National Labor College to Close Down

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Press Associates Union News Service

(Nov. 13, 2013) 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, Paula Peinovich, said in a statement posted on the school’s Web site.

“The college has been facing significant financial difficulties and the board reluctantly decided to accept the inevitability of our closure,” she said. “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.”

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 a former high-ranking employee of the college.

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 tend to ignore workers or merely 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 program to face serious fiscal problems 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 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. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told the federation’s 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.

Without an endowment, the AFL-CIO and individual unions are the college’s main financial support. The labor federation 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 (about a dozen workers are represented by WBNG) have taken buyouts when offered them.

The ex-employee of the school told Press Associates that NLC presidents did not devote much time to fund-raising, which is typically the top priority of college presidents, whether public or private.

Earlier this year, the college’s trustees approved a five-year master plan, which was posted at www.nlc.edu. The former employee said that nothing in it had been implemented.