Community college branch in jeopardy

Spokane Falls Community College students try to gather community support Thursday at the intersection of Main Street and Grand Avenue in Pullman.

Students at Pullman's branch of Spokane Falls Community College may not have a campus to return to when fall semester starts.

During a Wednesday meeting with SFCC President Janet Gullickson, students, faculty and staff were blindsided with news the college is considering closing its Pullman campus, located on the third floor of the Gladish Cultural and Community Center, when the summer session is over.

"I thought I was going to a meeting yesterday that was going to be really fun, eat pizza and meet the president of my school - that's what the impression was until we all got there," student Dax Taylor said. "There was faculty crying. No one knew this was happening - it was a blindsided stab that no one saw coming."

The branch currently has about 160 students and about 15 faculty and staff.

Gullickson confirmed to the Daily News on Thursday afternoon there is a chance the Pullman branch could close, but it's a decision that hasn't been made. If it does, online courses would be offered to local students.

Gullickson said the college's goal is to cut up to $2 million in spending across the board to address its deficit, which she said is linked to reduced enrollment and glitches with new software that the school purchased for $100 million.

"Everything is on the table," she said.

She said the Legislature voting for raises for community college employees is also adding to the deficit.

"They didn't fund it all, so we have to fund it out of our pocket," Gullickson said. "The state Legislature is not funding community colleges at the level they need to."

She said the Pullman branch should know its fate by the end of the month. If it closes, Gullickson said it's too early to know what will happen to faculty and staff.

Gullickson said she is in talks with Washington State University to potentially help fund the branch.

"We're still focused on serving the area," she said.

Joal Lee, an English teacher at the college, said staff and faculty were instructed by the college's administration not to discuss the matter with the press. Other members of the staff and faculty told the Daily News the same story and said they didn't know if they will have jobs at the end of the summer.

Taylor said school administration instructed students not to hang fliers promoting a downtown student demonstration to spread awareness about the potential closure.

Taylor said he proposed reaching out to different businesses in the community, like Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, but he said Gullickson told him it wasn't an option.

"If I can't go to school here I don't know what I will do," Taylor said.

"I hope the school stays open, but I don't think it will," said Sierra Plummer, a student and single mother from Colfax.

Another student, Dilang "Dilanguage" Duir, said Gullickson looked nervous during the meeting as if she had no options and her hands were tied.

"I don't understand all the factors, but I feel Janet will do everything possible to keep this building," Duir said. "If the physical campus isn't here, they will offer online."

Spokane Falls Community College is one of the Gladish Cultural and Community Center's largest tenants.

Executive Director of the Friends of Gladish Donna Gwinn said she hasn't received anything in writing from the college, but she's reached out to Walla Walla Community College about filling the space if it does become vacant.

Gwinn said enrollment has been up at the SFCC branch.

"We know there is a need for a community college in Pullman. It's a big deal but we are confident we will rent the spaces," she said, adding the college has one more year left on its five-year contract with Gladish.


Josh Babcock can be reached at (208) 883-4630, or by email to jbabcock@dnews.com.

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