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  Main >  Member Communications > PAnorama > April 2009

PAnorama: April 2009

Without Fanfare: PA Leadership Changes
by William Perrotti

On June 1st this past summer, the Professional Association experienced a quiet transitition of leadership as Ellis Searles, our president since 2001 and a longtime stalwart of the ESL faculty, stepped down and was succeeded in the office by Alison Doughtie, another member of the ESL faculty.

Could this be coincidence or is there something in the air of the ESL Center that breeds and sustains strong unionists? Ellis has been PA president since early in the summer of 2001. Her years as PA president have been significant and eventful and clearly marked by Ellis's special style of understated, steady, and strong leadership. The end of her term of office was typical of Ellis; it happened quietly without public notice or fanfare.

As anyone who has ever served in the role of union president knows all too well, that moment when the term as president begins is a time of anxious deep breaths and palpable concern and self-doubt: "Can I really do this job?" In Ellis's case, the answer was a resounding "YES!" No matter how long a person serves as president and grows in the role, some of that anxiety must remain if one is to serve effectively and address the concerns that confront members on a day-to-day basis. By that yardstick, Ellis has been both good and successful. She has led by first seeking advice and counsel from those in the organization with specific experience or expertise, carefully and deliberately considering and weighing that advice, and then coming to her own decision. That's the lonely part... the decision. And for Ellis there have been many decisions, some easy, some difficult and bordering on agonizing, some dealing with minor problems, and more than a few involving complicated issues with potentially far-reaching consequences. And of course one cannot forget personnel issues that can span the entire spectrum from petty through complicated, to dizzyingly convoluted and possibly insoluble. Ellis has been them all. When the outcome was good, she more often than not gave the credit to someone else, but if the final result was less than ideal, she alone shouldered the blame. The majority of decisions made by a union president occur outside the awareness of most member. No matter the degree of communication within a local (and the PA leadership prides itself on sharing its operation openly with members), only a small percentage of the membership is likely to appreciate the complexity of the issues or the amount of deliberation that occurs before a decision is reached.

Given Ellis's tendency to avoid the spotlight, it's safe to say that, even on her worst and most challenging days, only a small handful of members were even remotely aware of the turmoil she was confronting. That is a very speical quality, to confont directly and effectively difficult questions and issues that can have real impact on the lives of colleagues and to do so out of the limelight with poise, calm, a sense of fairness, and indomitable strength. Never once did, or, I daresay, any of her confidants, ever detect even a hint of self-pity during any of her "difficult" days. For Ellis it was simple. She has a job to do and she accepted the responsibilities that went with it. End of story.

During Ellis's term, the PA was involved in the most contentious round of bargaining in probably twenty years. It was settle with a 5-year agreement only after Ellis, accompanied by our labor relations specialist Jim Henck, met privately with then college president Schafer and the College's lawyer. To be sure, that initiative was supported by the group efforts of the full negotiating team, but never lose sight of the fact that it took intervention at the presidential level to reach an agreement. In such an arena, words must be carefully chosen because the potential for impact is great.

We in the PA were in good hands with Ellis representing us at those meetings and we continue to reap the benefits of Ellis's leadership in the steady progress in our overall compensation package. That one event alone is a legacy any president could be proud of but it is far from the full picture.

In the political realm for the entirety of her tenure, Ellis has been a consistent fixture at meetings of the Oneida County Board of Legislators and is well known to its members and to the County Executive -- with all of whom she enjoys comfortable and productive relationships. Our candidate screening effort was instituted during Ellis's term. During each election cycle she has used each inidividual session as a mini-seminar on the College the opportunities it provides, and the needs of our members.

She is equally comfortable with our state representatives and has been a steady, credible voice on our behalf in countless conversations with them and in formal testimony when the opportunities have arisen. Political functions in the greater Mohawk Valley invariably found Ellis in attendance, conversing with the County Executive, county legislators or state representatives or anyone with some ability to exert influence on the budget and/or circumstances at MVCC. It is in such conversations that the needs of faculty and professional staff are communicated and the seeds of progress sown.

Beyond the political realm, Ellis is a well-known figure in NYSUT and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and has served on NYSUT's statewide Higher Ed Council during most of her presidency. The PA is well known in NYSUT as a model community college/higher education local because of her representation and all that we do. Admittedly, Ellis hasn't done it alone; she has a large case of "characters" to whom she has delegated roles and responsibilites. In different ways, she has inpired or supported or convinced or allowed each of us to "do something" we care about and "make it our own," but all these "somethings" have happened on her watch. The PA has a very successful Benefits Fund that provides, among other things, disability insurance, life insurance, and a terrific vision program to supplement our health insurance. The PA Scholarship has grown into a much sought after and competitive prize and the selection process made more formal during Ellis's tenure.

With Ellis at the helm, the PA was the first higher education local in the state to be awarded the NYSUT LAP grant to improve our visibility and develop our connection with neighboring locals and the surrounding community. Other Community College locals have since followed lead. Ellis has been a contributing member of the Oneida County Presidents Council that brings K-12 locals and us together on a monthly basis.

The PA is securely connected to local organized labor through the Central New York Labor Council where Ellis, among others, has served as a delegate. Each year the PA is recognized for its total contributions to the NYSUT VOTE-COPE programs and more recently for its community outreach programs at NYSUT's annual Representative Assembly. PAnorama is annually recognized for excellence in multiple categories. The list Ellis will tell you that she isn't responsible for much of this but that's just not true. With her unique approach to leadership, she sets the stage for others to develop and flourish and she does all she can to support, encourage, and assist them.

Through it all, the take-home message is that the PA (that's us, every one of us) owes Ellis quite a debt of gratitude for the countless hours and energy and dedication she has given over the eight years of her presidency and for the many years of union involvement that preceded it. Ellis was editor of our newsletter before it became PAnorama, before becoming vice president, before becoming president.

When she left office this summer, it was as she "governed", without fanfare. But she deserves our thanks. I hope every one of us finds an opportunity over this semester to stop Ellis on campus and thank her personally for all that she has done and given for the PA and its members. It would be very fitting that her fanfare be heartfelt and individual, one member at a time. Thanks Ellis.

From the President's Desk
by Alison Doughtie

Things are easier when you've got friends, and the PA is very friendly!

If you're new to the College, you may have already realized this. Perhaps a member offered to go to the New Member Reception with you; maybe a colleague or two have welcomed you to the College and to the Professional Association. We're happy you're here, and we're eager for you to be involved in the work of the PA.

If you're a veteran PA member, you know things are a bit different this semester. I hope the familiarity and good will of the PA has made the beginning of the semester a little easier. The chaos of the week before classes, at least for me, was more manageable because I was able to enjoy the good company and flexibility of great colleagues. As for the recent changes at the College, you should know that the PA has been keeping track of any potential contractual considerations that the reorganization may have engendered.

While faculty and professional staff know the PA, our friendship extends beyond the boundaries of the Utica and Rome campuses. Every year we conduct food drives, participate in charity events, and contribute to charitable organizations. We've donated literally tons of food, walked or run a collective thousand miles or so, and contributed to organizations such as Thea Bowman, the Salvation Army, and the American Heart Association.

If you'd like to help spread the PA cheer throughout the community, one such upcoming event is Strides Against Breast Cancer, and our own Steve Getchell is a Team Captain. If you would like to be involved, please contact him ( or 731-5717) .

The PA is also a friend to those politicians who have stood behind the College and the Association. Just before classes started, the PA screened 24 Oneida County legislative candidates who were seeking our endorsement.

Sometimes, members don't even know how friendly we are until they need us; but my hope is that you see the invitation for involvement and inclusion. I can tell you that the PA reached out to me on my first day of work at the College, and that I have received nothing but encouragement, knowledge, and guidance from every PA member I've encountered. I know that I am surrounded by helpful friends, and I hope that you feel similarly.

PA hosts ED#39 NYSUT Community College Leadership at MVCC
by Marie Czarnecki

The leadership of NYSUT community college locals statewide converged on the MVCC Utica campus on June 5-6 as the PA hosted a meeting of Election District #39.

While K-12 election districts for the Representative Assembly within NYSUT are usually geographic, the community colleges have their own district, united by common concerns rather than physical proximity. Regular ED#39 meetings provide an opportunity for the widespread cc locals to network.

CC locals joining PA leaders in the 2-day event included Erie, Fulton-Montgomery, Genesee, Herkimer, Hudson Valley, Monroe, Onondaga, Schenectady, Suffolk, and Westchester.

Representing the PA at the meeting along with President Alison Doughtie and Past President Ellis Gage Searles were VOTE/COPE Chair Bill Perrotti, Political Outreach Chair David Katz, 2nd VP Lorie Phillips, Secretary Marie Czarnecki, PAnorama editor Brandon Shaw, and Past 1st VP Lew Kahler. The PA's Labor Relations Specialist Jim Henck also attended.

The meeting was conducted by ED#39 President Ellen Schuler Mauk, President of the Faculty Association of Suffolk, who brought a packed agenda.

But in the plan was time for PA hospitality, arranged by the Past President Searles and President Doughtie. Gracious and efficient support at MVCC was provided by Sodexho, the Dormitory Corporation, and Facilities.

After checking into the MVCC dorms at 4 pm on Friday afternoon, the NYSUT contingent caravanned to Alee's Restaurant in Utica, where the proprietor, former PA President Gerry Scotti, provided a generous reception on the house for his NYSUT brothers and sisters.

Then to work: The first agenda item was an informative round of reports from local presidents, including updates on contracts and negotiations, grievance and arbitrations issues, new college administrations, and emerging issues. Many campuses are on the same negotiations cycles as the PA, with the current contracts running until 2010.

Next, NYSUT Senior Legislator Representative Chris Black briefed the audience on current higher ed legislation and budget concerns in Albany.

He was followed by VOTE/COPE representative Kevin Peterman, who stressed the significant impact of VOTE / COPE in the fight for higher ed funding in Albany.

Now it was time for a delicious gourmet dinner at Alee's, after which Schuler Mauk presented Gerry Scotti with a plaque honoring his service of 14 years as PA president.

ED#39 guests then returned to campus for a reception sponsored by the PA and "talking amongst ourselves" before guests retired to the dorms.

Saturday saw the participants at breakfast at 7:30 am. Joining them was MVCC President Randy VanWagoner, who welcomed the NYSUT contingent to MVCC and remarked on the positive relationship between the PA and the College.

Then an MVCC Senate-style table arrangement in IT225 was ideal for the open exchange during the morning-long meeting.

First of all, Past President Ellis Gage Searles was honored by her ED#39 peers for her service to NYSUT and the PA.

Next came Cynthia Eaton of the Suffolk delegation (back on her old stomping grounds for the event), who led a discussion on Distance Ed issues. She also announced that the updated NYSUT DE policy document would be completed and made available to locals by Spring 2010.

Schuler Mauk distributed and reviewed a draft resolution on a proposed dual credit policy from the NYSUT Dual Credit Task Force. Such a policy is vital as SUNY reports dual enrollment of at least 20,000 students with 30,000 reported at CUNY. The proposed policy addresses quality, students, oversight, and collective bargaining. The draft resolution calls for NYSUT to work with SED and SUNY to include policy priciples in guidelines for all dual credit courses in NY State. In addition, it calls for K-12 and higher ed locals to work together in promulgating these principles.

Neil Foley of NYSUT Project Staff distributed a document that compiles grade grievance procedures at 25 NYSUT community colleges and conducted a round-table discussion.

The last round-table discussion involved resolving internal union disputes/disagreements. Tony Wildman, NYSUT Director of Higher Education Services, offered perspective.

At 11:30, the intense morning was wrapped up. The travelers received non-alcoholic gifts courtesy of F.X. Matt Brewery. They gathered their box lunches, expressed appreciation for MVCC and PA hospitality and our beautiful Utica campus in the Mohawk Valley, and were on their way, having enjoyed the opportunity for intellectual engagement and exchange of ideas in a convivial atmosphere.

ED#39 was pronounced a rousing sucess by all!

Graduation Day Gifts

by Dayton Elseth

On Friday, May 15, Mohawk Valley Community College held its annual Spring Commencement Ceremony at the Utica Auditorium. The ceremony followed a familiar formula. President VanWagoner presided over the ceremony and introduced the guest speaker, Immaculée Ilibagiza. After a touching and spiritually uplifting speech by Ms. Ilibagiza, Dr. Maryrose Eannace, Vice President for Learning and Academic Affairs, presented the candidates for graduation. Candidates were introduced by their respective department heads, and each one was given a diploma by President VanWagoner. After all the students received their diplomas, the ceremony was brought to an end.

The MVCC Professional Association's contribution to the ceremony were made special by all those involved. Since Fall Semester of 2002, the MVCCPA has given each graduate a key ring as a gift, and this semester was no different. As soon as Dr. Eannace introduced the Class of 2009, MVCCPA President Ellis Searles went up to the stage and, with the assistance of PA board member William Perrotti, presented each graduate with a key ring and expressed the congratulations of the faculty and professional staff.

The key ring gift has not always been a union tradition in the graduation ceremony. In October 2002, the MVCC Professional Association obtained a NYSUT Local Action Project grant. This commencement keepsake initiative was one of the community outreach efforts funded by the three-year grant.

As is well known throughout the community, the MVCCPA routinely participates in fundraising activities, cancer drives, cause-driven runs, and other activities. One purpose of this particular grant was to help the Professional Assocation expand upon those activitiesand develop more relationshops within the college community, and the key rings were part of this grant. The MVCCPA wanted to heighten the students' awareness of its members' contributions to their academic success and let the students know that the union is "United for excellence in education". The key rings also serve as a symbol of the PA's recognition of students' achievements here at MVCC and pride in their accomplishments.

Today, the key rings are no longer part of a grant, but are funded through the PA's regular operating budget as an annual outreach initiative. So, they will be a mainstay in commencement ceremonies, for the Professional Association intends to continue recognizing student excellence into the future.

Member Services- New Member Profile: Joe Woodrow
by George Searles

The Professional Association salutes Joe Woodrow, who's beginning his second year as an Instructor in the Life Science Department.

A Richfield Springs native, Joe earned B.S. and M.S. degrees at the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry at Syracuse, and his Ph.D. in entomology at the University of Hawaii. His research interest was termite behavior and control. After a postdoc at Hawaii, he spent five years as a civilian entomologist with the U.S. Army before returning to the University for three years as a faculty researcher. He also served as president of both the Hawaii Rock & Mineral Society and the Hawaiian Entomological Society.

Earlier he'd attended Suffolk County Community College and Finger Lakes Community College. "I definitely feel an affinity toward the community college environment, because that's where I started," Joe told PAnorama.

He adjuncted at MVCC in the spring of '08 before joining the full-time faculty last fall. He teaches General Biology and Human Life Science labs. "Once you show students that you genuinely care about their progress, then you can really connect with them," he said.

Joe met his wife, Carrie, in Hawaii. Both gemology enthusiasts, they've attended the annual Tuscon Gem & Mineral Show several times, and Joe is now working on a graduate diploma from the Gemology Institute of America.

In addition, they're avid readers with "a roomful of books" in the house they built on land that was formerly part of the family farm.

Former PA President Retiree Gerry Scotti Honored by NYSUT
by Marie Czarnecki

While planning the ED#39 meeting at MVCC, Past President Ellis Gage Searles thought that a perfect venue for the NYSUT dinner meeting on June 5 would be Alee's Restaurant in Utica. The choice was a natural as the proprietor, PA retiree Gerry Scotti, has deep union roots. Many PAnorama readers will recall that Gerry served as PA president for 14 years.

And it was perfect. Gerry pulled out all the stops for a scrumptuous dinner for his union brothers and sisters and former colleagues in ED#39.

After the dinner, Gerry was honored by the leadership of NYSUT community college locals for his years as PA President and his service to NYSUT. He was surprised with the presentation of a plaque by ED#39 President Ellen Shuler Mauk. It reads:

In recognition of exemplary service be it known that Alee's Restaurant
Is hereby designated as the official Utica, NY restaurant of NYSUT ED#39
With appreciation to Proprietor Extraordinaire
Gerry Scotti
Past President of Mohawk Valley Community College Professional Association.
June 5, 2009
Richard C. Iannuzzi President

Gerry already has decided on a prominent place to hang the plaque at Alee's.

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