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President's Reaction Leave BCC Faculty With Mixed Emotions

March 10, 2011 by Brian Harris

By Casey Brannigan and Amanda Willis

Peter Burnham resigned March 8 after serving as Brookdale president for 20 years. The move comes after two weeks of headline news with stories that started with discussions of county aid being cut and tuition rising and quickly turned into allegations of financial impropriety in the president’s office.

The response from faculty and staff about the resignation, which came on the heels of Burnham being placed on administrative leave without pay on March 3, was mixed.

“I’m sad for what has happened to Brookdale and for the employees and students. Dr. Burnham’s 20 years here has been dedicated to the growth and development, of the nationally recognized institution. His interests have always been about developing the programs of the community, and students succeeding at Brookdale. They are proof of his direct relation to his leadership,” said Linda Mass, director of experiential learning and career services, who has worked at Brookdale from 23 years.

Many faculty and staff are sad to see Dr. Burnham go and believe he is the reason why Brookdale is a nationally ranked college. Others expressed anger and outrage.

“I have no sympathy for him. This is only the beginning, more improprieties will come out. It is not fair to the taxpayers, something has got to give,” said the Associate-Experiential Learning, Jody Angelo.

“Dr. Burnham has accomplished many great things for Brookdale. Unfortunately, the current situation overshadows these accomplishments. It’s betrayal of trust for many people. I’m hoping for the good name of Brookdale Community College, its administrators, faculty and staff to rise above and I expect it will,” said Susan Bliss, senior office assistant.

Mixed emotions fill the Brookdale campus. Ron Topham has been a Brookdale faculty member for 39 years. Topham, who was once the president of the faculty union and is currently a reading professor, said he was saddened to see Burnham leave.

Topham described Burnham as a fighter, saying, “Peter (Burnham) is a fighter. I thought he would have fought this. I am shocked that he resigned.”

When asked if he thought the resignation of Burnham meant he was guilty of misappropriating funds, Topham said, “There is no information about claims being made. I just don’t know. I guess that’s part of my shock.”

He went on to add that Burnham was a great president and because of his efforts and leadership, he helped make Brookdale a top 50 community college in the country. According to Topham, one of Burnham’s proudest achievements was accomplishing the Student Life Center to give kids a place to relax during classes.

“Peter cared about Brookdale, students the most,” Topham said.

Where does Brookdale go from here? Williams Toms is the interim president. He was named to the post prior to Burnham’s resignation, at the same time the board placed Burnham on leave. Toms collects a $2,885 weekly salary with no additional benefits.

“Burnham cared about all three sectors of Brookdale; students, faculty, and staff. The interim has to be open to all them like Peter was,” Topham said.

“Brookdale has to put this behind them and continue to make Brookdale the outstanding community college it is,” Topham added.

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