Students and Democratic lawmakers are urging the Community College System of New Hampshire to reconsider its decision to lay off ten faculty and staff at NHTI, the community college in Concord.
NHTI has seen a decline in enrollment over the last several years, including an eight percent dip this semester. But the overall Community College System (CCSNH) is getting 20 percent more state funds over the next biennium, compared to the last state budget.
In a letter to Chancellor Ross Gittell on Wednesday, top-ranking Democrats said the funds were based on an understanding with Gittell that the CCSNH would freeze tuition and “maintain head count” of faculty.
“This announcement is particularly shocking and disturbing in light of the significant investments made to the community colleges in the recently adopted state budget,” it reads.
Today, students told the Community College System Board of Trustees that the layoffs signalled the loss of some of NHTI’s most supportive mentors, including Dawn Higgins, the Director of Cross-Cultural Education and ESOL, who works with hundreds of resettled refugees and immigrants.
“I feel like students should be part of this conversation,” said Emily Kanter. “These people being laid off are the ones teaching us our careers. The ones going are the ones who impact us the most.”
But NHTI president Dr. Gretchen Mullin-Sawicki told NHPR that personnel decisions can’t be made based on which faculty connect the most with students, in part because of union rules on firing practices.
“We don’t have discretion,” she said. “We have to follow the collective bargaining unit. Even very good faculty, if they have the lowest seniority, unfortunately that’s part of the decision-making.”
Mullin-Sawicki said NHTI plans to bolster its advising services and coordinate with local non-profits and businesses that worked with resettled refugees.
“It’s my job as president to make sure that we have a really robust and welcoming environment for our students even in situations where we have enrollment problems,” she said.
Shannon Reid, a spokeswoman for the CCSNH, said NHTI’s decline in enrollment this fall fell below projections shared with lawmakers in the spring, and that left a $1.2 million hole in the college’s annual budget, which hovers at around $36 million.
“We are stewards of taxpayer funds. We are stewards of student tuition funds and we can't fail to take steps that result in balanced budgets,” she said.
Chancellor Gittell did not indicate that CCSNH would reverse the layoffs but told NHPR after the meetings that the board had heard students’ concerns.
“We listen. We’re going to be reflecting on it, and we’ll respond,” he said. “We want to be very thoughtful in this.”