The VOICE http://www.mcccvoice.org Campus and Local News Since 1968 Tue, 16 May 2017 13:15:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 Marketing or merit? Campus vets like services, but questions surround source of #1 “Military Friendly®” ranking http://www.mcccvoice.org/victory-media/ http://www.mcccvoice.org/victory-media/#comments Sun, 30 Apr 2017 14:40:01 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5768

An article in Mercer’s December 2016 issue Viking newsletter explained how the college had “been named the number one military-friendly school among all two-year colleges in the nation by Victory Media, a provider of informational resource material to U.S. active duty military personnel, veterans, and spouses.” The VOICE wrote about the award, too. But what does that ranking mean? How did we earn it? What standards are used to determine the winner?

In a report written by the independent non-profit group Veterans Education Success (VES) titled “Understanding Misleading Websites and ‘Lead Generators:’ A case Study: Victory Media’s ‘Military Friendly® Schools’” originally published in August 2016 and updated in February 2017, VES calls to question the standards and practices used by Victory Media to assign its rankings.

During an interview with The VOICE, Dr. Jianping Wang said that during her candidacy as President for MCCC a group of veterans approached her with a list of complaints, she promised to address them within two years’ time.

Dr. Wang said, “That was my pledge and we earned that title in one year, so it’s a really really big accomplishment for this college, the hard work and the staff.”

But the watchdog group that protects veterans says in their report that “Victory Media is a private, for-profit company that publishes several magazines (most notably GI Jobs), a website (militaryfriendly.com/schools) and a list promoting what it calls ‘Military Friendly® Schools.’ These lead veterans and military members to believe that the colleges promoted by Victory Media are good for service members. Unfortunately the opposite is too often true.”

The report also states, “The only schools to have more than 100 complaints in the GI Bill Feedback System are University of Phoenix, ITT Tech, Devry, and Colorado Technical Institute.  All are designated ‘Military Friendly®’ by Victory Media and promoted by Victory Media’s survey, search engine, and e-mail blasts.”

In fact, Mercer, too, has had three formal complaints lodged against it by student veterans that are currently noted on the VA’s website, vets.gov GI Bill comparison tool, which helps veterans seeking higher education options. Two complaints are regarding financial issues (Tuition/Fee Charges), and an additional complaint related to a change in degree plan/requirements.

Mercer student veteran Chris Molnar dismisses the complaints saying, “There is a lot of paperwork and back and forth between the VA and the school that has to happen for Veterans to get their benefits for school every semester and it gets really annoying. But Colonel Becker [Mercer’s Veterans Services director] and Tammy [his executive assistant] help a lot with whatever they can, and any time I have come to them pissed off or annoyed because something isn’t working or stuff is taking longer than it should, they help me out right away.”

Nevertheless, many community colleges that have veterans services programs have no formal complaints lodged against them with the VA and offer a broader variety of services on campus, such as health centers and daycare services as four other community colleges in New Jersey do. This raises the question of what Victory Media’s criteria are for determining who goes on their Military Friendly list and in what order.

Victory Media’s website describes their current methodology saying, “we collect vast amounts of public and proprietary information; process this data using our methodology and weightings, which are established with the guidance of our Military Friendly® Advisory Council, and audited by EY (Ernst & Young); and rate institutions and organizations on how Military Friendly® they are.”

It does not specify what public and proprietary information they evaluate, but it seems unlikely that formal complaints with the VA are included.

One central aspect the assessment of military friendliness is a free survey that schools can allow veterans to complete so the data can then be sent to Victory Media.

Mercer’s president, Dr. Jianping Wang, when asked how the college qualified for it’s ranking said: “Well it’s really the hard work of our staff. So [there] is a survey you need to fill out to do this. We got such a great response and that earn[ed] us the highest school [ranking]. That’s how we earned [it]. So it’s not like any secret or anything; it is just by a very simple survey.”

But of Mercer’s 146 student veterans and active duty military personnel it’s not clear what percent actually took or were aware of the survey.

Marine Corps veteran and former Editor in Chief of The VOICE Carl Fedorko says that he did not take a survey and was unaware of anyone else who had taken it, as he never heard any fellow veterans talking about it.

Likewise, Fire Science Major, and Army veteran, Barnabas Adombire, when asked if he had taken the survey stated, “Nope I didn’t…I also do not know what Victory Media is.”

Adombire says when he heard about Mercer’s number 1 ranking on the Military Friendly® list “My initial reaction was just like, ya know, obviously I was like ‘What? The whole nation? Thats pretty cool’. But then again I’m like ‘Well how did they achieve that?’…There’s a lot of colleges. [Mercer] being number one? That means they have to have really done other stuff that I don’t even know about.”

That’s not to say that Mercer’s veterans that The VOICE was able to interview did not have a positive view of the college’s services. Their reactions were universally positive, especially toward the director of services, John Becker.

Mercer has also received other accolades for its veterans services, such as the New Jersey Military Order of the Purple Heart given to Mercer during a ceremony this past September 11. The college is the first Purple Heart Community College in New Jersey.

Adombire says Becker and the Veterans Affairs office has made a point of creating a comfortable lounge for the student Veterans on campus, adding, “Knowing the people behind it, I can understand how they got [the ranking].”

But outside of improvements made to the office itself, Adombire was unable to name any significant changes to the services in the time since President Wang says she was approached by veterans with complaints before she took her position.

When The VOICE reached out to Sean Marvin, legal director of Veterans Success, the watchdog group, he responded to emailed questions about what Mercer’s number 1 ranking mean saying: “If your school’s ‘military friendly’ designation is from Victory Media, the next question is whether your school paid Victory Media for that designation.”

As a first step in that process The VOICE combed through each month’s official Board of Trustees Updates for the past year as these include financial updates and authorized payments to vendors. We also reviewed the school’s financial audits, but in both cases we were unable to find any listing of Victory Media under that name or any alternatives, such as “VMI” which is the designation they use on their email.

Marvin went on to say, “You would have to ask your school administration if they paid Victory Media/GI Jobs Magazine any money.”

To that end, The VOICE filed an Open Public Records (OPRA) request in March to find out if the college had, in fact, paid Victory Media for the ranking or for any other marketing services, but the request went unanswered.

According to the report done by Veterans Success, “Victory Media also makes money a second way: it operates a ‘pay-for-play’ scheme that promotes the colleges that pay Victory Media the most.”

With this information The VOICE was able to obtain rate cards from Victory Media from 2012 and 2015 that provide a fee structure. These do not indicate any pay-to-play information for how high on any list a school might pay to be ranked.

They do, however provide information entitled “Packages Offer Greatest Reach and Value”, which explains a star ranking system going from 1-5, where more stars offer better perks. The 2012 prices ranged from 1 star being offered at $9,900 and a 5 star rating being sold for $49,000. By 2015 the rates had increased to $14,900 for 1 star up to $59,900 for 5 star.

The ratings correspond to the marketing services provided such as “Preferred Search Results on militaryfriendlyschools.com,” print ads and “Enhanced Print Listing” in the Military Friendly® Schools publication, and “Run of Website Ads” and “Suggested Schools” listing also on the militaryfriendlyschools.com website.

When asked by The VOICE how MCCC reaches out to veterans to let them know about programs offered, President Wang said, “Oh yes, we are trying to publicise as much as we can and we also have our current satisfied veterans marketing for us.”

Without the public records requests information it is impossible to know the extent of Mercer’s relationship with Victory Media. Has the college paid for marketing and advertising to veterans? If so, has that influenced the college’s ranking on the Military Friendly® list? Or was the extent of the college’s interaction with the company simply the administration of a free survey to veterans that showed our college was the best?

LINKS TO ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Huffington Post – “Military-Branded Websites Push Veterans to Troubled For-Profit Colleges” (Feb. 2016) by David Halperin

U.S. Federal Trade Commission –  “FTC Staff Perspective on Lead Generation” (Sept. 15, 2016)

The New York Times –  “For-Profit Colleges, Vulnerable GIs” (Sep. 2011) by Hollister Petreaus

Glassdoor – Job board presenting jobs, salary information and reviews from former employees – Victory Media employees discuss pressure to up-sell

Victory Media Military Friendly® methodology description

 

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The First Amendment is under attack at Mercer http://www.mcccvoice.org/the-first-amendment-is-under-attack-at-mercer/ Sat, 29 Apr 2017 14:19:45 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5637

Mercer’s Human Resources department has emailed all college faculty and staff a link to a mandatory online compliance training and has required completion by May 14. The training includes information on Title IX and other important and relevant policies, but one point in the first module, on slide 22 of 84 states that “employees should not talk to the press without explicit consent from the school.”

The slide does not say “employees should not speak on behalf of the college to the press without consent from the school,” it simply states they should not speak to the press, period. The policy requires employees to surrender their First Amendment rights, it chills free speech and is a threat to The VOICE and to the college’s journalism and New Media programs.

We shared a picture of the slide with Frank Lomonte, an experienced First Amendment lawyer and the Executive Director of the Student Press Law Center, and asked for his reaction. He said: “I think the answer is it’s pretty illegal…that raises very serious First Amendment issues.”

The VOICE then reached out to Human Resources at Mercer, the department that had supplied the training materials to faculty, but neither the manager nor the executive director agreed to be interviewed and instead referred The VOICE to Jim Gardner, the college’s director Public Relations.

Gardner defended the policy saying, “It’s standard operating procedure for any large organization, whether it’s for a Fortune 500 company, a community college or a school district.”

Obviously private companies and public institutions are not the same. Private companies do not have responsibilities like providing transparency through open public records laws or filing annual crime reports like we do.

As LoMonte pointed out, a complete blanket policy against speaking to the press would “also be illegal at Fortune 500 companies.” Private companies can ask employees to sign contracts that preclude them from providing proprietary data to outside entities and so on, and colleges can require that only Public Relations representatives speak to the press on behalf of the college, but that’s not what the material in Mercer’s training says.

Because Mercer’s policy is so broad-reaching, with zero clarification or exceptions given, and all employees of the college are required to read it and demonstrate their commitment to it by completing the online training, it amounts to censorship where The VOICE is concerned. We will end up writing articles that are filled with “no comments” and anonymous sources. It has the potential to turn The VOICE into a shoddy publication like TMZ.

We already have an article in this issue where we had to use an anonymous quote from a faculty member about the contract negotiations because the person was scared to go on the record. It’s a troubling experience for us as students interviewing someone who is supposed to educate us and realizing they are too scared to open their mouths. The college’s efforts to intimidate employees are already working.

The one administrator we found at Mercer who did seem to see the First Amendment problem with the policy was Dean of Students Dr. Diane Campbell who told The VOICE, “Probably [that point] should be clearer…If I wanted to talk to the press, if there was some reason I needed to, constitutionally the college can’t say you that can’t talk to the press.” She added, “I think the college has a responsibility to know when faculty and staff are talking to the press. But in terms of our constitutional rights, it’s not like we can say you can’t talk to anybody.”

LoMonte agrees it’s the lack of clarity that poses the real problem. “I think anybody who sees that training will be taking that as mandatory…if they had used the term ‘recommend’ or ‘advise’ then that’s different.”

The VOICE spoke to two faculty union members to get their reaction to the policy in the compliance training materials.

English Professor Dr. Edward Carmien reacted to the no talking to the press policy saying, “Speaking as a faculty member, I think it’s outrageous that this should be an item on this slide and that we’re expected to basically agree to this as a part of this training. Nothing that I saw in the description of this training would have led me to believe that these details would be so broad-reaching into what I think are fundamental First Amendment rights.” He added, “I cannot imagine completing this training now that I’ve been made aware that this is here.”

Math Professor Arthur Schwartz was similarly offended. He told The VOICE, “I’ll talk to the press anytime I want. It’s the freedom of press.”

If you are an employee and would like to show your support for The VOICE, the First Amendment and the free press, please drag and drop this image to your desk top, print it out and tape it to your office door.

As to why he thinks the college would include such a policy in their training Prof. Schwartz said, “[Administration] would like to have total control before people go to the press. I know that they would like that…and I would like a Lamborghini…but I’m not getting a Lamborghini and they’re not going to intimidate people to what they say and what they’re not going to say.”

Earlier this month The VOICE was invited by the college president to attend the Board of Trustees meeting to be recognized for winning eight New Jersey Collegiate Press Association awards this year. We appreciated the invitation and were sorry that because all of us work at that time no one could attend, but we’ve since discovered that the faculty training was sent out just two days before we were asked to come be acknowledged for our work. On one hand the college is publicly supporting us and at the next moment undermining our ability to be reporters. If the college wants to celebrate our victories they must allow us the ability to continue our work, which we cannot do if no one will speak to us.

The college owes faculty an apology and should revise their policy and then revise the training materials before sending them back out to be completed. Meantime The VOICE will carry on trying to keep people informed, we will continue encouraging students to be engaged in the life of our college, and we hope that faculty and staff will acknowledge they can always speak to us, not on behalf of the college, but on behalf of themselves as employees and individuals.

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Russian American in the Age of Trump – The Human Cost of Nationalism and Fear – Part II http://www.mcccvoice.org/russian-american/ Sat, 29 Apr 2017 13:47:24 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5623

One night in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, when I was 5, the police came. This wasn’t anything new considering my mom was always belligerent, drunk and in trouble. I thought they were there for her, but they were there for me. I never saw my mother or sister again after that night.

I was put in one orphanage and several months later moved to another, even farther away from home. I stayed there for two years.

Mostly I was in one big room with the smallest beds you can imagine. There were well over 30 children per room. I remember having notebooks with about 10 pages in them to learn how to write. There were three ladies that watched my age group, but only one really cared about us.

In the orphanage some children were mean, others were quiet, some, like myself, tried to make the best of it.  I had one good friend, her name was also Svetlana. Her bed was right next to mine and we would always end up talking at night. We’d get caught and the grown ups would make us stand still at the end of our beds as punishment, making us even more restless for “misbehaving.”

It wasn’t all bad. The snowy days were my favorite. In Russia, you don’t stay inside if it snows you go out and take advantage of it. That is exactly what the other children and I did.

I never thought that I would get adopted; my mom would call every few months and promise to visit and come get me. I believed her, but after years went by I started to get the picture. She was never going to come.

In an orphanage, if you are not an infant, the possibility of you actually getting adopted is very slim. The older kids like myself were always around longer if not until the age of 16 when we were kicked out.

The Craft family from America came to visit me and later I was told by one of the ladies at the orphanage that I was being adopted. I was eight, and I was more than okay with it because I was sure any place was better than there.

It was a long flight to the US on my own. I remember my American grandma crying–I’m assuming tears of joy–when I finally walked into my new room. I didn’t even know people lived in that kind of luxury to have their own room. I was full of excitement. But I woke up the next morning, opened my curtains and it was raining outside. I started to cry. I had imagined America would always be a sunny paradise. I thought: Oh no! This family has brought me somewhere even worse than where I was before!

My adoptive family knew basically no Russian. Between us we had a few simple words like: hi, hungry, and sleep. They would try to get me to understand. I would just point at things a lot. There would be no conversation, yet a lot of laughter and fun.

The inability I had to communicate with my new family made it impossible for me to understand what was going on. When my father first took me to Grace N. Rogers elementary school, after about 3 months of living in the US, I thought I was being brought back into an orphanage . Once again I started to cry. The same thing happened when I met my babysitter. Were they leaving me with this person? But my father always came back to get me.

I have seen the best of both American and Russian cultures, the people, the food, the differences and the similarities.

I hold a warm place in my heart for my home country despite the circumstances that caused me to leave, but now everyday I encounter endless negativity about Russians. The Russians rigged the election, the Russians are bad, they are coming for us, people say. It’s like the Cold War never ended with all the suspicion and animosity still going on. But just like during the actual Cold War it’s not the actual Russian people but the government that is to blame, and Americans constantly overlook this difference.

The Russian people are suffering under President Vladimir Putin. Putin does not respect or care for them whatsoever. Everything a person says is censored; there is no right to free speech. In the beginning of the month of April there were protests in major cities across Russia which ended up being one of the largest mass demonstrations of their kind. The protests were against the abusive and corrupt government. What was the result?

Many Russians were literally  arrested and carried away during the protests. Russians are being thrown in jail for the slightest offenses or for simply trying to speak up. How is it, I wonder, that Americans, many of whom are also taking to the streets to protest their government, still not making a clear distinction between Russian government and the Russian citizens?

Most people I encounter do not realize I’m Russian-American. I went to East Windsor public schools, I don’t have an accent. I have a Russian name but people don’t seem to notice. They badmouth Russians right in front of me. I try to stay calm despite being offended. I remind myself these people do not know what Russians are going through, they are ignorant, they do not know real suffering. I feel bad for them sometimes, because they may be Americans but they don’t understand the American dream like I do. Hatred for others is not part of the American dream.

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This article is the second in a two part series. To read “Mexican in the Age of Drumpf” click here

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Mexican in the Age of Trump – The Human Cost of Nationalism and Fear – Part I http://www.mcccvoice.org/mexican/ Sat, 29 Apr 2017 13:40:09 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5613

My home town is Chihuahua, Mexico just four hours away from the border between Juarez and El Paso, Texas. I will never forget walking over the bridge under the Rio Bravo. I was crossing legally with my visa and all my papers in order. It had taken months to fill out the forms, gather the documents, secure the visas and permits I needed to enter legally, but looking over the bridge and seeing all the border patrols officers with their dogs staring at me and the others who were crossing I felt as if I was guilty of something.

I was coming to the United States through an agency to work taking care of a family’s young children, but by the time I had to show my visa to the border patrol officer I was sweating and scared. Why was I so scared if everything was in order? Maybe it was because of the message I had heard for so long, that I was Mexican and we are coming to steal jobs.

Once the officer let me into the country, I felt relieved, calm at last. I had made it to el otro lado del charco, the other side of the river. Now everything was going to be great, I thought. I was here to accomplish the American dream, my American-Mexican dream.

Now I wake up each morning wondering if the president is going to ban people like me from entering to the USA soon. Or maybe he’ll cancel all the student visas. And when is that construction of the wall is going to start, a wall that’s going to be exactly where I crossed the border to come to New Jersey 4 years ago?

I came here by the big door, with a visa that allowed me to travel back and forth to my beautiful Chihuahua and see my family, but after one year I had to change my status from J-1 (au pair visa) to F-1 (student visa), and this change had a huge cost for me. I am not talking about the $600 dollars that I had to pay between fees, forms and permissions, I am talking about not being able to see my family for two years. It was the toughest time of my life. At only 19 years old I now felt trapped in this country.

The feeling of being legal in a place but not able to travel to your country is indescribable. At night I would pray that nothing would happen to my family because I couldn’t travel home if something bad happened.

After two years I was so homesick that I started to look for plane tickets to get back home. Things were changing, the US presidential elections were coming up, and things didn’t look good for Mexicans if Drumpf was to win. So I took the risk and went home and reapplied for a student visa. I told myself if they denied my visa it would be destiny, a sign that America wasn’t for me.

But I got approved for my visa for four more years, came back and restarted my education. By then, however, I had to watch the daily political campaign of Donald Drumpf spewing hate towards Mexicans and saying over and over: “we are going to build a wall, and Mexico is going to pay for it!”

I remember laughing as I saw all the memes about him, and thinking this man is never going to be the US president, then ay caramba! Donald J. Drumpf is the president of the US. I couldn’t believe it. So wait, no more avocados? No more Cinco de Mayo?

My mom kept calling, “Mjia y ahora qué va pasar? Vas a poder visitarnos otra vez?” she asked.Sweetie, now what’s going to happen? Will you be able to visit us again?” Hearing my mom asking me these questions was breaking my heart but I knew now more than ever I had to be strong. I had to show my family back home, and all the people here, that being a Mexican immigrant in this country shouldn’t be a barrier to success, that all those insults from Drumpf about Mexicans are not true, that instead we are part of the culture of this country. All our hard work needs to be recognized.

Now I am a full-time student with a 3.6 GPA. I’m a cross country runner for a team that won the Regionals for the first time and went to the 2016 Nationals. I’m Editor-in-Chief of The College VOICE, an award-winning newspaper of excellence. But even so, I don’t know if my effort is enough to prove to people that what President Drumpf said is not true.

He told the world: “When Mexico sends it people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems,and they’re bringing those problems with them. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

My roles at Mercer County Community College have helped me pursue my dream and demonstrate that Mexican immigrants aren’t coming to destroy the country, sell drugs or rape people. We are here because we want a better future that for different reasons we couldn’t find in our country.

I hope one day I can be in front of a border patrol officer or any police officer and not feel that old sick fear. I hope the picture of those dogs at the border staring at me disappears. I hope to stop feeling guilty, guilty for being Mexican.

I choose to be an immigrant in the US and I will never regret my decision. I am proud and thankful for being Latina and Mexicana. I will not stop until I achieve my Mexican-American dream, or until my visa gets cancelled, even if things get harder in this country, this country that has become mi nueva casa, my new home. I will keep doing my best.

This article is the first in a two part series. To read “Russian American in the Age of Drumpf” click here

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Asbury Park – A revival of arts and economy at the shore http://www.mcccvoice.org/asbury_park/ Sat, 29 Apr 2017 13:29:39 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5660

 

 

This article is part of The VOICE’s DAY OUT series that takes readers on photographic adventures to interesting locations within 2 hours drive of our newsroom in central New Jersey.


What do Abbott & Costello, Danny Devito, and Wendy Williams all have in common? They all hail from the shore town of Asbury Park, NJ  just 45 minutes from Mercer’s campus. It’s where Bruce Springsteen got his start and Jack Nicholson grew up next door in Neptune.

Since its founding in 1871 the architecturally and culturally impressive resort town has experienced wide fluctuations in its fortunes. Now, after a decades of struggling, AP, as it is commonly known, is in the midst of yet another renaissance. Street art, affordable live music venues, hip restaurants and of course the broad boardwalk are drawing visitors and reviving a struggling economy.

In the 1970s, Asbury Park went through a steep economic decline. Buildings stopped being built while half way up. Crime rates soared. Shops were shuttered.

The VOICE spoke to Mayor John Moor and a number of locals in order to find out more about the fall and rise of the city.

Mayor Moor, who grew up in AP attributes the decline of of Asbury Park in the 70s one major problem was the construction of a new school district in Ocean Township in the mid 60s. Asbury Park high school was over filled students from eight districts, so families who could afford to move out, did so.

  “It was so crowded, it went on split sessions…Ocean grove [school] was state of the art, it was modern, [the parental mindset was] ‘I want my children to go to a potentially better high school.’” Moor said.

Gale Swan, who’s been a resident her entire life, told The VOICE, “It used to be awesome, in the 50s-60s. In fact when I was seeing my husband, this is where we used to come for dates. There’s Belmontes, Pascal & Sabines. They’re usually really packed on a breezy summer night,” Swan said.

Pam Galatro, a resident of 44 years, enjoyed the Paramount Theatre in its early years seeing movies such as the original Snow White in 1950. But she told The VOICE the beach has always been the main draw.

Tom and Terry Mayer have lived in Asbury Park for six years now partly because it’s affordable but also because of the culture.

“In 2011, there was some risk in living here but we liked the idea that Asbury has a lot of different types of people. It is very multicultural. You name it, Asbury has it. Too much of the same thing gets boring, Tom Mayer said.

Along with a variety of restaurants, Asbury Park’s vibrant music scene maintains its reputation for attracting young people as it has for decades. Kicking off the careers of Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen, Asbury Park’s The Stone Pony still sees names like Seether, Dark Star Orchestra, Screaming Females and the Pixies.

Mayor Moor also testifies to the depth of the music scene. As a kid, he says, he “saw every band except the Beatles, and you know why I didn’t see them? It’s because they never came to Asbury Park. We’re talking The Temptations, Ray Charles, The Who. You name them and they were playing at convention hall.”

Moor explains that Asbury is doing better financially now. He believes that this year will be the last year they request any sort of government aid. They’ve come a long way from thirteen million dollars worth of state aid to a low 850k this past year.

“Every year we just keep getting better…We just want to give back to the city. Nobody is looking to use this as a stepping stone,” Moor said.

 

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In faculty contract fight months of negotiations fail to end stalemate over pay and benefits http://www.mcccvoice.org/contract_fight_2/ Sat, 29 Apr 2017 12:10:47 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5594

Students have seen signs posted on faculty office doors and in windows saying, “No Contract, but Still Working” but what do they mean?

The full time faculty members, of which there are approximately 100, work based on a contract that lays out annual wages and salary increases, and clarifies how many classes are to be taught, how many supervisory evaluations given, number of office hours, amount of benefits and other job requirements. A key sticking factor is that without a new contract, faculty do not receive any increase in pay.

The most recent faculty contract expired over a year ago and faculty union officers and college administrators have been deadlocked in negotiations.

Professor of Communication and the President of the faculty union, Alvyn Haywood, says, “We expect that the institution will take care of us as we take care of those who we work with.”

After months of stalled negotiations, Professor of English Edward Carmien, who is the current lead negotiator, says the full-time faculty and administration have moved into a “fact finding” stage.

Professor Carmien says, “In fact finding both sides will have the opportunity to share what they see are the facts of the matter at hand.” The facts in question have to do with college finances and whether or how much pay can be increased based on availability of funds.

According to Professor Carmien, negotiations began in March of 2016. An agreement was not made at that time and the faculty association declared impasse, a legal position meaning no progress is possible. This lead to a mediation meeting in September 2016 to try to resolve the conflict. The meeting did not produce a contract, and the mediator recommended both parties go to the “fact finding” stage.

Currently the full time professors have not had a raise in 2 years. According to union members, as cost of living goes up the expectation is that salaries should go up as well.

A bitter contract negotiation in 2013, which was covered in detail in The VOICE, found that the central disagreement was over a 1.5 percent raise in salary. At that point some community colleges in NJ were getting as much as a 2-2.5 percent raise.

Art Schwartz, Professor of Mathematics and the previous lead negotiator told The VOICE why these seemingly incremental raises matter saying, “For example, if I get a two percent raise and you get a one percent raise, you’d said ‘Oh, what the hell, it’s only one percent.’ No, I’m getting twice as much as you. And that will make a difference in 10-15 years.”

Dr. Jianping Wang, President of MCCC, says that the college simply does not have the proper funds to give professors such a raise. State funding, which is supposed to pay for one-third of community college fees, actually only accounts for less than 10 percent. Students currently pay over 50 percent of all community college fees. That is why tuition prices are rising each year.

Dr. Wang told The VOICE, “I believe we have incredibly hard working faculty, dedicated faculty…and they really deserve to get a raise. I want to give them a raise. But the truth is, as the president of the college, you cannot do things just because you want to, you have to do things that are responsible and that sustain the college. So if you choose just to settle the contract, don’t care how you’re gonna pay for it, then it will do the damage to the future of this college”

During the current negotiation period Dr. Wang has noted that the college has a $500,000 surplus. She has proposed a “success sharing” option as a means to increase faculty pay. Under such a plan, faculty would get bonuses if more of their student completed and passed their classes.

One faculty member who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of job reprisals said, “The idea of ‘success sharing’ is unethical. It puts pressure on faculty to lower standards so they can make more students pass. It also pits faculty against one another based on those who won’t inflate grades and those who will.”

The same professor continued, “I think the president’s argument would be that the team benefits from overall increased graduation and retention rates so there is no pressure, but the team doesn’t assign grades, individual professors do. Even if they try to ignore the pressure, in the back of their minds they know the more students they push along, the more money they might get. From the student’s perspective that means you can’t count on your diploma to reflect real learning or mean anything.”

A similarly contentious contract fight occurred in 1986. The college administration did not want to give faculty a raise, but it was shown that the college could afford it. Eventually, professors went on strike for three days. Classes were canceled and the school activities came to a halt. With contract negotiations now lasting longer than it did in 1986, is there a risk that the faculty will go on strike again?

Professor Schwartz says, at this point “I don’t think the faculty would support a strike.”

However faculty have indicated that they may hold a vote of no confidence in the president’s leadership. While such an action does not have any direct impact, it would signal to the college’s board of trustees that protests or even another strike might be the next step.

In a survey of 30 students conducted by The VOICE, 63 percent said they believed that professors not having a contract affects students, but on a scale of one to ten, half of those students rated how much they would be affected at the mid point, a five.

Although there is a low likelihood that the faculty will go on strike, this does affect students in other ways. Contracts require professors teach a minimum of 5 classes a semester, but many professors teach 6 or 7 classes to make more money.

English Professor Jack Tabor says, “What that means for you guys is that we are more tired. We would love to get your papers back faster, but because we are sort of having to run at 125 percent because we have to do this extra amount of work just to literally makes ends meat, it does wear us out. We’re less patient. We have less energy to come up with new things to teach.”

Dr. Diane Campbell, Executive Dean of Student Affairs says, “If you are doing what you came here to do, the signs in the windows should raise a flag in your intellect for you to question what is going on. And if you talk to a faculty member about what that sign means, hopefully as you leave Mercer and go into the workforce, you will understand what that means a lot better in terms of ‘still working’. We don’t have a contract, but we’re still working.”

Although this process has already been over a year long, professors agree that it will continue to be a long and drawn out process like it has been in the past. The “No Contract, but Still Working” signs are not new. They have been used several times in the past when a contract agreement was not made in time.

Prof. Tabor says, “I think after the contract negotiations, these signs will probably get slid back behind everyone’s desk for next time, because this seems to be the nature of labor, especially here at Mercer.”

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If the college prioritizes maintenance and cleanliness students will follow suit http://www.mcccvoice.org/clean/ Sat, 29 Apr 2017 00:19:17 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5602

Mercer has a beautiful campus that reflects our vibrant community of students and staff, which is why it frustrates me to see some parts of our campus poorly maintained.

By contrast, when walking the Princeton campus I immediately think how well maintained it is. When my friends and I spend an afternoon around the campus, we have yet to come across a single water bottle on the ground or Princeton property being defaced. Questions flicker through my head on how that is. It may be because Princeton has the money to maintain such a clean campus. It may be because of the respect students have for the campus. More important than that, I am left with the question as to why Mercer is not maintained as well.

The Mercer quad is a beautiful place to eat lunch by with friends. However, going to the bathrooms and reading “Big Dick Bandits” or “Jesus Loves You” in size 36 font on the stall doors is offensive and show some people on this campus do not respect it. That’s got to change.

In an interview with Natalia Lobo, a sophomore studying to be a Physical Therapy Assistant, she said that, “They treat [the place] like they don’t live there…it’s a joke for everyone.”

Natalia Lobo went on to explain how often times she comes into bathrooms to find towels and even hair on the floors of our bathrooms. Natalia said, “Students don’t cooperate that much…I guess some (students) have more concern about trying to keep everything clean.”

However, a dirty bathroom is surprisingly just the beginning of the problem. Some bathrooms themselves seem to call for a higher degree of respect. Some Mercer bathrooms are very rundown whereas the ones in MS and AD buildings are newly renovated and in better shape.

For example, if one goes into the men’s bathroom on the third floor of the BS building, you’ll find that one of the stalls does not have a lock. At the same time, one of the urinals is broken and covered. The bathrooms in the Administration building, by contrast, are pristine.

This is where I go back to my story about Princeton. It is possible that because the campus is so maintained, students and pedestrians are more willing to throw away their garbage in a proper garbage can and not the ground.

Joel Cartagena is a Sophomore studying Liberal Arts at Mercer. He said, “It’s kind of immature. It kind of sends a message as if…it makes the campus not seem as professional. Makes it seem like playhouse or a club.”

Just imagine a group of potential students coming to Mercer for a college tour. They are taken to the ES Building entrance and they look to their side and see a billion cigarette butts sitting on the ground. That sends two messages: students here have no regard for the no smoking policy on campus and are also tossing their cigarette butts on the ground when there’s a trash can right by the entrance. Maybe some of those potential future students will decide they do not want to come to this campus because of that.

Bryon Marshall who is the head of Security and Maintenance at Mercer stated, “I think people have a general low self esteem or disrespect for themselves or property of others.”

When it comes to how students and faculty can help keep the campus better maintained he said, “To maintain a better campus work through peer association…if you see something, let us know right away…”

Maintaining a better campus can be as simple as speaking up and reporting something like a broken lock on a stall or when you see something inappropriate written on the stalls. I know for myself I will certainly be reporting these kind of things to maintenance (whose employees, I’m sure, could stand a pay raise).

Another thing that can go a long way is not allowing people to just destroy our campus. Bryon Marshall went on to say “if you see somebody litter…just say ‘come on, man. You know, this is our campus.’”

For the sake of seeing an improvement on our campus we should be maintaining it more. Seeing graffiti on bathroom doors each day should no longer be an issue. Water fountains that have dirt and rust on them should be cleaned up. There shouldn’t be buckets in the hallways gathering water whenever it rains.

When the effort is made by the college to look after these things better, students will likely follow in the example. Both employees and students will take campus maintenance seriously and by working together we may be able to see a campus as well maintained as Princeton.

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With on-campus daycare unavailable, students must look elsewhere http://www.mcccvoice.org/with-on-campus-daycare-unavailable-students-must-look-elsewhere/ Sat, 29 Apr 2017 00:14:03 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5597

Every semester it becomes more important for students to complete their degrees and graduate in the time frame they planned. The difficulty of being a part time student and working full time in order to pay off school is already stressful, and now add the expense of paying for childcare services for those who are both parents and students.

Of the 18 community colleges in New Jersey, 13 have a daycare on campus that serves students, faculty, staff, and the community.

Bergen County Community College is one of the 13 schools that have a childcare center on campus. The students receive a higher discount for the childcare center tuition than the staff, faculty and open public in order to help out students.

Sally Dionisio, Director of the Child Development Center of Bergen Community College says, “We do our best to assist students and their children in order for them to complete their degrees, it’s a good opportunity for students to be able to drop off their kids here at campus while they are taking classes.”

Mercer has realized that child care is a problem for students, staff, and faculty members. Dean of Students Dr. Diane Campbell told The VOICE, “We had a meeting and our faculty said that child care it was an issue with students, that lots of time we had students who bring their children to school and it seems that they need a way to have somebody to watch their children.”

In fact, in the late 1970’s there was a co-op childcare center on Mercer’s main campus. However, the college only provided the space, the mothers were in charge of the shifts. Professor of Visual Arts Lucas Kelly’s mother was able to finish her high school and Associate Degrees at Mercer County Community College because of this service.

Kelly says, ”She and a number of students created a co-op. This cooperative daycare that she participated in was basically a bunch of students who were mothers who needed childcare and couldn’t afford childcare but also needed to go to school and couldn’t afford not to go to school. So they essentially traded their time to watch children for time to go to class, so my mother would watch a group of kids while the number of the mothers whose kids were under the watch of my mom were taking class.”

In a survey conducted by The VOICE, 72 percent of students said Mercer should have a daycare on campus, and 60 percent said that if Mercer had a childcare center on campus they thought more people would enroll. But the student were less enthusiastic about the idea if it would result in a tuition increase.

One respondent wrote on the survey: “If it doesn’t affect my tuition then I don’t care.”

The opening of a daycare on campus might affect tuition costs, according to Dean Campbell. She says, ”There are so many regulations that go with childcare that makes it very expensive to run…To renovate the toilets that are the little size, for examples. So as we look into it, it takes more and more money to even to begin to set it up.”

What would be the direction that Mercer would take if they decided to open a daycare?

According to Professor Theresa Capra, who runs the college’s Education program, “We don’t want to open a babysitting place, like in the supermarket where you can drop off your kids while you shop. If we are going in the direction of opening a child care center it must be a high quality facility with trained and qualified professionals, and it would be a wonderful opportunity for students in the EDU courses and psychology courses to get hands on learning and observation time, and I also think there is some room to have Mercer students to work there part time.”

In a survey conducted by Dean Campbell’s office of faculty and staff, of the 160 respondents, 36 percent indicated a need for childcare.

Having such a facility on campus would not only benefit faculty and students who are parents, but also students majoring in early childhood education.

Keighley Webb,  an education major says, “I think it would be extremely beneficial for education majors to have a daycare on campus. For EDU 109, an intro to education course, it is required to observe 25 hours of teaching. It would be useful to have a daycare on campus for students to be able to conduct their hours there.”

Dean Campbell  has made an effort to survey students about their needs and most recently held an informative session for students, staff and faculty members by Child Care Connection. This agency, based in Trenton,  assists families with their child care needs by helping them find facilities in the area.

This sounds like a good option for parents, since they also offer connections with summer camps, but according to student Aronya Downing, a mother of two, there is a problem.

“The problem with Child Care Connection is that your income can disqualify you, and most of the places they offer do not have late evening babysitting, so it’s a trouble with evening classes for me,” said Downing.

Although the cost of establishing a center are high, community colleges in New Jersey that have lower tuition than Mercer have managed to accomplish it. Passaic, Middlesex, Gloucester, Camden, Atlantic Cape and Burlington county colleges all have lower in-county per credit tuition than Mercer, and all of them have daycare centers. Three of them–Middlesex, Gloucester, and Burlington–have health centers, another important student service, too.

“It’s kind of a shame that it hasn’t happened here at Mercer. I hope that the new administration thinks of this as a service for the community…Opportunities for women are not looking like they are getting better, and childcare doesn’t look like it is going to get cheaper,” says Professor Kelly.

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PROFILE: Kento Iwasaki, Mercer grad and professional musician http://www.mcccvoice.org/kento/ Sat, 29 Apr 2017 00:06:11 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5590

Musician and Mercer alumni Kento Iwasaki gave a lecture and performed music on the traditional Japanese koto instrument as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series on April 12. Iwasaki was introduced by acting dean of the Honors program, Dr. Bettina Caluori. She told the audience “This is the role reversal teachers love. He was my student, but today I’ll sit in my seat and learn from him”.

A former Honors student and member of Phi Theta Kappa, as well as reporter for the VOICE, Iwasaki attributes much of his current success to his start at Mercer, especially the first class he took here, an English 101 class with Dr. Carol Bork.

He said of it, “I will always remember that class…She said that this class informs how to be successful in other classes. That’s kind of a really big statement, but it was completely true. It has informed how I write music.” Specifically, he says it helps him switch between his “editor side and creative child side” as he applied what he learned brainstorming for English papers into working up new compositions.

Iwasaki believes the multifaceted liberal arts curriculum here helped him grow, saying “If I didn’t go to Mercer, I probably wouldn’t have become a theater composer. Mercer made me an interdisciplinary composer”.

That interdisciplinary approach has certainly taken hold on his work. As part of the duo Gemini Hasu he plays the koto alongside his partner, who plays the djembe, or African drum. The two are working on infusing their music with modern electronica and trap beats for the club scene. This fusion of music both Asian and African, modern and traditional, can really only be called interdisciplinary.

But how did Iwasaki get involved with the koto when his time at Mercer was mostly spent focusing on the piano? After he graduated from Mercer with an Associate’s in Composition he got his Bachelor’s degree from Temple University, and then his Master’s from the Manhattan School of Music. He stayed in New York City and was commissioned by Columbia University for a piece.

This led to Iwasaki pursuing the koto at Columbia, sitting in on classes they taught on it and joining the koto ensemble. He also spent a month and a half in Japan studying under a koto master. The training was intensive; he says he spent around twelve hours a day under her tutelage. He ate three meals a day with her and her apprentice, making it a personal as well as professional relationship.

The koto has a traditional Japanese sound. It looks like a massive version of the neck of a guitar and is larger than Iwasaki himself. It’s hard to imagine him carrying the massive instrument through the subways of NYC, but he just laughed off this idea saying “Believe me, I’ve seen stranger.”

Aside from his work as part of Gemini Hasu, Iwasaki has also founded The Traveling Opera Company, which performed “Beloved Prey” here at Mercer last semester, a work Iwasaki composed the music for. He is also the musical director of Opera-Tunity, which works to bring opera to children. He can be often found alongside his djembe playing partner in subway stations of NYC, or playing in locations like Central Park, filling the air with music mixing different cultures and times, much like the city itself.

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Student radio station works to build community http://www.mcccvoice.org/radio/ Sat, 29 Apr 2017 00:00:22 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5587

The dominance of of radio, particularly college radio which for decades helped promote obscure bands to stardom, has been steadily declining. This has become a huge problem that impacts community colleges as much as four year schools. While many may know of the popular classical station WWFM that plays on campus, the student station, Viking 89, which offers up a variety of musical genres music, from rap to jazz is struggling to maintain and grow their listening base.

This lack of interest in radio is occurring because of the many alternative ways in which students can listen to music. Communications Professor Mitch Canter, who teaches explains the problem saying: “ Listeners in their 20s have more alternatives than ever for audio entertainment.  Forget WPST or HOT 97, how about playlists on iPods, smartphones and laptop computers?  Streaming Spotify or Pandora off an iPhone or Android device?”

There isn’t much information about the student radio station online making and a VOICE survey of 50 students found that almost half (22) had no idea there was a radio station, while the other half (22) were aware but disinterested and didn’t listen to it. There were only six students who said they listened to the station regularly even though its primary broadcast range is the bustling cafeteria.

The VOICE conducted the same survey at Bucks County Community College to see if students were more interested in their student station, Radio BUX, but the results were even worse. Eighteen students didn’t know it existed and 31 students who knew about it never listened. Only one student who said that they had listened to it on occasion.

Shawn Slaughter, the General Manager for Viking 89 since 2013 says “We are the spice of life, because you can hear James Brown, Conway Twitty, Method Man, Beethoven. We’ve even had talk shows.” This means that the radio station is created for just about anyone, with any kind of musical taste. Slaughter emphasizes that the station plays an important role in helping to establish a sense of community on a commuter campus.

But to make a station work requires a dedicated staff. Slaughter told The VOICE: “When I first came [the station] was really small, not a lot of members… kind of like right now.”

Slaughter thinks there is a way for the station to reach more people. Professor Cantor, as faculty adviser of the station says “ I don’t think that the station can do this on its own, but I think it can be a tremendous contributor to the campus community.”

Professor Cantor says this can be accomplished “If Viking 89 can find the right mix of music programming and public affairs programs that are relevant to students’ everyday experiences here on campus, it can be a powerful combination.”

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Vikings baseball team offers season ending excitement http://www.mcccvoice.org/vikings-baseball-team-offers-season-ending-excitement/ Fri, 28 Apr 2017 23:57:32 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5583

In a semester that’s been plagued by sex offenders, rising tuition, and questionable awards, Mercer students may find a bit of solace in a baseball team that has brought real acclaim to the college.

The Vikings split a two game series against third ranked Lackawanna on Sunday April 23, bringing their record to 35-11 and another day closer to the junior college world series.

Freshman Erik Bowren, team captain says, “We’re 45 games in right now, it’s been a long season but were starting to hit our stride. [There’s] definitely a lot of energy in the dugout and we saw that yesterday for sure.”

Behind an offensive explosion, and a solid outing by sophomore pitcher Dennis Brady the Vikings were able to take care of Lackawanna in game one of the series by a score of 11-2. However they fell short of a sweep with a 5-2 loss later that afternoon.

With Mercer currently the second seed in the state rankings and Lackawanna currently ranked third, there was a greater emphasis on these two games, particularly for the Vikings after already getting swept by  top ranked Morris last weekend. Regardless, both teams acknowledged the importance of these two games, as there is a high likelihood that these two teams will meet again in May.

Head coach for Lackawanna, Bruce Thompson, told The VOICE, “We know Mercer is a really good program, they have a history of success, we know that every time we come to [this] campus we’re gonna be in for a dogfight.”

The Vikings will now get to finish off the regular season with five of their last seven games at home, an advantage much appreciated by Mercer’s players as it gives them ample time to rest, and the student body an opportunity to catch a game as the weather improves.

According to sophomore starting pitcher, Andrew DiPiazza, “A lot of games away to start off the season because we like to finish up towards the end of the season at home so we get a lot of rest.”

The Vikings will welcome any advantage they can get for this final stretch of games. With playoff seeding on the line the weight of each win is magnified with every passing game. “Every game matters, our goal is to win a national championship. The NJCAA now seeds the world series record, strength of schedule and momentum all factor into those rankings.

Head coach Kevin Kerins says, “It is very important to be healthy, rest and playing well for regional weekend.”

As the semester comes to a close as well, the coming weeks are likely to bring some excitement to Mercer’s campus, and in the wake of several undesirable circumstances that Mercer has endured this spring, Vikings baseball may serve as a welcome distraction.

Coach Kerins says: “As an alumni and former player at mercer I can tell you that mercer is a special place. I myself have used my experiences here to springboard to opportunities that were not available to me out of high school. We are building something unique and special with our baseball program here. Though the playoffs are entirely on the road this season we are hopeful we can continue to bring positive attention and national recognition to the college and our student athletes.”

The team will be wrapping up the regular season on May 4 for their final home game against Anne Arundel, and post season play will begin Friday May 12 at a venue that has yet to be determined.

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Softball team rides ten game streak into post season http://www.mcccvoice.org/softball-team-rides-ten-game-streak-into-post-season/ Fri, 28 Apr 2017 23:34:45 +0000 http://www.mcccvoice.org/?p=5574

Mercer’s Vikings softball team finished up the regular season with a win against Ocean County on Friday April 21. They head into the postseason coming off a 10 game win streak and a total regular season record of 32-6.

Despite the obstacle of having to rebuild the team on two year rotations, the program has managed to maintain an exceptional level of performance on a consistent basis.

Sophomore catcher Tatum Marshall told The VOICE: “It’s definitely difficult because you create a bond with one set of girls and then you have to create a new bond and then you have to get used to everybody. For life, you’re learning that people are going to come and go and you have to adapt to others and the change.”

When asked how the program is able to maintain a talented roster year after year, head coach Ryan Zegarski attributed the program’s effectiveness to the scouting the athletic department does in the offseason.

“When you do your work in the offseason it makes your in season very very easy.” Zegarski said, adding, “If you recruit and do your due diligence and bring in these student athletes then you should have an easy in season.”

The Vikings begin postseason play on Saturday April 29 against Del Tech in the region 19 playoffs.

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