The challenge and beyond: Cuts won’t deter GCC from commitments

November 20, 2008

Words from Robert L. Pura, PhD., President, Greenfield Community College

As you know, Governor Deval Patrick was forced to make significant cuts to the Commonwealth’s budget.  Every indication is that this current economic downturn will have impact in the state for years to come.  In this My-Turn I will communicate how GCC is responding to these difficult economic times.

These are painful cuts.  There is no getting around that fact.  The numbers are powerful and should be viewed in the broader context.  In 1978, 95% of our budget was state funded; today it is less than 50%.  In 2001, our State budget was $9.1 million.   Our allocation at the beginning of this year was $9.2 million after the veto of $167,000.  GCC’s budget cut a few weeks ago (9C) was $461,082. Greenfield Community College’s allocation for 2008, therefore, has been cut back to approximately the same allocation as 2001.  This is not a one-year short-term issue; we will feel the impact over the next 3-4 years.  The collective impact of this year’s budget cuts, the current economy and projected revenues for 2010 require that we cut $1 million dollars for the coming year.  As painful as these cuts are, we at GCC will deal with them, just as each of you are adjusting your personal and business budgets to this economy.

Everyone is feeling the impact of the current economic environment.  From higher education and health care to small businesses and our household finances– all budgets have been impacted by a national problem – a social as well as an economic crisis.  We understand this reality and we will respond.  Our college’s Vision and Mission statement, and Principles of Education – ensuring our passionate commitment to access and excellence as well as to teaching and learning – will guide our decisions.  As a result of this recent round of cuts we have decided not to fill positions that were in the queue, eliminate all non-essential travel, freeze equipment purchases, and reduce paper copy, ink cartridges, supplies and energy consumption.   We will cut an additional half million dollars by fall and in doing so, we will reduce the number of administrators on our campus.  Each of those positions that go unfilled or vacated are needed positions, but they are just not affordable at this time.

Our means are our goals in the making.  How we respond to this economic environment and these cuts is as important as making the cuts themselves.  My heart and soul have been lifted by the response of our students, faculty and staff.  We have developed an e-suggestion box at GCC and it is already filled with innovative and thoughtful ideas; committee chairs have provided the leadership to move from paper to e-communication, faculty and staff are sacrificing professional development and travel, reducing copying and generating long lists of energy conservation strategies.  The point being is that each have stepped up to the plate, understand the moment and in classic GCC manner they have come together as a community with courage, intelligence and great heart.

What will we have learned?  What will we have taught?   Please “fast-forward” for just a moment.  Fast-forward to the moment when this economy rebounds and changes for the better are felt throughout the community. Let us all look back to today, to this moment in time and ask, “what did we learn, what did we teach?”  What answers do you come up with?  I believe that one of the primary lessons that will emerge from this difficult time will be our renewed understanding and commitment to collaborative models of doing business and creating community.  Collaboration is another form of alternative, renewable, and sustainable energy and this moment provides the opportunity for even greater collaboration. The energy I speak of in that context is human energy.  Collaborative human energy is an alternative that is both renewable and sustainable.

GCC is needed now more than ever and we understand our responsibility.  As the sole point of access to higher education in Franklin County we take seriously our responsibilities.  For many, GCC is the first step toward a baccalaureate degree at colleges such as UMASS, Smith, Mt. Holyoke, Westfield State, MCLA or Mass Art.  As tuition increases at four-year colleges and universities, GCC is needed more than ever to provide an affordable alternative for those first critical years of higher education.  Students also come to GCC in search of a meaningful career.  And all too many of our neighbors come to GCC after the loss of their job, eager to retool and renew.  Our professional programs have educated a great number of the region’s nurses, childcare professionals, EMTs, police officers, firefighters, outdoor recreation leaders, and massage therapists.  Those programs help to build the very infrastructure of our community.  New programs in “alternative and sustainable energy” and in “entrepreneurship” are building bridges to the future.   GCC is a major vehicle for our regions economic recovery.

At a time when the economic environment is so uncertain, the American Dream feels increasingly unachievable for far too many in our community.  Affordable access to excellence in education provides that opportunity to achieve America’s Dreams. As painful as these budget cuts are, we will not yield from our commitment to affordable access and we will never allow finances to undermine our commitment to quality.  GCC is needed now more than ever and we will not take one step back from our commitment and responsibility to our students and this community.  GCC is not just a college in this community; GCC is this community’s college.