Springfield Technical Community College faculty, staff protest, demand ouster of President Cook

SPRINGFIELD – Springfield Technical Community College employees renewed their call for President John Cook to resign in a protest that came seven months after they took their first vote of no confidence in his leadership.

Carrying signs and wearing buttons saying “STCC employees deserve better,” about 50 faculty, other employees and supporters stood outside the gates of the college waving at drivers who honked back Monday. They then walked Scibelli Hall where the Board of Trustees was meeting with Carlos Santiago, the state higher education commissioner.

The employees did not speak at the public meeting. They just wanted their presence felt, said Nicholas Camerota, co-chairman of the All Unit Congress and an adjunct professor at STCC.

“What we have seen happen on campus is there is a climate of fear,” Camerota said. “We want a campaign guided by the love of our students, and this campus and the community we serve.”

For most of the academic year, which recently ended, employees have been hesitant to speak out against the administration because they are concerned about repercussions. A number have also sought other jobs, he said.

On Oct. 4 the college’s Professional Association, joining with the All Unit Congress, which represents all college employees below the position of director, voted 202-26 to show no confidence in Cook and called for his resignation.

The employees also staged a walk-out during a town-hall style meeting Cook held, Camerota said.

In November the employees again voted to institute a work-to-rule action which means employees follow the terms of their contract exactly and do no extra work such as joining committees, he said.

In late October the 21-member Massachusetts Community College Council, an umbrella union that represents employees from the 15 community colleges across the state, voted to support the vote of no confidence taken by the Springfield employees.

“It is distressing to see this happen here. Springfield Tech is one of the great colleges of the 15,” said Margaret Wong, president elect of the Community College Council, who came to the campus to support the employees.

The faculty and staff at Springfield Technical have always been known as a cohesive group of employees who work hard to get results on a campus full of non-traditional students, she said.

“They move heaven and earth to do the very best for the students,” Wong said. “It is surprising to me a new president would come in and not recognize the value of what is here.”

Before the meeting Cook issued a written statement about the protest and conflicts with the employees.

“The intent of every decision I make, as president of STCC, is to help our campus community better serve our students.  I understand that not every decision I’ve made, or will make, will be popular with everyone on our campus. While disagreements are inevitable in any large organization, I will continue to engage our campus in open and transparent communication,” he said.

He said he hopes to continue relying heavily on faculty and staff as the college continues to work toward improving lower graduation rates for students of color, investing in new technology, improving facilities and facing expected enrollment declines.

A lack of communication was on the list of complaints on a nine-item bill of particulars the employees adopted as part of their effort to ouster Cook. They also said the president has been fiscally irresponsible, failed to fill positions of staff who work directly with students and questioned the choices he has made when hiring administrators.

The unions are expected to review the bill of particulars in the fall when classes resume to see if they need to be modified, Camerota said.

At the beginning of the meeting Monday, Santiago talked a little about his effort to tie all the state colleges and universities together more without sacrificing local control. He did not specifically address the employees or their vote of no confidence.

Also in October the Professional Association and All Unit Congress demanded Christopher C. Johnson to step down as the chairman of the Board of Trustees for the college, which he declined to do.

But in April Johnson met with members of the All Unit Congress and agreed to continue discussions in the board’s Committee on Internal/External Relations. The group has not met yet, Camerota said.

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