The Corporatization of CCRI: Administration Cuts Community Programs

Monday, July 10, 2017
GoLocalProv News Team

CCRI Warwick campus
While the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) continues to push for free college tuition despite the Rhode Island General Assembly stalemate, a growing group of faculty and students  -- and community members -- are continuing to voice their concerns about the direction of CCRI.

CCRI faculty had warned of both a "hostile" and "political" takeover due to changes in state oversight and leadership in recent years -- and voiced dismay when the CCRI-based day care was shut down at the same time of the arrival of Goldman Sachs' small business program.  

Now, controversies surrounding the closure of the free community dental clinic on CCRI's campus, a change in leadership at the college's observatory, and even questions regarding "key card" access for the student press have put the community college that was formed in 1964 as the state's "junior college" squarely in the spotlight -- and under public scrutiny. 

Dental Clinic Flap

The recent closure of a free dental clinic at CCRI's Lincoln campus drew strong rebuke from the dentist who has run the program. 

On May 10, Dr. Rosemary Costigan, CCRI Vice President for Academic Affairs, informed Dr. Jeffrey Dodge the college could no longer accommodate the community service program in its current form. 

"After a great deal of consideration, I write to inform you that [CCRI] is unable to host the Rhode Island Mission of Mercy [RI MOM]  in our dental health clinic at our Flanagan campus in Lincoln," Costigan wrote to Dodge. "CCRI remains supportive of this event that serves so many people with critical dental care, and we could like to continue our partnership in 2018 buy offering the use of our field house in either Lincoln or at our Knight campus in Warwick. 

"In the first year, we would allow use of the facility free of charge, and CCRI would absorb the staffing costs (an estimated $10,000) related to the set-up, security, and weekend-long use of the space," added Costigan. "We must prioritize use of our academic spaces in a manner that aligns with the mission of our college."

Dodge, President of the Rhode Island Oral Health Foundation, fired back on June 30. 

CCRI President Meghan Hughes
"After 5 years of inarguable progress, success and partnership, the Community College of Rhode Island has made a decision not to host the 2017 RI MOM free dental clinic, despite the fact the mission also provides immunizations, health screenings and serves as a conduit for individuals and families into regular medical and dental care," said Dodge. "Due to financial and logistical reasons, the RIOHF is unable to hold this event moving forward without the use of the CCRI dental health clinics."

"The decision by CCRI comes as shock to the RIOHF and RI MOM volunteers as the effort fulfills a moral obligation to the state’s vulnerable citizens and provides many uninsured or underinsured people with the annual dental care they critically need," said Dodge, who noted that over 650 dental, medical and community members volunteer at the RI MOM annually, and that from 2012 to 2016, the volunteers provided services worth a total combined value of $2.73 million.

CCRI President Meghan Hughes did not respond to request for comment about the dental clinic. 

Observatory Protest

CCRI touted the opening of its recently renovated Margaret M. Jacob observatory on July 8 -- but a protest over the school's role in its oversight vied for attention. 

Steve Murray, President of the CCRI Faculty Association, sent the following to faculty prior to Saturday's protest. 

"Our colleague, Brendan Britton was hired in 2007 to teach Astronomy courses and to operate the Observatory. From the outset, Brendan has done an outstanding job in his courses and in welcoming the community to the Observatory on Wednesday nights. The open Observatory nights have been a huge success over the years," wrote Murray. "The Administration has recently tried to bully Brendan into accepting less money to operate the Observatory than he was promised and that the contract provides for. When Brendan stood up to the Administration, they took the keys to the Observatory away and threw him out of the Observatory. The community, including students, staff, faculty, and area residents have voiced their strong support of Brendan in this matter."

Murray noted that the CCRIFA/NEARI have filed a grievance on Britton's behalf.

Questions Over Access

CCRI English Professor Steve Forleo - who has been an outspoken critic of recent college policies - took affront with a recent campus policy change, that he says impacts the student staff of The Lens, which he advises.

"I [was]...just informed The Lens is unable to access our office due to the new card system," Forleo wrote in an email to leadership, including President Meghan Hughes, on July 7.

"Campus Security stated, 'There is only one card for all student clubs that must be signed out and returned the same day'," continued Forleo.  "Clearly this is an unacceptable college edict. Not granting unfettered access to all Lens staff during the day could violate our First Amendment right to produce the paper."

"The Lens has obligations and responsibilities to our readership and more importantly, our advertisers. Our hours fluctuate, especially around deadlines. It's not unusual for us to be here late into the night, and very early in the morning," said Forleo. "Moreover, CCRI attempted this one key venture years ago when our locks were changed without notice. That incident become a national story."

"Please rectify the card situation so our staff can freely access our publication office. Student Government has been given four cards, but the news organization gets one, to be signed out and returned daily? I await your reply," said Forleo.

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