidential and our union positions – and “sizeable reductions in our operating budget, given the move to lessen the effect on personnel.”

“So, although ultimately we did have those 13 positions eliminated, it was greatly reduced from what it might have been had we not done that,” he offered. “We took proactive measures to curb spending early on and those aggressive measures were part of our plan to balance the budget the best that we could.”

Noting that GCC hasn’t been immune to the effects of the pandemic, he disagreed with the contention that the college’s financial situation wasn’t very good prior to mid-March.

“To my knowledge, our financial position was strong prior to the pandemic. This was a disruption that really no one could have predicted,” he said.

President: Drastic Measures Taken

GCC President James Sunser, when addressing the Genesee County Legislature in June, said the college took “painful” measures -- retrenchments, pay freezes, deferral of capital projects and supply purchases, and the use of $2 million in reserves -- to reach the $38.1 million budget that was submitted to the state.

At that time, he indicated that the cuts announced today, which affect the unionized faculty/administrative group, were part of the management's plan.

Genesee Educational Association President Karyn S. Bryson said the union knew these notices were coming because it has been working with GCC administration since May on finding a solution to the SUNY funding gap.

Calling it a “difficult day when jobs are cut,” Bryson said the union is concerned about the long-term funding issues and noted that today’s cuts were distributed among all levels of employees.

Union Rep: Provisions Will Help

“GEA (which represents both faculty and staff) did everything possible to minimize the number of members retrenched, including agreeing to a wage freeze for the 2020-21 academic year, but it wasn't enough to save everyone's job,” she said. “We sincerely wish it had been enough. Our contract is strong, and there are some provisions which will assist some of the affected employees going forward. We wish nothing but the best for our colleagues in the future.”

Bryson is the director of Paralegal Studies at GCC.

Johnston said that management has no plans to make further retrenchments in 2020-21 as long as “the funding models and the enrollment models trend as we expect them to.”

He acknowledged the anguish of having to eliminate so many positions.

“It’s certainly not something that we had planned to do. It’s just a result of the environment that we’re in so we can continue to forge ahead for the success of our students,” he said.

Johnston commented on other aspects, as follows:

  • Instruction: “We are primarily virtual (online learning). We do have some on-campus course work but only until Thanksgiving and that’s in compliance with the State of New York (SUNY) guidelines.” After Thanksgiving, all virtual learning.
  • Enrollment: “The college is sitting at a 10-percent decrease right now, with the actual Fall 2020 numbers fluctuating at plus or minus 10 percent. We are fortunate that we’ve stayed fairly close to last year given the pandemic.” GCC’s full- and part-time enrollment during the Fall 2019 semester was 5,324. Tuition for 2020-21 for New York State residents is $4,550.
  • Possible elimination of programs: “I can’t really speak to that piece. The process of program determination is something that plays out over a number of years. If you were to eliminate a program, it gets taught for several years following to ensure that all the current students within it can complete it.”

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