Quincy College president making his mark

November 10, 2011

First-year Quincy College president Peter Tsaffaras has made himself a big man on campus by showing up big time.

By: Robert Knox
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First-year Quincy College president Peter Tsaffaras has made himself a big man on campus by showing up big time. After taking the college’s top job in January, the former state policy maker began going to the school gym, talked one-on-one to teachers, and held “president unplugged’’ sessions to which all college community members are invited.

Being visible on campus works two ways. Not only is the new president seen, he sees.

On his way to a wellness program at the school fitness center, Tsaffaras noticed students lining up in front of the school library, waiting for the doors to open at 8 a.m. He learned the line was fed by their need to use the library’s printer before going to their early morning classes.

How to improve the college experience for his students? Open the library a half-hour earlier. They can now print out their work and get to their classes on time.

A community college awarding two-year degrees, with an enrollment of nearly 4,700 students, Quincy College chose Tsaffaras, a former governing board member, after a long and controversial search. After another candidate turned down the job because of the board’s divisions, a revamped board offered Tsaffaras a shot.

As a deputy commissioner for the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, Tsaffaras had the opportunity to observe “about 100 presidents close up. I use something every day that I learned,’’ he said in a recent interview at his office in a building on Saville Avenue, one of three Quincy sites that house college facilities.

While Tsaffaras has long-range plans for Quincy College - he calls it “putting things in place that won’t come to fruition for 20 years’’ - some changes and improvements can be made in the short range.

For full-time faculty: new laptop computers at the start of the semester.

For part-time (or adjunct) faculty: more money. The part-time faculty members, who provide most of the classroom teaching at Quincy College as they do in most colleges, deserved more recognition, Tsaffaras said. He increased the per-course pay rate of part-time teachers with 10 years experience by $500, up from $2,000 per course. All part-timers will receive $100 per-course increases for six consecutive semesters.

“He wants to pay people what they deserve, as opposed to pinching pennies,’’ said Glen Gaudreau, recently promoted to full-time status as a science instructor after teaching as a part-timer for 23 years. “He respects adjuncts.’’

For students, improved facilities: 24-hour printing portals in all buildings and information screens throughout the campus showing updates such as class cancellations. New simulation labs and 13,000 square feet of new instructional space for the school’s popular nursing program. And a senior administrator on duty during evening classes, in case registration or other problems come up.

“He turned around the tech support program completely,’’ said math teacher Paul Felker. “He got the Xerox machines working.’’

For the college’s growing Plymouth campus, located in Cordage Park: new science labs and the campus’s first library.

Changes came for administrators, too: required classroom teaching for everyone - administrators, senior faculty, curriculum coordinators, deans.

“At first I was wondering how to fit this into my schedule,’’ said Mary Burke, dean of the Plymouth campus. But now, she said last week, teaching her biology class is “the favorite part of Friday.’’ It helps her do her job as dean as well. “Because I do know the students, I hear their concerns.’’

Members of the college community say the president’s active involvement in day-to-day issues raised morale throughout an institution that has done well in attracting students to its workplace-oriented programs, but sometimes appeared to be drifting.

“Quincy College was a magnitude, not a vector,’’ said Felker, who added that his frequent conversations with Tsaffaras are not typical of teacher-president relations elsewhere in the academic world.

Quincy College, Felker said, is “on the front lines in education for people who don’t have a trust fund.’’

The college charges $170 per credit for basic liberal arts courses, though science and nursing courses charge higher rates. A 12-credit semester of liberal arts would cost $2,040 plus a $100 registration fee. Registered nursing courses charge $587 a credit.

Under Tsaffaras, Felker said, the college’s direction is toward “higher competency. He wants to make Quincy College top notch.’’

“He’s hands-on, he’s highly visible,’’ agreed Bill Boozang, a former part-time teacher in the school’s English department who is now a member of its board of governors.

“He realizes the importance of consolidating the physical facilities,’’ Boozang said. “He has an eye on moving Quincy College to Quincy Center, where it belongs.’’

The college, which holds many classes in rented space in a North Quincy building, recently announced it was moving the nursing program to a site across the street from City Hall and the MBTA’s Quincy Center Station. Tsaffaras also won approval from the City Council to lease up to 100,000 square feet in new space, saying negotiations for the new space were underway. Technically a city department, the college requires the city’s approval of major lease agreements.

“He leads by example,’’ said Wayne Westcott, head of the college’s exercise science major, a young program with 45 students. Westcott said the college president is “a regular’’ at the strength and conditioning wellness class offered both to the campus and the larger community.

Tsaffaras said the college’s direction is high-intensity focus on the quality of education in the classroom. “Everything that we do at the college is oriented toward teaching and learning.’’

The new president deflected praise for his first-year successes to the college’s governing board - “We have a great board,’’ he said - faculty, a motivated student body, and a supportive community from city government down to the man on the street.

“The reservoir of good will for Quincy College in this town is very valuable,’’ Tsaffaras said. “It’s so affirming. People really want you to succeed.’’

Robert Knox can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).