October 2011 Issue
September 20, 2011

Working together, campus communities start to rebuild

Author: DarrylMcGrath
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: Roughly 1,800 Binghamton-area residents take shelter at the events center on the Binghamton University campus in Vestal. Above, Bette Anne Gaube, assistant athletic director and a United University Professions member, assists evacuees. Photo by Jonathan Cohen.

The effects of the late-summer floods will likely be felt for the rest of the fall semester at several SUNY campuses, and NYSUT members are making an extra effort to help their students and their communities.

The stories of selfless effort abound as campuses take stock and regroup. At Schenectady County Community College, acting SCCC Faculty Association President Ralf Schauer recounted how NYSUT members who work as technical specialists restored computer service after the campus electrical system was flooded, so that students, faculty and staff could get back to learning and teaching.

Similar efforts took place in Binghamton. "It's just been unbelievable, how people stepped forward. So many people came down in droves and said, 'What can I do?'" said Bette Anne Gaube, an assistant athletic director at SUNY Binghamton and one of the 35,000 members of United University Professions across the state. "Faculty and staff, just about anybody who could help, came down."

The Binghamton University Events Center, which is used for everything from athletics to graduation ceremonies, became a regional emergency shelter for about 1,800 residents from throughout the region. UUP member Gail Glover helped other faculty, staff and volunteers set up the evacuation center and served meals. Nursing students, together with local medical professionals, helped those in the shelter with medical needs.

As NYSUT United went to press, hundreds of people were still seeking shelter at the center in the aftermath of back-to-back floods of the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers.

At Cobleskill College, UUP members are organizing a day of volunteer cleanup service to the nearby towns of Middleburgh and Schoharie, which suffered greatly in the floods.

Chapter members are also extending extra outreach to students, some of whom have endured devastating losses, said Fred Kowal, president of the UUP Cobleskill chapter.

Faculty have been available to simply listen to students, and the residence hall staff — who are also UUP members — have offered support to students who lost personal possessions in or near flooded dorms. In an area where many students come from modest means, the losses — even if covered by insurance — mean difficult disruptions.
"Some lost laptops and some lost cars," Kowal said. "Faculty have been really cooperative and helping."

Margaret Wingate, a Broome Community College Faculty Association (BCCFA) member and past president of the local, said the recovery would be difficult for some students. Broome CC is in Dickinson, just outside of Binghamton, and suffered the same flooding of the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers. "Community college students don't always have the same financial resources to come back from this kind of thing. The campus is responding, I think, very well," Wingate said.

BCCFA members are among those who contributed to a collection of clothes and personal hygiene items to be distributed to students and area residents. A more long-range effect at the campus is the loss of the Learning Assistance Center in the flooded basement of the campus library. The center housed a mathematics lab, a writing center, and the adaptive services office for students with disabilities. The basement location was especially good for students who use wheelchairs, because it was easier to enter from the van unloading area just outside of the building, said college President Kevin Drumm.

The college hopes to reopen the center in January; the offices have temporarily been moved to other buildings on the campus. However, the flood waters damaged some older partitions used in the Learning Assistance Center, and the college is waiting to learn if those partitions contained asbestos. If so, the center will be closed for a year, Drumm said.

The library elevator is out of service indefinitely, which means three classrooms on an upper floor have also been relocated, because they are no longer accessible to students using wheelchairs.

Despite these difficulties, Drumm had nothing but praise for the way the campus community has pulled together to help those students and their families who have been affected by the floods.

"People are bending over backwards to reach these students," Drumm said.