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MCC Survey Shows Lack of Confidence in President

February 1, 2019
Middlesex Community College President James Mabry, back right, listens to the results from a faculty and staff survey presented to the Board of Trustees Thursday morning. Some faculty and staff respondents were critical of him. Also visible, center left, are Trustees Laurie Machado and Annie O'Connor, both of Lowell. SUN/Rick Sobey Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

LOWELL -- A recent survey from Middlesex Community College faculty and staff criticizes President James Mabry, with a majority voting in the survey they do not have confidence in his ability to effectively lead the institution.

Morale among faculty and staff is at an all-time low, according to some respondents, who also overwhelmingly stated that the college has become a top-down institution where decisions are made by executive leaders regardless of concerns from faculty and staff.

The college’s faculty union president, Joanna DelMonaco, presented the Campus Climate Survey to the Board of Trustees in Lowell Thursday morning.

About half of full-time faculty and staff members, 95 of 183, responded to the survey.

“There is a need for bold leadership that is positive and forward thinking, not only to plan for the future but to act in the present,” DelMonaco, president of MCC’s Professional Association, reported from the survey during Thursday’s meeting.

Mabry was hired as president in December 2014 amid some discord.

In response to the critical report, he said after the Board of Trustees meeting that he and trustees will sit down with union leadership in the near future to evaluate these concerns and “see if we can bridge the gaps they expressed today.” The board during the meeting approved an ad-hoc committee to address this situation.

“We are always available to work with our faculty,” Mabry said. “We value their input. They do tremendous work here.”

He stressed that he wants to find a positive way to work together with the union to solve these issues.

As the college faces declining enrollment, like every community college in the state, leaders need to come up with innovative, out-of-the-box strategies to address this issue, according to respondents.

“He (Mabry) is not an effective leader,” one comment from the survey reads.

“He claimed he believed in transparency and an inclusive environment, but he actually does the opposite,” reads another comment.

Other survey respondents pointed to divisiveness, poor communication, indecision and a lack of leadership at the college -- affecting morale in a significant way.

There must be a complete change at the top “in order for MCC to survive,” states another respondent.

Board of Trustees Chairman James Campbell mentioned several times during the meeting that MCC was recently ranked the top community college in the state, based on information from the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Educational Statistics.

“There’s a real disconnect here,” Campbell said in response to the negative survey.

He said trustees on the ad-hoc committee and Mabry must meet soon with the faculty union to “get a better handle on this.”

Highlights from survey

Here are some of the questions and results from the faculty survey:

* Do you have confidence in President Mabry’s ability to effectively lead the college? 44 percent, yes; 56 percent, no.

* Is the college becoming a top-down institution where policy decisions are made by the executive leadership regardless of professional staff or faculty concerns and input? 79 percent, yes; 21 percent, no.

* Do you feel as if you can share comments/concerns without negative repercussions? 50 percent, yes; 50 percent, no

* Does the college administration effectively support your work area and the specific work you do in your current position? 49 percent, yes; 51 percent, No.

* Do you have confidence in Provost (Philip) Sisson’s ability to effectively lead Academic and Student Affairs? 72 percent, yes; 27, percent, no.

* Do you feel supported by your immediate supervisor? 76, percent, yes; 24 percent, no.

* Should there be a process whereby college employees can provide input on the performance of administrators? 94 percent, yes; 5 percent, no.

Many respondents cited UMass Lowell’s rebranding efforts, creating a dynamic marketing campaign around its core programs. They pointed to the university’s increase in enrollment, while MCC faces dwindling enrollment.

“MCC needs to reinvent itself with a powerful vision,” DelMonaco said.

Thursday’s report comes as the state’s commissioner of the Department of Higher Education, Carlos Santiago, recently commended Mabry for his work promoting and leading regional cooperation among public institutions.

In a letter to Campbell, Santiago wrote that he’s recommending the maximum allowable salary increase for Mabry, based on the president’s performance. This Dec. 12 letter was presented to the board at Thursday’s meeting.

The Board of Trustees ad-hoc committee will be made up of members Linda Banks-Santilli, Cheryl Howard and Annie O’Connor.

During discussion of the survey on Thursday, Trustee Stephanie Cronin said she simply doesn’t agree with some of the survey’s comments.

“There are some really innovative things happening here to bring students in,” Cronin said.

Even though there are many challenges and obstacles to deal with, MCC History Professor David Kalivas said at the meeting they cannot lose sight of the fact that great things are going on at the college.

Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.

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