If you’re a voter in Washtenaw County, you have to ask yourself a very important question. Why is the WCC Board of Trustees going around the voters for capital dollars? Especially to support limited academic credit and non-credit programs that offer mostly online classes.
In the March 12, 2019 Board Retreat, Trustee David DeVarti points out that Washtenaw County voters tend to approve ballot measures for projects and programs they support. He also points out that voters have almost always supported the College.
In response, Trustee Richard Landau offers plenty of rationale for why going around the voters is desirable. But he never explains why taking the funding decision away from the voters is necessary.
Why is it necessary to pursue revenue-backed debt financing rather than getting tax-backed bonds? Which of these capital projects is so vital to WCC’s survival that the College cannot risk defeat at the polls?
Let’s look at the buildings in play here. WCC has chosen to fix the Morris Lawrence Building using money it has on hand. This building will get fixed without financing. The Student Center renovations may or may not receive partial state funding. If the State funding doesn’t come through, WCC will reduce the renovation to repair work and borrow immediately to keep the sewage flowing away from the building. The Facilities Building has plenty of utility, but it’s not strategic. WCC’s survival does not depend on it.
Is the ATC mission-critical for online classes?
So that leaves the “Advanced Transportation Center.” Does WCC’s future depend on the ATC? Is this the construction that WCC cannot survive without? The State has agreed to fund only $2M of the building’s $8M cost, so Lansing has only a limited interest in the ATC. Clearly, the State doesn’t see this as being vital to WCC’s well-being. (If it did, it would have funded the building at 50%.)
WCC didn’t design any faculty offices in the building, which differs from every other academic building on campus.
Even Rose Bellanca – in the November 19, 2019 Board Retreat – admitted that the concept for “Advanced Transportation Center” has – um – changed since WCC first sought State construction funds. But they’re still calling it the “Advanced Transportation Center” because that’s what’s on the paperwork.
So, it’s not so much Advanced Transportation as it is cyber-security. And data analytics. And mobility. But it’s still Advanced Transportation. Because they’re all really – you know –the same thing. At some level. If they could get bitcoin mining and blockchain platforms in there, along with some League of Legends tournaments on the weekends, they might actually have something the public could get behind.
In other words ladies and gentlemen, this is WCC’s new Buzzwords Building. And to demonstrate the Administration’s complete commitment to leading this full-frontal, online technology assault on Washtenaw County’s future, WCC has fired its entire IT staff.
What is the point of going around the voters?
I’m sorry, but this still doesn’t sound like something we need to bet the house on. Two or three degree programs and 6-9 non-credit online classes don’t justify an $8M building.
Credit status aside, since the programs and classes attached to the ATC are being offered mostly online, why the hell do we need to build a building at all? (At least this explains why there are no faculty offices.) With the limited number of classrooms available in this building, most of the in-person credit classes will need to be held in real academic buildings anyway.
Also, with the alleged dropping enrollment narrative that the Administration keeps pushing, WCC should have plenty of existing classroom space to offer both the credit and non-credit programs.
Which brings me back to my first question: why is a building –which is apparently being built to house programs with mostly online classes – so vital to the survival of WCC that the Board of Trustees deems it necessary to borrow against the College’s General Fund to ensure the voters cannot reject it?
Photo Credit: Merrill College of Journalism , via Flickr.com