By Renée Bartlett-Webber
City College’s Broadcast Electronic Media Arts (BEMA) is one of the 18 departments that had layoffs last year and its faculty are struggling to sustain certificate offerings. This challenge is not unique to BEMA but the department illustrates the extensive repercussions from the loss of educators. BEMA department Chair Dana Jae Labrecque voiced concerns about her ability to even continue the program in the Jan. 26th board meeting. Since then, she gained the bare minimum requirements that will help push her programs forward, but her work is far from over.
The Board of Trustees approved layoffs of 50 full-time equivalent faculty in February 2022 that would take effect in May the same year. Before members voted, they discussed potential ramifications with Chancellor David Martin. “I do not believe that any of these layoffs would directly impact the ability of any of our students to obtain or achieve their academic goals or certificates,” he said. He also said that there would be options to bring back faculty if there was an unforeseen windfall after the decision.
Labrecque, like many other educators, continued scheduling her classes as budgeted. “But on the last day of school in spring 2022,” she said, “ the chancellor called an emergency meeting where he said that you will not be able to bring back your full-time faculty for 39 months.” She said that the chancellor formed this rule to avoid lawsuits from laid-off faculty, as advised by his lawyer. “It’s like burning your house down to prevent thievery!” Labrecque is advocating that the board have a chance to vote on this 39-month hiring limitation.
Chancellor Martin did not respond to The Guardsman’s request for comment before the deadline of this publication.
With only four of eight faculty members remaining in her department, Labrecque “spent the whole summer” cutting her course offerings, slashing the certificate requirements, and petitioning the administration for more faculty hours and teachers. Only one beginner studio class remains this semester and the studio is overcrowded with 1.5 times the ideal capacity. “I never thought I’d be sitting here cutting the programs I’ve been developing for 22 years.”
BEMA student Casey Hudson had quit their job to start the live sound certificate program and they need the beginner livesound class as part of the requirement. “[Labrecque] taught it in spring of 2022 but I didn’t have the prereqs yet. And then she’s not able to teach it again until spring of 2024… Without experience I don’t feel like I can really get a live sound job. So, I’m really stuck helping people for free for a long time.”
“We could sign up for our classes like normal, and then over the summer, all of a sudden most of my classes were dropped,” said student Maura Cotter. Some courses were added back after she sent a letter to the board, but she had to stay an extra semester to finish her certificate.
Labrecque has fought for concessions on behalf of her program and as of Feb. 17, the BEMA department had granted her minimum request of three additional weekly teaching hours. But this is only the first of many administrative steps required to bring back the classes she believes her students need. “I do see a little light at the end of the tunnel because I got the minimum I asked for. Now I have to figure out how to step down as chair.”
BEMA is one example of a department that has had to severely cut class offerings and as a result, left students struggling to complete their certificates. Hudson said that whoever is making the decisions at the college “doesn’t realize what an asset they have in the BEMA department and Dana. She has made this incredible program and it wouldn’t be that program without her, but they’re burning her out!”