National Labor College to close

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SILVER SPRING, Md. (PAI) - Faced with a continuing tide of red ink, no endowment, and constant turnover at the top, the National Labor College's board voted Nov. 12 to close the college. No date was set, but the closure is expected soon.

"I am deeply saddened to report that yesterday the Board of Trustees directed me and the college's officers to develop a plan to close the college," the institution's president, Dr. Paula Peinovich, said in a statement posted on its website.

"The college has been facing significant financial difficulties and the board reluctantly decided to accept the inevitability of our closure. We do not have a specific date for closure yet, but will provide information as soon as we can, detailing how the shutdown will proceed. This process will likely take many months," she said.

Peinovich said the remaining faculty and administrators would develop "a concrete timeline with multiple options" for current students to finish their course work and get their degrees. She was not specific.

"It's a real tragedy. This is something the labor movement absolutely needs," said one former top college employee.

The college's closing is important because it is virtually the only entire institution in the U.S. that has labor studies - everything from history to organizing techniques to collective bargaining - at its center. Over the years, thousands of unionists came to the college to study those fields and others, from labor's point of view.

By contrast, most major colleges and universities have business schools, teaching corporate techniques and schemes. Those schools ignore workers-at best - or offer "efficiency" courses in how to "use" workers. And state universities with labor studies programs find their programs under political or financial fire, or both. The latest threat, a fiscal one, is at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

The National Labor College grew out of the George Meany Center for Labor Studies. In 2012, trustees put the campus, in Silver Spring, Md., a D.C. suburb, up for sale and planned to make the college an entirely online institution. A recent possible sale of the campus, which also includes a memorial to workers killed on the job, failed.

Meanwhile, red ink grew to some $30 million. Federation President Richard Trumka told his AFL-CIO Executive Council colleagues at a meeting at the college several years ago that the fed could not continue subsidizing the NLC. Trumka also chairs the college's board.

The problem worsened when the Change to Win unions left the AFL-CIO in 2005. Without an endowment, the AFL-CIO and individual unions are the college's main financial support. The fed had provided bridge loans.

Turnover at the top hurt. Peinovich, who left retirement to run NLC after previously running a private for-profit online college-with plans to ally the two-is its fourth president in five years. There has also been constant turnover in other top administrative offices. Most of the full-time faculty, represented by the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, took buyouts when the college offered them. The Guild also represents part-time faculty at the college.

"That turnover is bad for any institution," the former employee added.

And NLC presidents did not devote time to fundraising, the number one priority of college presidents-public or private-nationwide. The trustees also approved a 5-year master plan, posted on the college's website. But for various reasons, nobody has followed it, the ex-employee said. A national marketing plan went unimplemented.

"The board is responsible for any non-profit organization," but did not exercise sufficient oversight, he added. Calls to various board members for their analysis of why they decided to close the college were not returned, as of Nov. 14.

Photo: National Labor College Facebook page.

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  • What about making an appeal to George Soros, or doing a kick starter campaign to retire that $30 million debt. I have been told that student tuition and fees pay for college operating costs, so its that $30 debt, caused by problems with a big conference center built on the campus - not insufficient tuition fees.

    Posted by Laura Dely, 12/09/2013 10:46am (9 months ago)

  • This is a damn shame. Trumka and the entire board of trustees should be ashamed of themselves.

    Posted by Kim Patterson, 11/19/2013 9:41pm (10 months ago)

  • I am stunned at this news! I cannot believe that this could happen to an institution devoted to the workers of this country and the furtherance of their abilities and standing within our society. If our Unions believe in the principles they espouse, the cause that was the first item negotiated by the workers of the first unions, Education for their children, they should step forward in a commitment to support this, our only, Labor College!

    I was fortunate enough to have been a student of this college, and proud to have, also, been a graduate of it. This was not the result of only my own efforts, but that of every instructor that taught me, and the advisor that nurtured my latent abilities. Many more are awaiting that same experience of advancing their lives and meeting the struggles of our diminished labor movement with their developed skills.

    I urge each and every union officer, and the leadership of the AFL/CIO, to prevent this closure. It is truly the source of our future progress ...and success!

    Posted by Clifford Beck, 11/16/2013 4:19am (10 months ago)

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