First they came for the President of Georgia Piedmont Technical College, but I did not speak out – because I was not the President.
Then they came for the President’s Cabinet, but I did not speak out – because I was not a member of the President’s Cabinet.
Then they came for the GPTC South DeKalb Campus, but I did not speak out – because I was not a student at the South DeKalb Campus.
Then they shut down the South DeKalb Campus, gave the Newton Campus to Athens Tech, and merged Georgia Piedmont with another college – there was no one left to speak for DeKalb.
I served as president of Georgia Piedmont Technical College for six years and take pride in all the many great things my team and I did for our community and the college, leading it from a career vocational school to a 21st century college.
Under my leadership, the college scaled to new heights. Among our accomplishments, GPTC elevated enrollment, graduation, completion, and retention rates and posted an almost-perfect job placement rate of 99.5 percent. GPTC students stood out statewide, winning “Student of the Year” three times in the six years I was at the helm, more than any other technical college president in the state.
We have all witnessed an increase in visibility and relevance of GPTC in terms of its tech education, high school dual enrollment, and adult education programs. GPTC has also experienced a remarkable growth in its customized training contracts with business and industry.
My team and I were strong advocates for the students and people of DeKalb County. In 2015, we opened a campus on Wesley Chapel Road that now educates more than 700 students; and the campus enrollment, if it is not closed down as GPTC is planning to do in December, is poised to grow even more in the future.
GPTC has played down the number of DeKalb residents served by the campus by only reporting to media the enrollment of technical education students. The college’s mission is to serve tech, adult, and business and industry education students. Presidents are required to report on students served in all three of these sectors. Over half of the GPTC students served at the South DeKalb campus are South DeKalb residents trying to better their lives by earning a GED. GPTC has the largest adult education program in the entire technical college system, serving approximately 4,000 students a year.
The college has also recently invested over a million dollars in an advance manufacturing center on GPTC’s Newton County campus, where DeKalb students also make up the majority enrollment. In other words, DeKalb residents keep the lights on and pay the bills for all of GPTC.
When I was president, I always understood this and made a return to the county on DeKalb’s investment in the form of the Southside campus. I had the grit to stay the course in the midst of fierce criticism from political and educational leaders in Newton and Morgan counties. The leadership of the school system in Morgan County recently and secretly met with TCSG’s commissioner to hatch out a deal to allow the school system’s new college and career academy in Morgan County to work exclusively with nearby Athens Tech. Next, they could give the Newton campus to Athens Tech. This would mean DeKalb citizens would be subsidizing Athens Tech at the expense of DeKalb County taxpayers. We all remember the days of taxation without representation and don’t want to go backwards.
Now the new Republican commissioner of the Technical College System, Matt Arthur, says the college cannot afford the South DeKalb campus, and he wants to shut it down. He is pushing this narrative at a time when the state is anticipating nearly $4 billion in surplus revenue. He is using as a pretext the amount of money the college spends for operations, including renting the space for the South DeKalb campus.
Although GPTC’s budget is approximately the same amount as what had previously been allocated to the college, Arthur has ordered the college to reduce its staff. The college has responded by terminating over 15 employees, mostly African Americans with significant tenure and records of accomplishment, including the leader of the Adult Education program at the South DeKalb campus.
Insofar as the South DeKalb campus is concerned, I always considered it an investment in the people and the community. GPTC ignored South DeKalb for nearly 60 years. It is important today that we take a stand for all residents of DeKalb, no matter where they live. What better time than to invest in citizens now that the state is awash in revenue from austerity cuts in education from past years.
I am calling on DeKalb County commissioners, the DeKalb County Legislative Delegation, the DeKalb County Chamber of Commerce, and all DeKalb citizens of goodwill to fight to keep the South DeKalb campus open.
To paraphrase Edmond Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.” Let this not be us.
Rise up DeKalb! Fight to keep open the South DeKalb campus. Fight to ensure our citizens receive the workforce and higher education skills that will lead to sustainable wage jobs so they may one day experience the American dream.
Jabari Simama is the former president of Georgia Piedmont Technical College.