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Chester College Students and Faculty Demand Resignation of President

Sam Evans-Brown
Students rallying at Chester College Monday called for the resignations of President and former Manchester Mayor Bob Baines

Students and Faculty at Chester College are demanding the resignation of college President and former Manchester Mayor Bob Baines.

While students rallied in front of Baines’ office on Monday, faculty and staff members submitted a vote of no confidence against the president. But College trustees say they still have full faith in Baines.

The students of Chester College are balancing final exams with picketing the steps of the school’s administrative building.

Senior Jenna Gawne, who also works at the college, took the bullhorn.

"I’m the director of student services at Chester College and I want Bob Baines to leave his office and go home forever," Gawne announced to the cheers of her fellow students.

Others, like Amy Gradzcewicz, talked about why they want the college to stay open. 

"This college taught me to never give up on something you love," she says her voice choking with emotion.

Two weeks ago a school administrator let slip to faculty members that plans were in the works to close the school down after finals. The tiny art school just outside of Manchester was founded in 1965, and has fewer than 150 students. In the last two weeks students and faculty have rallied to raise $92,000 hoping to help save the school. That’s impressive, but it’s only a fifth of the hole in Chester’s current operating budget.

President Baines has also been trying to keep the school afloat. He says things could have been much worse. 

"I have no apologies for my efforts to save Chester college," Baines defended himself in a phone call later in the day, "the college would have gone out of business a couple years ago if I hadn’t prevailed on the board to stick with our plan in keeping the college open."

Baines says the recession brought enrollment down, making a serious dent in Chester’s budget, but he and trustees have been tight-lipped on specific plans for how to keep the college open.

Faculty spokesman Darrell Matsumotos says that lack of transparency is a big part of the problem.

"Everyone, up to the upper administration feels to me that we’ve been paddling the same canoe, Viking ship, whatever you want to call it, but the upper administration was pointing in other directions," Matsumoto says.

Matsumoto and all of the ten other full-time faculty members have signed a vote of no-confidence against Baines. 28 out of 29 staff members and six adjunct faculty also lent their signatures. In a statement the board of trustees says it received the no-confidence vote and while it understands the emotional situation it unanimously backs President Baines’ leadership.

Baines says he too understands the anger of the faculty, staff and students, but he wasn’t in a position to talk openly about the college’s finances. He says that kind of publicity can sink a college.

"Think about it, if you’re a parent thinking of sending your son or daughter to Chester College for $30,000 dollars a year," Baines' explains,"if you read about the fact that it’s in financial difficulty, are you going to send your son or daughter to that college?"

But Baines’ explanations don’t wash for current students like Shane Bendaña. He led Monday’s rally, and says if the college doesn’t raise the money it needs to stay open, students are prepared to do more than shout into bullhorns.

"We will move in to the dorms, we will move into the library, move into this office, we’ll do whatever it takes," Bendaña says.

Chester College is scheduled to hold commencement this Saturday. Whether or not school opens again next fall remains an open question.

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