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NCCC needs to get unstuck

April 14, 2016
Editorial , Lake Placid News

It's been six months since North Country Community College's faculty uprising prompted the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and Lake Placid News to produce a series of investigative articles about a bitter rift between the college's leadership and its staff. Despite extensive news coverage, we editorial writers have kept silent on the matter.

Faculty leaders say President Tyrell and Board of Trustees Chairwoman Barbara Dwyer have to go. Clearly things need to change, but we hoped last fall that once our reporting shone light on the conflict, the two sides could work out some kind of resolution. That hasn't happened. Board and faculty members are talking to each other now, but they're still deadlocked on the personality clash at the heart of the matter: Many people who work at the college can't stand President Steve Tyrell's top-down leadership style, which breeds distrust, and don't like the board's defense of him.

Administration is projecting a message that everything is under control, and faculty says it's a dysfunctional mess. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle. There's no doubt that the board has taken Mr. Tyrell's side, and there's also no doubt Mr. Tyrell is a unilateralist: He acts on his own and does not collaborate well with faculty and staff. That's a bad combination for government in that it comes across, truthfully or not, as an insular leadership group that distrusts the broader public over which it holds power.

Article Photos

(News photos — Chris Knight)

To a certain degree, this is a classic faculty-administration clash: Teachers complain that leaders are elitist and out to lunch, and executives say teachers don't understand economic reality. In that light, consider this: In the newspaper field, editors are necessary, but the key role is that of the reporter. They're paid less, but they report and write the stories - which is what the readers pay for. Likewise, teaching is the core product of a school. Administration and boards are support roles, needed to hold the institution together so the teaching can take place. That doesn't mean faculty should win every squabble, but a certain degree of bias should tilt their way. We believe the inflation of administrators, in both importance and pay, is a flaw of modern education.

Six months ago, we thought maybe there was a way for Mr. Tyrell and Ms. Dwyer to reconcile with their critics. We figured the best role the newspapers could play was to report the news as thoroughly, fairly and objectively as we could, and to avoid giving advice.

But the community can't wait forever for this standoff to end.

It doesn't seem like NCCC is going to move forward anytime soon under its current leadership - and it desperately needs to move forward. Enrollment and revenue are way down, the buildings are falling apart, the county boards continue to starve the college, Mr. Tyrell's promised construction projects at the Malone and Saranac Lake campuses have fallen flat, a construction project in Ticonderoga turned out to be a waste, and we don't see how college officials plan to get things back on track.

They must do it now or get out of the way.

We're willing to give President Tyrell and board Chairwoman Dwyer one more chance to reconcile with the college community. If they can't do that soon, they should resign and let other people do what must be done. The problems are about more than just these two, but they have the most power in this situation and are the most responsible.

Unfortunately, breaking the logjam may require other people to get out of the way as well.

The time may come soon for faculty union leaders to loosen up or let someone else take the reins. They set this movement in motion, which was important, but they have sharpened their resolve so keenly that it may no longer be productive.

Also, some college trustees have dug in their heels to support the chief executive, and they may need to take a break as well. A symptom of this was when Trustee Jerry Blair, a longtime public school superintendent, spoke in a condescending manner at last week's joint meeting between the board and the college Senate. He repeatedly reminded people of his decades of experience in education - relevant, yes, but by no means trumping others' knowledge of the NCCC situation. And Trustee Tim Burpoe, whom we've praised in the past for defending the college when he served on the Franklin County board, blamed the Enterprise's reporting for the problem, as if everything would be fine if unelected leaders could just run this public college in secret.

A healthy solution to this dilemma will require negotiators who are humble, practical and connected to what the community needs from this college. Part of what community means is that we all have to live with each other. Of course people are sometimes going to find fault with each other, and that can be valuable, but we have to move past anger to solve problems.

NCCC needs to break the stalemate so it can evolve. How it will change should be the subject of serious community conversation. We suggest adding a trade school to train people in construction fields and to offer continuing education for tradespeople, but that's just one idea.

To be clear, we don't think NCCC is dying. It's still alive, still maintaining its core mission, still essential to the people of our region - but it's not vibrant. Its development is arrested. It needs food and water to grow, but even before that, it needs to re-establish trust - and we no longer see how that can happen without a leadership change.



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