Former GPC president disapproves of GSU merger

Former official claims chancellor said two-year school wasn’t under consideration

The former president of Georgia Perimeter College says a recently proposed merger with Georgia State University is not the right move for the two-year college — or its students.

Anthony Tricoli resigned from GPC amidst a $25 million shortfall in July 2012. In May of last year, he filed a lawsuit in which he claimed that top officials within the University System of Georgia, which oversees the state’s public colleges and universities, conspired to force him out. Tricoli is appealing a DeKalb County judge’s decision to throw out the case.

He now points to his removal as a first step process in an alleged “planned action” to reduce GPC’s enrollment to make the merger possible. The consolidation of the university, one of many proposed by Chancellor Hank Huckaby, must still be approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools before being implemented by the Board of Regents.

Tricoli claims Huckaby told him and other colleges presidents in 2011 about his plan to merge several institutions. In a phone conversation, Huckaby allegedly claimed the mergers were “strictly financial.”

“When I asked him if GPC was part of that plan he said, no,” Tricoli wrote in series of answers to questions that he says were sent by reporters. “He explained that we were so large with nearly 30,000 students that we would stand on our own. If these mergers are really all about saving money, then the Georgia Senate and House Education Committees and Georgia taxpayers should be told right up front exactly how much money is being saved by this merger.”

Tricoli disagrees with the merger for several reasons, including: the trouble of collaboration between two institutions with different missions; a lack of “dollar savings data” that shows the potential monetary benefits; and diminished access to higher education in Georgia — a move that will adversely affect minority students the most. Read the entire Q&A after the jump.

UPDATE, 3:18 p.m. “Given that the former president has pending litigation with the University System of Georgia, it would be inappropriate for us to engage with his comments,” Charles Sutlive, the USG’s vice chancellor for communications, said in an emailed statement.

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Q) Did Chancellor Huckaby ever talk with you about merging GPC?
A) In 2011 Chancellor Huckaby communicated with the college presidents about his desire to merge several institutions. As he explained it to me in a telephone conversation, the goal of such mergers were strictly financial. When I asked him if GPC was part of that plan he said, no. He explained that we were so large with nearly 30,000 students that we would stand on our own. If these mergers are really all about saving money, then the Georgia Senate and House Education Committees and Georgia taxpayers should be told right up front exactly how much money is being saved by this merger.

Q) As you may know, the enrollment at GPC has dropped every semester since you left the college. Do you believe that was planned in order to make merging more likely?
A) Let me start by saying that I am all about access to college. Georgia needs institutions that are accessible to the population. There was no reason for GPC’s enrollment to drop off, unless that drop was a planned action. Before I left GPC in 2012, we (Dr. Alan Jackson, Dr. Lisa Fowler and me) were in the final days of a contract negotiation with Fort Gordon that would have brought 6,500 new students to GPC in the fall of 2012. That would have raised our total enrollment to 33,500 students in the fall of 2012. It’s sad for me to see that over 7,000 less students per semester are currently being admitted to the college. Over a period of six semesters, that’s a total of 42,000 students who have been negatively impacted and are not getting an education at GPC.

Q) Is this merger between GPC and Georgia State University a good idea or a bad idea?
A) These are two very different institutions with very different constituents, and very different missions. I led the strategic planning process at GPC, and I can tell you that the process we used was collaborative and took place over several months, involving students, faculty, staff and community constituents. We created our strategic plan to be in line with the plan that ed. then-Chancellor Erroll Davis adopted for the University System. I have to imagine that the strategic plan that Georgia State University has in place was completed in very much the same way, with significant input from the university constituents and stakeholders.

Q) What about the missions; are they at least compatible?
A) A look at the Georgia State University website shows that many missions exist at GSU. It appears that each college within the university has their own mission. I could find none of those that match GPC’s singular mission. GPC’s mission is all about providing access and opportunity. Georgia State University has graduate and doctoral programs, professional and academic schools and degrees, and an important research agenda. I could not find no alignment of overarching missions between these two institutions. The populations of students these two very different institutions are meant to serve are as different as their founding principles. For the past 100 years, GPC (formerly DeKalb College) has been serving a large “learning support” population. That mission is typical and expected of a community college.

Asking these two institutions to “merge” their institutional vision, mission and values could either result in a watered down mission for Georgia State, or a mission for GPC that simply doesn’t support about 70% of the incoming student population it enrolls. That may be challenging for the BOR and USG to understand, but that’s a fact, and that’s where the rubber meets the road; again it’s all about access; and access is where student success begins. The welfare of students, their educational challenges and their educational goals, in my opinion, should always be placed first in these discussions. Without a focus on access, this merger will result in a loss of students attending this merged institution.

Q) Does it make any sense to eliminate GPC?
A)GPC is the only “community college” outside of the urban (downtown) area of Atlanta within a reasonable driving distance to most residents; its five campuses makes that possible. If you take the only access mission institution away from millions of people, then you end up with no place for these students to turn in the USG. Fortunately, the technical college there in Clarkston is a very good institution, and I certainly see a great value in technical colleges in America today, and I support them 100%. We need technical colleges to keep our communities economic engine strong. But then again, not all students would make that choice. If they would have made that their choice, then they would have done so from the start and not attended GPC.

Q) Would you have supported this merger?
A) With the scant amount of information that has been provided to the public at this point (i.e. no dollar savings data, no published plan for reorganization, no clarity on faculty and staff layoffs, no hard plan for continued access for students, no solid information on academic compatibility (faculty meeting with faculty), no clarity on mission statements, and no published plan describing how this merger will help learning support students, I could not have supported the BOR’s decision to takeover GPC, as it does not appear to be in the best interest of the students I represented as GPC’s president. At face value, without data, this does not appear to be the right thing to do to GPC’s students.

Q) In 2011, you were recognized as the top college governance president in the nation. There appears to have been little to no input from those who study or work at these two institutions, is that the best shared-governance approach to use in a merger of institutions and people?
A) I would have thought that the constituents of these two institutions would have been involved in a well-developed consultation process from the start, so they could share their ideas and concerns “before” the BOR made a decision and rushed it through. We all know that support is generated by “including” people in decision making processes, not “surprising” them with decision in which they have played no part. I couldn’t imagine doing that to the faculty, staff and students I was there to support; and had I still been at GPC. I simply wouldn’t have implemented any part of this without consultation of the employees and students prior to any decision being made. The most highly effective institutions of higher education engage in collegial governance as a standard operating practice, there appears to be no evidence of that taking place in this “merger.”

In addition, and unfortunately that’s not the way this current administration in the USG operates. The non-renewal of my contract was the first clear example of “Ready, Shoot, Aim.” If you would review the audits of the budget during my tenure you would see that the college budget never finished in the red, we always had funds to cover our expenses. So, here now are two examples of “Ready, Shoot Aim:” 1) my removal; and 2) this merger. Some other leaders in Georgia have said the elimination of Southern Polytechnic State University was another example of “Ready, Aim, Shoot.”

Q)Due to the Metropolitan Atlanta being one of the most diverse locations in the nation; a question that we should all be asking is how will this merger impact the racial, ethnic and cultural communities that these two institutions serve?
A) Upon starting as GPC’s president I was told by my USG Sector Head that I was to reduce GPC’s student enrollment by 7,000 in Gwinnett County. However, I quickly learned that many of those particular students were classified as under-served. Unfortunately, that point didn’t seem to concern the person to whom I reported.

Nor did he care when I shared with him that the mission and role of a community college is to serve the under-served, and that those particular students who would be harmed the most by this decision were the under-served (African-American and Hispanic students). For five years, I vigorously pursued increasing GPC’s access to the minority student population in the five metro-Atlanta communities served by GPC. The success of those efforts is well documented. Community colleges have a mission to serve all populations, as such; it was my job to open the door of opportunity to students of all races.

In 2010, I worked with Mayor Shirley Franklin and Congressman Hank Johnson to bring the community together to discuss ways to increase the college-going African-American male population. We even held community open forum discussions for interested community members to discuss this very important topic on GPC’s Clarkston Campus. Unfortunately, this program also didn’t go over very well with my USG Sector Head. A year or so later, I worked with the leaders from the Goizueta Foundation to create GPC’s first program to fund scholarships to deserving Hispanic students. The Hispanic population deserved the same opportunity as all other student populations to attend college, and I wanted these students to see GPC as their college. That program is called GEAP and has enabled hundreds of Hispanic students to attend college at GPC thanks to the kindness of the Goizueta Foundation’s generous gift. I hope these two populations of students are not forgotten in this “merger.”