March Issue
March 02, 2015

5 questions for Bethany Gizzi

Source: NYSUT United

Bethany Gizzi is president of the Faculty Association at Monroe Community College in Rochester and an associate professor of sociology. She began her career at MCC in 1997 as an adjunct instructor and has served in a leadership role within the FA since 1999.

1. What are the biggest challenges facing community college students today?

I see most of my students struggling with the challenge of finding balance between their work and family commitments and having the time to devote to their studies. Most community college students work, at least part-time, to support themselves and possibly their families while they attend college. They are committed to college as a pathway to a better life, but sometimes college has to take a backseat to the immediate and pressing needs of their present circumstances.

2. What are the ramifications of the governor's proposal to leave base aid at last year's level?

The state has ignored its obligation to provide 40 percent of operating costs for too long, and the governor's proposal is inadequate. Community college budgets are being stretched too thin. While it's not fair, or reasonable, to expect that students make up the slack through ever-increasing tuition costs, it's also not reasonable to expect community colleges to provide essential services with an ever-shrinking budget. We need a commitment from the state to meet its full funding obligation to these institutions in order to keep community college an affordable and quality choice for our state's students.

3. Would "performance-based funding" or a "campus performance improvement plan" work in academic institutions?

Academic institutions must be focused on achieving measurable goals of student success, but I don't think performance-based funding is the way to go. Community colleges are based on a mission of open access. We meet students where they are and help them to achieve their academic and professional goals. Some of our students seek career training, others may want to take a few classes, and still others want to transfer to four-year institutions.

Our students come from diverse and often disadvantaged backgrounds. Therefore, any measures of student performance must take into account the many ways we measure student success. To base our funding on a narrow definition of student performance would make it nearly impossible for community colleges to maintain an open-access policy and would severely limit our ability to provide resources and assistance to students who may need them the most.

4. What would happen if regional community college councils — appointed by the SUNY chancellor — limited community college programs to economic development trends in their regions?

Community colleges have an essential and long-standing relationship with businesses and industries in their regions, and meeting the needs of those industries for educated and skilled workers has always been part of the mission. However, limiting programs to just those economic and industry trends is antithetical to the overall mission of a community college.

We serve the needs of our communities, but we also serve the needs of our students. We provide educational programs and pathways that go beyond the scope of the economic trends of our regions. We prepare students for lifelong learning in a global context. Community colleges are a pathway to educational and economic opportunities. Limiting those opportunities would funda­mentally alter the purpose of a community college and would undermine the value of a liberal arts education.

5. What's the key issue mobilizing the members of your local faculty association this year?

Funding. Whether we are focused on declining enrollment trends or the upcoming contract negotiations, it all comes back to our budget. Our members are joining other NYSUT higher ed members in Albany to lobby for increased funding for community colleges. Our state and county governments must fulfill their obligation to fund our community colleges. Our students deserve an affordable and quality education that will provide them with opportunities to improve their lives. Our members deserve wages, benefits and working conditions that recognize the essential value of their work. Community colleges are a public good. We need the economic support to keep them that way.