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Re-imagining GPC as Georgia State, according to Portnoy

Portnoy believes that the essence of GPC should remain captured by the new institution.
Portnoy believes that the essence of GPC should remain captured by the new institution. Photo by Farhin Lilywala.

By: Farhin Lilywala

The Georgia Perimeter College and Georgia State University consolidation came as a surprise to most people affected by the process.

As usually occurs with change, many students and faculty members at GPC are apprehensive about the conoslidation and the future of GPC.

To voice his own opinions on paper, Honors Program Director Dr. Jeffrey Portnoy drafted a document detailing point-by-point overarching aspects of GPC he believes should be kept in mind during this process.

“I was interested in putting this document together because I didn’t really see the members of the GPC community having an opportunity to talk about what we think we are and what we think we can be and should be, given our consolidation with Georgia State University,” said Portnoy.

“Since I didn’t see that happening in a substantial way, I thought I would try to move us in that direction by offering what I think are the essential elements to such a re-envisioned institution so that we would have something to work with and something to negotiate for and to argue for as we move forward.”

The document was sent to GPC Interim President Rob Watts as well as other members of the GPC faculty and administration.

Portnoy says that this document reflects his personal opinion, but he believes it should be shared with the GPC community, and he hopes that the members of the Consolidation Implementation Committee agree with him.

The document states the following with further explanation on each point from Portnoy:

  • “GPC will preserve the rank and tenure of current faculty members.”

JP: At the town hall meeting, it sounded like GSU intends to preserve the rank and tenure of faculty members. But I wanted to state it here because I think it’s essential. If what you want to create is in fact an exemplary teaching institution, you have to have faculty with rank and with tenure to preserve academic integrity and academic freedom and standards. Clearly, the institutions that don’t have rank and tenure have some other issues to contend with that I think we don’t want to have here.

  • “GPC will preserve its teaching mission by continuing to hire tenured and tenure-track faculty and will not become a facility for training graduate students to teach.”

JP: Certainly, I have great respect for graduate students and teaching assistants. I was one myself for many years, but one of the trade-offs of students attending a premier research institution is that they are going to have TAs teaching some of their classes. That is not what GPC’s been about, what it’s ever been about. I think that underscores why students are getting a quality education here: they’re being taught by real faculty members.

  • “GPC faculty members will continue to receive professional development funds to attend conferences, to present at conferences, and to support their research and publication activities.”

JP: It’s important for faculty members to be involved with their disciplines and to be engaged with other scholars. While we are a teaching institution and primarily judged as faculty members on our teaching, a part of being an engaged faculty member is participating in conferences and discussions with other peers and presenting papers. All of those things are certainly a given at Georgia State, and if those opportunities are taken away from the faculty here, I think the role and place of faculty will be diminished.

The truth is university and college administrators come and go, students come and go, but faculty members remain. They’re the heart of the institution, and education is about what goes on in the classroom and the relationship between students and faculty members.

  • “The teaching load for fulltime faculty at GPC will be four-four.”

JP: Four-four refers to the number of classes that a faculty member will teach in the fall and in the spring. The typical faculty member, but not all of them, will teach four three-credit-hour classes, so that would be 12 credit hours a semester. It’s my opinion, and I think research supports this notion, that no one can sustain being an exemplary teacher while teaching five classes a semester. It’s too much. Here is a way for Georgia State and the Board of Regents to make a grand statement that teaching is primary at GPC and will be excellent and that they are giving faculty members the opportunity and the resources and the time to do an exemplary job.

  • “Class sizes at GPC will return to the levels they were before the recession and the budget crisis occurred.”

JP: Class sizes, in some instances, were smaller before the recession and before the budget crisis. And one of the problems at GPC is that we’ve always been way down on the Regents’ list in terms of monetary support despite the number of students that we have, and so one of the ways to cover the budget shortfall and the smaller resources is to raise class sizes, and I think some of them have been increased to a certain level. The nature of this institution has always been small classes. We don’t have the facilities to have large classes, large lectures like they can at Georgia State and the University of Georgia. That’s not how we do teaching here. Our students need attention and deserve attention; the class sizes should be restored to what they were. The Regents and Georgia State need to invest in GPC. This would be one way to do that that would tangible and beneficial to faculty members and to students.

  • “GPC will continue to serve the community through its professional and certification programs.”

JP: Nursing, dental hygiene, and our sign language programs: I’d hate for those programs to go away. I suspect that they won’t, but they’re a great service to the community, so I think that’s something that should be retained.

  • “Critical access programs like Learning Support and the English as a Second Language Program will continue.”

JP: I think everyone has said that we will continue to be an access institution, and if that’s true, then I think that students who need math or English Learning Support need to have that opportunity. These students are so important to the academic environment and certainly the cultural environment at all of our campuses. The ESL students here are able to take any number of courses such as math and science courses while they’re still improving their skills as writers through the ESL program. To make it harder for those students to participate would do incredible damage to our math and science departments at GPC. I strongly believe that people need access to higher education, and these are students who are vulnerable and don’t necessarily have a voice to lobby for access to education.

  • “Resources comparable to those that raised the retention and graduation rates at GSU will be allocated to GPC.”

JP: I think considerable funds were put into GSU to research what students need to continue to pursue their degrees and to do quality work and to create a support system for students. The support system here is solid, but it’s not extensive. I think that if comparable resources were put in place to help our students here, they would do as well as GSU students. I think that lower retention and graduation rates are not a function of the academic experience students are getting.

  • “GPC will continue to promote the transfer of students to a variety of four-year institutions. Obviously, transferring to GSU will become seamless, but GPC, as the major two-year college sending transfer students to other University System of Georgia institutions, will continue to perform that important function. Moreover, a mechanism will be established so that colleges and universities will have ample and appropriate access to recruiting students.”

JP: The difficulty here, it seems to me, is figuring out a way for students who aren’t planning or don’t want to go to Georgia State to move to other institutions. GPC obviously is the main transfer point for Georgia State already, for the University of Georgia, for Georgia Southern, for Clayton State. If Georgia State has a monopoly, then those institutions are going to be hurt, and our students are going to have fewer options. The difficulty is that if there is no mechanism in place for recruiters, then the consolidated institution is going to look and feel like any other four-year school, and four-year schools don’t recruit from other four-year institutions. They would be seen as poaching. Unless there is a clear mechanism, other colleges and universities aren’t going to come here looking for students.

  • “GPC’s libraries will continue to be supported and will maintain an important presence at the branch campuses.”

JP: When we have branch campuses the size of the ones that we have, I think you have to have a location for students to look at reference materials, for people to talk to reference librarians, for people to walk the stacks and see books. I don’t think that maintaining the libraries is going to warrant an incredible influx of new dollars, but I think each of the branch campuses would be a lesser place if they didn’t have a library facility.

  • “GPC will have the resources to continue to offer academic, literary, and cultural activities and events that enhance the intellectual and social milieu at all of the campuses.”

JP: I think that the branch campuses need to be able to offer academic, literary, and cultural activities so students can have those experiences, all of which are typical of college life everywhere. There need to be institutional funds and there need to be student activity funds to sponsor these events. If the campuses don’t have those things for students, then they have diminished the college experience.

  • “Students at GPC will have opportunities to participate in student governance activities and in club activities.”

JP: I’m talking about students having the opportunity to engage in student government activities, to be members of clubs and officers of clubs. All of this enhances the liberal arts educational experience, and the college experience is diminished if these things aren’t possible.

  • “GPC campuses will provide appropriate health, wellness, and recreational activities and facilities for their students, staff, and faculty.”

JP: The college obviously needs to address the intellectual life of students and lifelong learning, but students, faculty, and staff have a corporeal presence as well. To maintain well-being, people need to do physical things. There should be facilities for that. I think all of the campuses offer intramural activities, have workout facilities, and so these things need to be maintained. So it’s really just ensuring that what we do have continues.

  • “The publications and publication opportunities for students and faculty that currently exist at GPC will continue.”

JP: Students, for example, are able to publish their creative work and photographs in “Creative License,” and students and faculty members can work on “The Chattahoochee Review.” That’s a national publication that has been around for decades and decades and does wonderful work and has a great reputation, and I would hate for those things to go away. Students are able to publish their classroom work in “The Polishing Cloth,” and that too is a great thing. This is about not just the publications themselves but really about opportunities. There are also faculty members who are writing and publishing and need some support for those activities, and we don’t want to discourage them or make it harder for faculty members.

  • “Stewardship and preservation of the Georgia Perimeter College Botanical Garden, which consists of the Native Plant Garden and the Ferns of the World Garden, will continue in perpetuity, perhaps as a public trust.”

JP: I’m sad to say many students and faculty members don’t know about the Botanical Garden on the Decatur campus. It’s a beauty. I certainly hope that it won’t go away in this consolidation. It’s one of GPC’s treasures.

If you have your own views on the consolidation, please contact the Collegian at gpc.collegian@gmail.com.

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