Too important to ignore

Published 8:28 pm Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A press release from the Virginia Community College System last week contained language that was remarkably forthright in its assessment of the situation at Paul D. Camp Community College. The press release was distributed concurrently with an equally remarkable on-campus announcement by VCCS Chancellor Glenn DuBois that Dr. Paul Conco would be replaced as the college’s president prior to his previously announced retirement date.

“The college is facing a number of serious challenges,” DuBois stated in the release. “Were this college a private enterprise, its financial sustainability would be questionable.”

Noting that the search for a full-time replacement for Conco had been suspended and an interim president, Dr. Bill Aiken, had been named to the post, DuBois explained, “(I)t is simply unfair to hand over the college, in its current condition, to a new permanent president.”


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Aiken, whom DuBois described as “a proven and seasoned higher education leader,” acknowledged in the announcement that there will be challenges ahead.

“From a preliminary look at the college’s indicators, it is not meeting its potential for the leading role that it can and should play in the community,” he stated. “I’m excited to bring people together in this effort to help the college find its footing.”

The candor of the announcements, both to the press and to the PDCCC faculty, was matched by a similar level of candor from a VCCS spokesman who discussed the announcement.

“The college has lost 25 percent of its (full time equivalent) enrollment over about three years,” VCCS assistant vice chancellor for public relations Jeffrey Kraus said during an interview last week. “That has a cascading effect over everything else at the college. Tuition and fees account for about 60 percent of our operating funding. Three out of every five dollars the college is working with comes from enrollment, and that’s been dropping. That has to turn around, and the sooner the better.”

The simple fact that VCCS officials were so free and public with their criticism of the situation at Paul D. Camp Community College is telling in itself. Organizational dynamics normally dictate that direct criticism of a sacked leader be tempered with platitudes, that negative assessments be minimized and that public statements include some level of obfuscation. That those things were largely absent from last week’s announcements may well attest to the perceived severity of the problem at the college.

Dr. Aiken officially took on his new duties on Monday, and it’s likely his first couple of weeks on the job will include an unusual amount of assuaging the worries of the college’s constituents.

Many of them will have been alarmed at the blunt statement of problems at the school in last week’s announcements. Many others already will have reached similar conclusions as those of VCCS officials from simply observing the environment at PDCCC in recent months and years. All will be looking for some reason to feel confident the college has a long-term plan for viability.

What Aiken and the VCCS do to shore up public confidence during the next few weeks will be critical, as nothing will hurt enrollment at the college worse than concerns about its future.

If the VCCS’ grave pronouncements about the college are true, there’s a lot of work to be done in that short period. Suffolk and the rest of Western Tidewater will be watching his progress closely. PDCCC is too important to this community to just let it founder.