CCM faculty, alumni protest staff cuts to Morris County officials

Stephen Shaw, director of the Morris County Commissioners, addresses callers from the County College of Morris at virtual meeting, April 28, 2021. Screenshot by Katie Coyne.
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By Katie Coyne

Faculty and students from the County College of Morris, angered over this month’s firing of seven non-tenured professors, on Wednesday demanded that county officials intervene.

“I have a little daughter, I want her to live well. I picked up my life and I moved to New Jersey, and I will just say at this moment in life it feels like one of … the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made,”  Robb Lauzon, a professor of communications, said during the Morris County Board of Commissioners virtual meeting.

“I love CCM so much, but this behavior is inexcusable,” said 2019 grad Claire Haviland, imploring the board for help during an impassioned 90-minute comment session that commissioners finally had to cut short.

Commission Director Stephen Shaw told callers that commissioners have no jurisdiction over the two-year community college, established in Randolph in 1968.

“The college has always had the autonomy to administer its own operations free from any objections or interference by elected county officials. We work very hard to make sure that politics does not play a role in the administration of our county college,” Shaw said.

CCM President Anthony J. Iacono dismissed seven faculty members on April 16, 2021, contending their non-renewals were necessary because of declining student enrollment, and the need to balance numbers of staff who are tenured vs. non-tenured.

The dismissed educators were union members.

Faculty voted “no-confidence” in Iacono, accusing him of union-busting.

The New Jersey Education Association has filed a labor complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Commission, and has legal action pending, said NJEA spokesperson Dawn Hiltner.

“It’s odd that three of the people who are being let go are three of the leaders in the union,” she said.

CCM spokesperson Kathleen Brunet gave this statement to Morristown Green:

“We unequivocally deny the baseless allegations that are being made. We have consistently complied with all our obligations under the collective negotiations agreement with the union and New Jersey law. The union has made an information request and the college is preparing a response.”

The dismissals took everyone by surprise, said James Capozzi, president of the Faculty Association of County College of Morris. 

“We are a strong union who believe that the reputation of the college and quality of education are worth fighting for,” Capozzi said. “We won’t allow union-busting tactics to break us.”

STIMULUS AND BILLBOARDS

Cappozzi and fellow English professor Mark Schmidt were scheduled to receive tenure next New Year’s Day.

Geoffrey Peck, another English professor, and Lauzon, the union’s communications chair, were not far behind them.

Also dismissed: Biology professor Anastasia Kilhanie; Najib Iftikhar,  a faculty member in CCM’s hospitality program; and  Lauren Lesce, a professor in the languages and ESL department.

The union and NJEA say upper administration officials received raises: 6 percent for Iacono, with a performance bonus, in January.

“Raises for themselves and fewer faculty positions to actually educate our students,” Capozzi said.

“We thought it was dismissive in the extreme that the college would all of a sudden find the need to cut loose three officers of the union and four other active members of the union.”

The staff cuts follow CCM’s receipt of $12.7 million in federal stimulus money, which can be for staffing purposes, according to Hiltner.

The administration also has locked horns with the student newspaper, The Youngtown Edition, in recent years, prompting editors to seek legal support from the Student Press Law Center, Capozzi said.

CCM has 7,566 students and 288 faculty members, according to Community College Review. The college confers associate degrees and specialized certificates, and many students transfer to four-year universities.

Haviland, who studied art and education at CCM, spoke in support of Capozzi, one of her professors. She was moved by the faculty’s support when her mother had breast cancer.

Iftikhar liked CCM so much as a student, he came back to teach there; he’s even promoted the school in videos and on billboards.

“I knew I could make a difference here,” said Iftikhar, concluding his fifth year on the staff. “I strive to connect with every student in every class, making each feel comfortable, respected, and valued.”

That includes helping students find jobs after CCM, he said.

Now, some of his colleagues may need a hand, too.

“I’ve been applying for jobs every single night,” said Lauzon, the communications professor.

Kilhanie, the biology professor, and her husband recently became homeowners in Jefferson Township.

“It was as though the very community we chose to become a part of turned its back on us,” she said.

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