Ohio’s GOP Governor Mike DeWitt Breaks From Party – Vetoes Ban On Gender-Affirming Care!

Office of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.

Dear Commons Community,

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed a measure Friday that would have banned gender-affirming care for minors and transgender athletes’ participation in girls and women’s sports, in a break from members of his party who championed the legislation.

Hundreds of opponents testified against Ohio’s multifaceted measure when it was moving through the Legislature, including medical and mental health providers, education professionals, faith leaders, parents of transgender children and transgender individuals themselves.

They decried the legislation as cruel, life threatening to transgender youth and based on fearmongering rather than science.

The measure, which passed the Legislature earlier this month with only Republican support, would have prohibited Ohio minors from taking puberty blockers and undergoing other hormone therapies or receiving gender reassignment surgery that would further align them with their gender identity. It would, however, have allowed any minor who is an Ohio resident to continue treatment they are currently receiving.

DeWine’s veto departs from a nationwide trend toward passing such laws. Since 2021, more than 20 states have enacted laws restricting or banning such treatments, despite them having been available in the United States for more than a decade and long endorsed by major medical associations. Most of those states face lawsuits, but courts have issued mixed rulings.

The bill also would have required public K-12 schools and universities to designate separate teams for male and female sexes, and explicitly banned transgender girls and women from participating in sports that align with their gender identity. Supporters argued that banning transgender athletes from girls and women’s sports maintains the integrity of those sports and ensures fairness.

At least 20 states have passed some version of a ban on transgender athletes playing on K-12 and collegiate sports teams statewide. Those bans would be upended by a regulation proposed by President Joe Biden’s administration that is set to be finalized early next year.

GOP lawmakers hold enough seats to override DeWine’s veto, but if or when they would do so was not immediately clear.  

Thank you, Governor DeWine!


Consulting firm McKinsey agrees to $78 million settlement with insurers over opioids!

FILE - OxyContin pills are arranged for a photo, Feb. 19, 2013, at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. In an agreement revealed late Friday, Dec. 29, 2023, consulting firm McKinsey and Co. has agreed to pay $78 million to settle claims from insurers and health care funds that its marketing work with Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, helped fuel an opioid addiction crisis. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

AP Photo/Toby Talbot.

Dear Commons Community,

Consulting firm McKinsey and Co. has agreed to pay $78 million to settle claims from insurers and health care funds that its work with drug companies helped fuel an opioid addiction crisis.  As reported by The Associated Press.

The agreement was revealed late Friday in documents filed in federal court in San Francisco. The settlement must still be approved by a judge.

Under the agreement, McKinsey would establish a fund to reimburse insurers, private benefit plans and others for some or all of their prescription opioid costs.

The insurers argued that McKinsey worked with Purdue Pharma – the maker of OxyContin – to create and employ aggressive marketing and sales tactics to overcome doctors’ reservations about the highly addictive drugs. Insurers said that forced them to pay for prescription opioids rather than safer, non-addictive and lower-cost drugs, including over-the-counter pain medication. They also had to pay for the opioid addiction treatment that followed.From 1999 to 2021, nearly 280,000 people in the U.S. died from overdoses of prescription opioids, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Insurers argued that McKinsey worked with Purdue Pharma even after the extent of the opioid crisis was apparent.  

The settlement is the latest in a years-long effort to hold McKinsey accountable for its role in the opioid epidemic. In February 2021, the company agreed to pay nearly $600 million to U.S. states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. In September, the company announced a separate, $230 million settlement agreement with school districts and local governments.

Asked for comment Saturday, McKinsey referred to a statement it released in September.

“As we have stated previously, we continue to believe that our past work was lawful and deny allegations to the contrary,” the company said, adding that it reached a settlement to avoid protracted litigation.

McKinsey said it stopped advising clients on any opioid-related business in 2019.

Well-deserved settlements!


A brief history of the Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop!

New Year’s Eve revelers in Times Square in 1938. – -/AFP/Getty Images

Dear Commons Community,

CNN is providing a brief history this morning of the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square. Below is the entire article.

“Since crowds first began gathering in Times Square to commemorate New Year’s Eve over a century ago, it has been a ritual to flock to midtown’s brightly lit chaos to ring in new beginnings. At 11:59 p.m. a dazzling ball descends down a pole, while attendees — and millions of people tuning in from home — count down from 60. At the stroke of midnight, the crowd erupts into a cacophony of sound, often pulling their loved one in for a ceremonial kiss.

But how did this New Year’s Eve celebration start, and why do we commemorate the occasion by watching a ball descend down a pole?

The Times Square ball first dropped in 1904, and it came into being thanks to Jacob Starr, a Ukranian immigrant and metalworker, and the former New York Times publisher, Adolph Ochs. The latter had successfully drawn crowds to the newspaper’s skyscraper home in Times Square with pyrotechnics and fireworks to celebrate the forthcoming year, but city officials banned explosives from being used after just a few years of the festivities.

So Ochs commissioned Starr, who worked for sign-making firm Strauss Signs (later known as Artkraft Strauss, a company at which Starr served as president), to create a new visual display.

Over the past century, that display, and symbol of the New Year has evolved from a iron and wood cage adorned with light bulbs to a dazzling technicolor crystal sphere.

Their concept was based on time balls, nautical devices that had gained popularity in the 19th century. As time-telling became more precise, ship navigators needed a standardized way to set their chronometers. Each day, harbors and observatories would raise and lower a metal ball at the same time to allow sailors to synchronize their instruments.

Both Ochs and the New York Times’ chief electrician, Walter Palmer, have been credited with the idea, allegedly inspired by the downtown Western Union Building, which dropped a time ball each day at noon. But Starr’s granddaughter Tama, who joined Artkraft Strauss in 1982 and now owns the business, said in a phone interview that she believes it was her grandfather who came up with the concept of the ball being lowered and lit up with the new year numerals at midnight.

“The idea was to … have it illuminated with the brand-new electricity that had just come up to the neighborhood,” said Tama, who for many years served as foreperson at the Times Square ball drop. “And it was lowered by hand … starting at one minute to midnight, and that was the way it was done for many years.”

“It was an adaptation of an old, useful thing,” she added. “It was instantly popular. People just loved it.”

Though Manhattan had been partially illuminated by electricity since the early 1880s, the US National Park Service (NPS) notes that half of American homes were still lit by gas lights and candles until the 1920s. The sight of a glimmering ball lowering down from the dark skies would have seemed otherworldly.

When the ball reached the parapet with a sign displaying the numbers of the year, “the electrician would throw the switch, turning off the ball and turning on the numbers at the same time,” Tama said. “So it looked like the ball coming down transformed into the set of numbers.”

All of Times Square got in on the theatrics. In the first year, waiters in nearby restaurants and hotels wore battery-powered “1908” top hats that they illuminated at the stroke of midnight.

“It looked like magic to people,” said Tama.

‘A minute outside of time’

There have been seven different Times Square balls since that first descent, from a 700-pound iron structure fitted with 25-watt light bulbs, to a lighter aluminum frame after World War II, to a “Big Apple” during the administration of the city’s former mayor Ed Koch.

In 1995, when the ball got a glitzy update with rhinestones, strobe lights and computer controls, traditional signmakers were no longer needed — which meant that Artkraft Strauss, the company that had brought the ball to Times Square, was no longer needed either. Today’s ball is a collaboration between Waterford Crystal and Philips Lighting, using 32,256 LEDs that can be programed to display millions of colors and patterns on its surface.

Nonetheless, Tama remembers her years as the timekeeper on the roof of One Times Square fondly.

When the last minute of the year arrived, workers lowered the ball down using a complex pulley system.

In performing this ritual year after year, Tama sees an intrinsic link between the countdown, which she calls “a minute outside of time,” and the making of New Year’s resolutions.

“When you’re concentrating really hard, time seems to slow down,” she said. “It felt like the longest minute in the world. It felt like you had time to wash your hair, call your mother, change your life. You really can change your life in one minute — you can decide to be different. You can decide to be kinder and better.”

Happy New Year, Everybody!


Tiny robots are being developed that could save lives by breaking up blood clots!

A rendering of a millirobot that can break up blood clots. (University of Twente)

Dear Commons Community,

Blood clots are a serious health problem that can cause strokes, heart attacks and even death.

Some blood clots can be removed by doctors using a flexible tool that goes inside the affected vein or artery, but others are too hard to reach.

What if there was a way to break up those clots without surgery or drugs?

A Blood Clot

That’s the idea behind a new invention by scientists in the Netherlands.  As reported by Fox News.

Scientists have created tiny robots that can swim through your blood vessels and drill into the clots. These robots are called millirobots, and they are about the size of a grain of rice. They have a corkscrew-shaped body that contains a small magnet. The magnet helps them move and steer through the blood.

The millirobots are inserted into the blood vessel through a small tube called a cannula. Then, an external magnet that rotates is used to control them. The external magnet makes the millirobots spin along their axis, which allows them to swim through the blood. They can swim against the direction of the blood flow to reach the clot.

Once they get to the clot, they start drilling into it. This breaks up the clot into smaller pieces that can be carried away by the blood. Then, the external magnet changes the direction of rotation, which makes the millirobots swim back to the cannula. They can then be taken out of the blood vessel.

At the Technical Medical Centre of the University of Twente, the researchers set up their experiment with a real aorta and kidneys. The scientists were able to guide multiple millirobots through the vessels and break up clots. They think the millirobots could work even better with a stronger external magnet.

The millirobots could offer a new way to treat blood clots that are hard to reach or dissolve. They could reduce the need for surgery or drugs, which can have side effects or complications. They could also deliver drugs to specific places in the body where they are needed the most, such as tumors or infections.

The lead scientist, Asst. Prof. Islam Khalil from the University of Twente, said in an interview, “The robots can deliver drugs to very specific places in the body where the drug is needed the most. That way we have minimal side effects in the rest of the body.”

The technology is being developed further by a partnership between Radboud University Medical Center and Triticum Medical. They hope to make the millirobots more efficient and safe for human use. They also want to explore other applications of the millirobots, such as cleaning arteries or removing plaque.

The millirobots could be a game-changer for treating blood clots and other diseases. They could save lives and improve health outcomes for millions of people. They are an example of how tiny robots can have a big impact.

Bring on the tiny robots!


Justice Neil Gorsuch will be a critical in the U.S. Supreme Court’s deliberations on Trump being on presidential ballots!

Justice Neil Gorsuch

Dear Commons Community,

As the legal battles over whether Donald Trump is eligible to appear on 2024 ballots moves toward the Supreme Court, one justice in particular is being singled out by the former president’s critics: his first nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat, cited Gorsuch in her decision Thursday that Trump is ineligible to appear on that state’s ballot because of his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. When the Colorado Supreme Court made a similar decision earlier this month, the Colorado justices also quoted Gorsuch. As reported by USA Today.

Trump’s opponents have zeroed in on an  opinion Gorsuch wrote in 2012 when he was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit – nearly five years before Trump named him to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The case dealt with a presidential candidate who was struck from Colorado’s ballot because he was not, as the Constitution requires, a “natural born citizen.”

“As then-Judge Gorsuch recognized,” the majority in the Colorado Supreme Court decision wrote, citing a line from the 2012 opinion. In Maine, “as now Justice Gorsuch observed,” Shenna Bellows wrote in her decision, before quoting the same line.

Why Trump’s critics are citing Gorsuch

Many experts predict the U.S. Supreme Court will resolve the ballot cases on limited grounds, avoiding central questions about whether Trump took part in an insurrection. Even if that’s true, quoting from one of the nine justices on the high court is a well-established tactic for advocates trying to build a five-vote majority.

Writing for a three-judge panel in 2012, Gorsuch dismissed the idea that Colorado was required to place Abdul Karim Hassan’s name on the presidential ballot even if he was ineligible to assume the presidency. A state’s “legitimate interest in protecting the integrity and practical functioning of the political process,” Gorsuch wrote, “permits it to exclude from the ballot candidates who are constitutionally prohibited from assuming office.”

What Gorsuch was saying, in other words, is states are empowered to assess a candidate’s eligibility for an office and strike them from the ballot if they don’t meet the criteria for holding office. The question raised in the Hassan case is just one part of the legal fight over Trump’s eligibility playing out in courts across the country today.

Colorado’s top court and Maine’s secretary of state both found Trump ineligible to serve under a Reconstruction-era provision of the 14th Amendment. That provision bars people who took an oath to uphold the Constitution and then took part in an insurrection from serving again.

Both paused the practical impact of their decisions until courts have a chance to review them. In Colorado, for instance, the state court said election officials should proceed as if Trump’s name will appear on the ballot until the U.S. Supreme Court resolves the matter.

Who decides what’s an insurrection?

The 4-3 majority of Colorado justices also noted a decision from a federal court that upheld California denying a place on the ballot for a 27-year-old presidential candidate because he was several years shy of meeting the Constitution’s 35-years-old age requirement. And they pointed to a decision by a federal court in Illinois that barred a 31-year-old from the presidential ballot.

Trump’s supporters counter that deciding whether a candidate took part in an insurrection is far more complicated – more of a judgement call – than determining whether they are natural-born citizen or meet the Constitution’s age requirement. That is a decision that ultimately should be left to Congress, they said, not election officials or even state courts.

The Colorado Republican Party has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and has asked for expedited review. Trump is expected to do so next week. If the nation’s top court agrees to hear the case, it could wind up resolving more than a dozen similar pending lawsuits across the country.

Justice Gorsuch and the U.S. Supreme Court’s deliberations in this case will be followed closely!


Nikki Haley Does Damage Control over Controversial Comments about the Causes of the US Civil War – She Never Mentioned Slavery!

GOP presidential hopeful Nikki Haley at town hall meeting. Copyright – The Associated Press

Dear Commons Community,

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley was asked at a New Hampshire town hall about the reason for the Civil War, and she didn’t mention slavery in her response. She walked back her comments hours later.

Asked during Wednesday night’s town hall what she believed had caused the war, Haley talked about the role of government, replying that it involved “the freedoms of what people could and couldn’t do.”

She then turned the question back to the man who had asked it. He replied that he was not the one running for president and wished instead to know her answer.

After Haley went into a lengthier explanation about the role of government, individual freedom and capitalism, the questioner seemed to admonish Haley, saying, “In the year 2023, it’s astonishing to me that you answer that question without mentioning the word ‘slavery.’”

“What do you want me to say about slavery?” Haley retorted before abruptly moving on to the next question.  As reported by The Associated Press.

Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor, has been working to become the leading alternative to Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. It’s unclear whether her comments will have a long-term political impact, particularly among the independent voters who are crucial to her campaign.

She backpedaled on her Civil War comments 12 hours later, with her campaign disseminating a Thursday morning radio interview in which she said, “Of course the Civil War was about slavery,” something she called “a stain on America.” She went on to reiterate that “freedom matters. And individual rights and liberties matter for all people.”

Her GOP rivals quickly jumped on her original comments, even though most of them have been accused of downplaying the effects of slavery themselves.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign recirculated video of the original exchange on social media, adding the comment, “Yikes.” Campaigning in Iowa on Thursday, DeSantis said that Haley “has had some problems with some basic American history” and that it’s “not that difficult to identify and acknowledge the role slavery played in the Civil War.”

DeSantis faced criticism over slavery earlier in the year when Florida enacted new education standards requiring teachers to instruct middle school students that slaves developed skills that “could be applied for their personal benefit.” U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican in the Senate and DeSantis’ then-rival for the GOP presidential nomination, rejected that characterization, saying instead that slavery was about “separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives.”

Make America Great Again Inc., a super PAC supporting Trump’s campaign, sent out a release saying Haley’s response shows she “is clearly not ready for primetime.” The group also included an X post from Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, a Black Republican who supports Trump, reading “1. Psst Nikki… the answer is slavery PERIOD. 2. This really doesn’t matter because Trump is going to be the nominee. Trump 2024!”

Trump did not mention the two centuries of slavery in America at a 2020 event marking the 223rd anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. He instead focused on America’s founding having “set in motion the unstoppable chain of events that abolished slavery, secured civil rights, defeated communism and fascism and built the most fair, equal and prosperous nation in human history.”

Issues surrounding the origins of the Civil War and its heritage are still much of the fabric of Haley’s home state, and she has been pressed on the war’s origins before. As she ran for governor in 2010, Haley, in an interview with a now-defunct activist group then known as The Palmetto Patriots, described the war as between two disparate sides fighting for “tradition” and “change” and said the Confederate flag was “not something that is racist.”

During that same campaign, she dismissed the need for the flag to come down from the Statehouse grounds, portraying her Democratic rival’s push for its removal as a desperate political stunt.

Five years later, Haley urged lawmakers to remove the flag from its perch near a Confederate soldier monument following a mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, in which a white gunman killed nine Black church members who were attending Bible study. At the time, Haley said the flag had been “hijacked” by the shooter from those who saw the flag as symbolizing “sacrifice and heritage.”

South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession — the 1860 proclamation by the state government outlining its reasons for seceding from the Union — mentions slavery in its opening sentence and points to the “increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery” as a reason for the state removing itself from the Union.

On Wednesday night, Christale Spain — elected this year as the first Black woman to chair South Carolina’s Democratic Party — said Haley’s response was “vile, but unsurprising.”

“The same person who refused to take down the Confederate Flag until the tragedy in Charleston, and tried to justify a Confederate History Month,” Spain said in a post on X, of Haley. “She’s just as MAGA as Trump,” Spain added, referring to Trump’s ”Make America Great Again” slogan.

Jaime Harrison, current chairman of the Democratic National Committee and South Carolina’s party chairman during part of Haley’s tenure as governor, said her response was “not stunning if you were a Black resident in SC when she was Governor.”

“Same person who said the confederate flag was about tradition & heritage and as a minority woman she was the right person to defend keeping it on state house grounds,” Harrison posted Wednesday night on X. “Some may have forgotten but I haven’t. Time to take off the rose colored Nikki Haley glasses folks.”

Haley is the only possible threat to Trump being the Republican nominee for president!


“Variety” Lists the Viewership of Top TV Networks – NBC is No. 1

Dear Commons Community,

If you are at all interested in television viewership, Variety has provided the 2023 rankings of television networks by number of viewers as determined by Nielsen.  Overall, NBC led the year in total viewers followed by CBS and ABC.   Below are the top 20 networks



1. NBC 4,537 -12%
2. CBS 4,508 -12%
3. ABC 3,888 +1%
4. Fox 3,353 +4%
5. Fox News 1,899 -20%
6. ESPN 1,705 -9%
7. Univision 1,265 -4%
8. MSNBC 1,220 +2%
9. Ion 997 -3%
10. HGTV  943 -13%
11. TNT 938 -3%
12. Hallmark Channel 929 -10%
13. Telemundo 859 -8%
14. TBS 786 -10%
15. History 775 -7%
16. TLC 749 -23%
17. INSP 709 -9%
18. Discovery Channel 702 -14%
19. USA Network 688 -7%
20. Food Network 672 -14%
Source: Nielsen, NPM (12/26/2022-12/3/2023, Live+7 and 12/4/2023-12/17/2023, Live+SD vs. 12/27/2021-12/4/2022, Live+7 and 12/5/2022-12/18/2022, Live+SD) Mon-Sat 8pm-11pm/Sun 7pm-11pm, ad-supported and premium pay networks. Nat Geo Mundo based on NPM-H. Excluded are Amazon and Amazon Spanish as these two networks only have programming on Thursday nights. Ranked by 2023 Year-To-Date.

Birmingham-Southern College was on the verge of receiving a multimillion-dollar loan, but the state treasurer balked, saying it was not a justifiable use of taxpayer money.

Copyright:  Zoe McDonald

Dear Commons Community,

Birmingham-Southern College, a private liberal arts school in Birmingham, Ala., has been plagued by financial instability for years, with the 2009 recession and the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating the consequences of poor investments and continuing  debts.

Closure seemed imminent earlier this year, until Alabama lawmakers appeared to offer a lifeline: a law tailored toward saving the 167-year-old school with a program that could loan millions of dollars. But in October, the state treasurer denied the school’s loan application, sending administrators scrambling once again to save the school.

For many outside the school, its fate is simply about whether a private school that has mismanaged its finances deserves any kind of taxpayer support, especially in a state that has chronically underfunded its public education system. But for alumni and the school’s supporters, it is also a question of whether a classical liberal arts education is still valued at a moment when colleges and universities are facing intense scrutiny over their curricula, admissions and cultures.

Caught in the middle are hundreds of students and professors, drawn to the school’s promise and now forced to reckon with its mistakes.  As reported by The New York Times.

“There was a while where I didn’t even want to do my homework or my work or go to class because what’s the purpose now?” said Jadynn Hunter, 21, who is one semester away from graduating with a media studies degree. She, like many on campus, had been rattled by fears of the school’s possible closure a year ago, before the Legislature acted.

Should Birmingham-Southern close, it would be the end of one of the most prominent liberal arts colleges in a state that has very few. Its allies also argue that the city of Birmingham would be deprived of a respected institution that has funneled millions of dollars into the local economy and kept the state’s youth from leaving for opportunities elsewhere.

Enrollment at the school, which has a $21,500 annual tuition, has faltered to about 731 students this fall.  

Some professors, who have warily watched the conservative overhaul of public colleges like New College of Florida, also said that working at a private institution gave them more freedom to challenge their students on sensitive subjects.

“We are a liberal arts college — that doesn’t get translated very well in the state of Alabama,” said Jim Neel, who graduated from the college in 1971 and now teaches sculpture there. “Liberal arts education is the foundation of all higher education. It’s not something new, and it has nothing to do with party politics, but it seems to read that way.”

Though top Republicans balked at handing the school a grant, the Legislature ultimately negotiated a loan program tailored to Birmingham-Southern’s circumstances.

“People really try to beat down this school and we keep rising above,” said Anna Withers Wellingham, a 22-year-old senior and the student body president.

“This is a school that teaches you a lot more than a liberal arts education,” she added, “and it’s worth fighting for.”

Indeed! Good luck to Birmingham-Southern!



The New York Times Sues OpenAI and Microsoft Over A.I. Use of Copyrighted Work


Dear Commons Communjty,

The New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement yesterday, opening a new front in the legal battle over the unauthorized use of published work to train artificial intelligence technologies.  The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, contends that millions of articles published by The Times were used to train automated chatbots that now compete with the news outlet as a source of reliable information.

The Times is the first major American media organization to sue the companies, the creators of ChatGPT and other popular A.I. platforms, over copyright issues associated with its written works. As reported by the Times.

The suit does not include an exact monetary demand. But it says the defendants should be held responsible for “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages” related to the “unlawful copying and use of The Times’s uniquely valuable works.” It also calls for the companies to destroy any chatbot models and training data that use copyrighted material from The Times.

In its complaint, The Times said it approached Microsoft and OpenAI in April to raise concerns about the use of its intellectual property and explore “an amicable resolution,” possibly involving a commercial agreement and “technological guardrails” around generative A.I. products. But it said the talks had not produced a resolution.

An OpenAI spokeswoman, Lindsey Held, said in a statement that the company had been “moving forward constructively” in conversations with The Times and that it was “surprised and disappointed” by the lawsuit.

“We respect the rights of content creators and owners and are committed to working with them to ensure they benefit from A.I. technology and new revenue models,” Ms. Held said. “We’re hopeful that we will find a mutually beneficial way to work together, as we are doing with many other publishers.”

Microsoft declined to comment on the case.

The lawsuit could test the emerging legal contours of generative A.I. technologies — so called for the text, images and other content they can create after learning from large data sets — and could carry major implications for the news industry.

This lawsuit can have enormous repercussions for the AI industry.  Generative AI programs such as ChatGPT and Bard cannot build the databases that drive their searches without using the content provided by news and other media outlets.  And if they have to pay the providers for the content, it would severely impact their profitability.


Rockland Community College is facing retrenchment and unpaid furloughs during fiscal crisis!

Dear Commons Community,

Faculty, administrators and other key employees at SUNY Rockland Community College are facing nine days of furloughs — days off without pay — during the first half of 2024 as a way to plug a $3.4 million deficit. A retrenchment is also planned.

The college this fall revealed what was categorized as a “structural deficit,” which implies the imbalance could be expected to recur if budgeting practices remain the same.  As reported by Rockland/Westchester Journal News.

“Furloughs will remain in place until June 30, 2024, at which time decisions will be made as to what if any further actions may be taken based on fiscal projections,” according to a “Personnel Savings Plan (Resolution 33-2023)” passed by the college’s Board of Trustees, 7-0, on Nov. 27.

The 2024 furloughs are expected to save $695,155, according to an amended document signed Nov. 28 by RCC President Lester Edgardo Sandres Rápalo,.

‘Retrenchment plan’

The board also voted last month to ax nine administrator positions.

A college spokesperson confirmed Saturday that layoffs will be needed, but did not provide exactly how many of these positions are currently filled.

“In addition to the furloughs, we regrettably confirm that layoffs will be necessary,” Risa Hoag said on behalf of the college in an email. “These will affect fewer than 10 individuals. We are committed to providing support to those impacted and ensuring a respectful and fair process throughout.”

This “Retrenchment Plan” was described as a way for RCC to “streamline, refocus, optimize resources, and pave the way for renewed financial stability and growth.”

The administrator cuts are expected to save $914,663.

Union president: How did RCC reach ‘fiscal ruin’?

Rockland Community College Federation of Teachers Local 1871 President Kristopher Baker said during the Nov. 27 meeting that the uncertainties around RCC’s fiscal condition threaten to “rip the fabric of our institution apart.”

Baker also warned against the trustees violating various unions’ collective bargaining agreements with such actions as implementing furloughs.

“Removing negotiated salaries from loyal, hard working employees, while we’re hiring at salaries that are now greater than ever due to inflation to be competitive, is wrong,” said Baker, a biology professor who leads the unit that represents 115 full-time faculty.

Elizabeth Troutner, president of the Rockland Community College Federation of Administrators, told the trustees that her members had been told furloughs were on hold, and only knew the plan was moving ahead when reviewing the Nov. 27 meeting agenda.

Baker questioned why the college’s degrading fiscal issues weren’t apparent earlier. “We were at a place of balance on June 30, and on July 1, the college was in fiscal ruin,” Baker told the trustees. “How does that happen and no one notices?”

How furloughs will work

Furlough days will have to be taken once a month from January through March and then twice a month from April through June.

The unpaid days off are to be scheduled on a day an instructor is not teaching.

If a teaching position is partially funded by a grant, the instructor would receive the grant-funded portion of the salary.

Those who are part of the Civil Service Employees Association and Rockland Association of Management are not impacted. CSEA and RAM represent the largest portion of the county workforce.

Changes in leadership, COVID drain

Rápalo took over as president of the college this summer, shortly after the departure of Michael Baston, who led RCC since 2017. Baston left, mid-contract, to take over an Ohio community college.

Rápalo had been a provost at CUNY Bronx Community College.

When RCC confirmed the deficit in October, a spokesperson confirmed that furloughs were possible but said that none were planned at that time.

While the college has touted a 6% increase in student enrollment this fall, the student body had dwindled over the past several years, a situation exacerbated during COVID.

RCC’s operating costs for 2023-2024 were $67,158,655, according to State University of New York documents; 36.2% was covered by student tuition and fees; 23.3% by state aid; 34.3% by Rockland County (and other counties); and 6.2% through various other fees.

Tough times for community colleges on limited budgets!