Mabry, MCC Trustees Meet to Pinpoint Disconnect with Faculty

February 27, 2019

LOWELL -- The Middlesex Community College Board of Trustees and president are working to pinpoint the cause of the disconnect between the president and faculty who in a recent survey expressed concern with his leadership.

At a meeting Tuesday afternoon, the trustees discussed the areas in which Massachusetts Community College Council union members criticized President James Mabry in the survey and in what ways those concerns could be addressed. Mabry brought up issues with communication, empathy and lack of vision for the college as some ways in which faculty voiced concerns in the survey and during a meeting at the Bedford campus earlier this month.

Trustee Annie O’Connor asked Mabry why he thought morale was so low among faculty. Mabry said he was struggling with that and that the college has tried small ways to show that faculty is appreciated. He also said he never fails to recognize faculty and staff. O’Connor also asked what his vision for the college is.

“We want all our programs to be as accessible as possible and we want them to be the best that they can be,” Mabry said. “I mean that from our developmental education, all the way to our honors program.”

Cheryl Howard, another trustee, said when she thinks of a vision, she imagines what the president would see for the college maybe five years down the line. Howard said the vision for the college doesn’t have to be something that needs to be achieved in the near future.

“I think they do have to be bold things,” Howard said.

“It’s something you’re always pushing toward,” she added.

Mabry said there has to be a balance between being bold and visionary and being realistic in what can come to fruition at the college, especially with declining enrollment as a factor to consider.

In the area of empathy, Mabry said one of the comments said the president did not get it because he wasn’t in the faculty members’ shoes. He said the person who expressed this concern had emailed him on nine occasions in the past year and that all the emails were complimentary. In one email the person stated that they “always found my interactions with you up front and honest.” Mabry also read an email in which the person said they always found Mabry “open and willing to listen.”

“I’m struggling with the disconnect with the nine emails I got,” he said.

He said the emails were from last spring and fall. O’Connor asked if Mabry had reached out since those emails had been sent. Mabry said, no, and that it has been a very tense environment. Some of the factors contributing to that tenseness, Mabry said, have to do with changes because of decreased enrollment, which isn’t unique to the college. In 2015, Mabry said full-time faculty decreased from 133 to 125 and is now at 120.

“There’s frustration because of change,” Trustee Chair James Campbell said. “If we didn’t change, we may not exist in the future.”

Mabry said they are working on a new strategic plan to address enrollment, which will be an inclusive process.

Moving forward, the trustees said they wanted to hear from the union on what their top priorities are so that they can begin a dialogue and find solutions to the concerns raised.

The next trustees meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 8 a.m. in the college’s Federal Building on the Lowell campus.

Follow Kori Tuitt on Twitter @KoriTuitt.