By Elizabeth Feudale and
On a typical winter day, Brookdale students are concerned with simple things, such as getting the work done by its due date and preparing for tests, projects and homework. Questions about the next BCC president and how the scandal surrounding former President Peter F. Burnham affects them made students wrinkle their foreheads.
“I didn’t even hear about it,” said Kent Kingston, a 19-year-old music major from Old Bridge.
Faculty and staff, however, are not only very aware of the changes on campus, some say that even though many students aren’t aware of the ongoing criminal investigation and changes at the administrative level, they are affected by it.
“The removal of Dr. Burnham from the presidency of Brookdale stunned the whole college. Dr. Burnham was our president for over 20 years,” said Dr. David Stout, associate professor of psychology, discussing the atmosphere at Brookdale over the last year.
“His removal from office was a sad time for Brookdale, but there were also some who were very angry due to the allegations that the president may have engaged in financially inappropriate behavior. I saw this anger in some of my students as well as my colleagues,” Stout said.
In March 2011, Burnham retired in a terse letter after being placed on administrative leave while the board investigated spending in the president’s office. An audit led the trustees to state they would sue Burnham for financial improprieties. The Monmouth County Prosecutors Office launched a criminal investigation into Burnham’s spending, which is ongoing, but no charges have been filed.
“Among students I don’t see too much of a change. Among faculty, you sense a change in aura; they seem to be walking on egg shells with the uncertainty and worry about how this might affect them,” said Owen Brady, 36, a student and a Scroll & Pen Book Store employee.
“I didn’t hear about it. I have no idea who the president is now. I don’t really care. I just play it simple,” said Vincent Miranda, an 18-year-old biology major from Middletown.
English Professor Jack Ryan believes the events are having an effect on students, even if they are unaware of the changes.
“Students are drastically affected. Everything starting from the ordering of text books has slowed down because of the processes that the institution put in effect that are making people feel like they are dishonest and all of that wind up being inefficient and ineffective to providing the services needed for the students,” Ryan said.
Ryan was referring to new college policies regulating spending at all levels. Recent board of trustees meetings, in fact, have seen students and staff complaining about delays in reimbursements and spending authorizations.
“I cannot speak for students, but for employees, there was a sense of sadness, loss disappointment and some uncertainty, but there is hopefulness for the future,” said Noreen Costa, senior office assistant of OBCD at Brookdale.
Overall, the reactions and feelings around campus have been mixed. Many students seem to be unaffected; others are unaware.
Interviews with about 30 students showed that not only did most not attend open interviews with the three finalists for BCC president earlier this year, they didn’t know about them. Nor did they know why a new president is needed.
“Nobody even talked about that. I just heard on the news,” said Neida Chandler, a 61-year old nursing major from Keyport.
“I followed the scandal with Mr. Burnham, but I don’t know anything about the new president,’’ said Andrew Suydam, a 20-year-old video programing major from Morganville.
Mirroring the response of several students, Suydam noted that the campus seemed largely unaffected by last spring’s headlines. “I don’t think anything changed since last year. I don’t think people pay attention to that. I just go to classes, doing the same thing every day, just keep going.”
“It has been a long time since it happened, so I don’t know where I stand on it,” said Joe Zangrillo, 18, a second-semester music production major from Jackson.
“A lot of students do not really care unless it affects the cost of study. They just go to classes. As for me, I just hope that whoever we hire is an appropriate person for this position,” said Jorge Martinez, a 19-year-old social science and work study student from Howell shortly before Dr. Maureen Murphy was hired to be the new college president.
Of the students interviewed, only one said he has been actively following the events as well as the search for a new president.
“We need to get a new president who has had experience. She needs to be someone who is going to be able to restore confidence. To be able to say to people, I believe in you again,” Ryan said before Murphy was hired. “That is the biggest problem many people do not feel that the administration believes in them and whatever level of capacity that they are involved in. That causes an overall sense in the work place that’s not comfortable and not a warm and inviting environment for people to work in. So the president who comes in next really needs to understand the academic side as well as the administrative side.”
“We must have an open floor in the institution that’s what I hope we will get back to and that will again restore confidence that people have in the ways that things are being done in an open and transparent way,” Ryan said.
Walter Witko, a 28-year-old media major from Leonardo, agrees. “A new president needs to have an open door policy. He needs to be pretty much translucent to gain trust back.”
“A copasetic experience between the students and the faculty should take place. I paid a lot of attention when that scandal started. The lack of copasetic experience is one of the main reasons we lost the last president. A new president should show us that he is trustworthy,” Witko said.
Several staffers who were asked to comment on the atmosphere at Brookdale over the past year declined. Some said they were afraid to comment; others laughed and turned away.
“I think one of the things that has cropped up throughout the faculty, staff and administration is there is true fear,” Ryan said. “Paranoia about what you do and whether what you do is going to be perceived one way or another that could jeopardize your employment. You are no longer seen as a viable part of a system. You are seen as a suspect in particular and I think psychologically it really damaged the confidence of people in the institution.
And again, we are in the business of teaching and learning, everyone in the institution is involved in that no matter what job you have, and when those people lose confidence, then I think it has a negative effect on the teaching and learning process.”