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October 30, 2020 - 6:07pm

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.”
May 27, 2020 - 5:52pm

Press release:

The State University of New York and the NYS Office of Mental Health today (May 27) announced the launch of a crisis text line and training initiative, two resources designed to help promote mental health awareness, ease stress and anxiety, and identify and support individuals at risk of suicide.

SUNY advanced its promotion of the resources in order to assist students, faculty, and staff as they confront the COVID-19 pandemic, including SUNY Genesee Community College.

“Slowing the spread of COVID-19 has called for a series of sudden shifts to how we live, work, study, and interact,” said SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson. “Though this transition is necessary to keep people safe, there may be an unintended, psychological impact of these changes on many of our students, faculty, and staff. We thank the New York State Office of Mental Health for their partnership in providing these resources to our SUNY family.”

“We are very pleased to provide financial support to our partners at SUNY to raise awareness of the programs and resources available to help students who are feeling anxious, depressed or overwhelmed," OMH Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan said.

"This is particularly important now as we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and address the many disruptions it has caused. We understand how difficult this can be, and we want you to know that help is available.”

Information about these resources is available at SUNY’s new mental health resource page found here. The first is a Crisis Text Line for students, faculty, and staff who are dealing with emotional challenges. Members of the SUNY community can access the confidential text line 24/7 by texting Got5U to 741-741 for help.

The text line can be used to help alleviate depression, anxiety, stress, and suicidal thoughts. It also provides a way for people to talk about substance use, relationship issues, domestic violence, and school stressors, as well stress and anxiety related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second resource is online Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) training, designed to teach participants how to recognize someone who may be in emotional distress or having suicidal thoughts, and how to appropriately engage and connect that person to resources that can help. Anyone can practice QPR in any setting, and it is appropriate in all relationships.

QPR does not require clinical training, only a willingness to listen, care, and help. Members of the SUNY community may register here and entering “SUNY” as the organizational code.

QPR and the Crisis Text Line are just two ways that SUNY is working to address the mental health impacts of the pandemic among its 64 campuses. All campus counseling centers remain open, and online education experts have been available virtually to alleviate concerns about the transition to online learning.

All 64 SUNY campuses will be receiving marketing materials to promote the availability of QPR and Crisis Text Line services.

Both services are components of a partnership between SUNY and OMH, thanks to $3.68 million from the Garrett Lee Smith Grant that OMH received last year. OMH designated SUNY as one of the partnering institutions of a multi-year sub-award. The grant comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and is awarded to states and tribal nations for comprehensive youth suicide prevention efforts.

Garrett Lee Smith was the son of former U.S. Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon. The younger Smith died by suicide in 2003, shortly before he turned 22. A year later, President George W. Bush signed the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act and allocated $82 million to seed grants for suicide prevention.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 34-year olds. For some people, the college years may be especially difficult. The onset of psychiatric conditions may coincide with new experiences at college that are often stressful, even distressing.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, some studies found increases in depression, anxiety, and suicidality among college students.

In addition to QPR training and the Crisis Text Line, SUNY plans to use the grant to do outreach to college students who may be at risk of suicide; build a repository of mental health resources across the system; and implement and develop a best practices guide for responding to the occurrence of a suicide death.

About the State University of New York

It is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities.

Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. As of Fall 2019, more than 415,500 students were enrolled in a degree-granting program at a SUNY campus.

In total, SUNY serves about 1.3 million students in credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide exceeded $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2019, including significant contributions from students and faculty.

There are three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit www.suny.edu, and for more information about additional COVID-19 fundraising efforts, visit #SUNYTogether.

About the New York State Office of Mental Health

The New York State Office of Mental Health promotes the mental health of all New Yorkers, with a particular focus on providing hope and recovery for adults with serious mental illness and children with serious emotional disturbances.

OMH oversees a large, multifaceted mental health system that serves more than 700,000 individuals each year. The agency operates psychiatric centers across the State and also regulates, certifies and oversees more than 4,500 programs, operated by local governments and nonprofit agencies.

May 5, 2012 - 7:21pm
posted by Daniel Crofts in SUNY, Genesee Community College, education.

Today was the inauguration of Genesee Community College's fourth president, James M. Sunser, Ed.D. He replaces Stuart Steiner, who recently retired after serving as the college's president for 37 years.

Sunser is pictured up front and center in the above photo, along with the distinguished guests -- including GCC officials, members of the Genesee and Orleans county legislatures, officials from the SUNY system, private colleges and some representatives from the state government.

The fact that GCC has only had four presidents in the nearly 45 years of its existence made this a particularly significant event. Mary Pat Hancock, chair of the Genesee County Legislature and the third speaker at the ceremony, lauded the college's thorough and careful selection process during this "crucial transition."

In his speech, Sunser expressed his enthusiasm for the job.

"It is my honor and privilege to stand before you to reflect on this significant and special day," he said. "I am humbled and honored by the confidence you have shown in me, and I assure you that I will aspire toward the highest standard of excellence, for which this college is known."

He also said that he was proud to be part of a college with such a legacy of "resourcefulness, dedication and faith in the future," pointing out the ordinary citizens who "banded together against conventional wisdom and the community's expectations" to found GCC 45 years ago.

Sunser believes that not only meeting, but exceeding expectations is the challenge of education and anyone who wants to make a lasting difference in the world.

As examples of people who have done this, he talked about key historical figures like Albert Einstein (who grew up with a speech impediment) and Rosa Parks, as well as the aforementioned citizens who pushed for GCC's foundation and the pioneers who first came to this region 200 years ago, "pushing beyond expectations."

"I promise to meet and exceed your expectations at GCC," he said. "I believe there is no more powerful, no more enduring gift than education. (At GCC), we will develop programs and curricula that will bring the best to our work force and help shape the vibrant economic prosperity of the region."

Toward the end of his speech, Sunser also encouraged his partners in the community and ordinary citizens to make a difference.

"Each of us can help change our community," he said. "Let us leave a legacy that makes those who follow us proud."

Sunser is an alumnus of Onondaga Community College (OCC), Syracuse University, SUNY Brockport and the University of Rochester. Before coming to GCC, he worked at OCC for 22 years -- first as bursar, then as vice president of finance, and finally as vice president for continuing and extended learning.

OCC president Debbie L. Sydow, who was one of the greeters at today's ceremony, spoke of Sunser's passion for education and dedication to the service of others.

"He always puts the students' interests first (at OCC)," Sydow said.

She described Sunser as "no-nonsense yet good-natured, smart yet down-to-earth."

For more information on President Sunser, see his biographical page on GCC's website.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Carlson.

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