2014 HACC Graduation

HACC's president John J. "Ski" Sygielski addresses the Class of 2014 at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg on Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

The president of Pennsylvania’s largest community college is blaming “a breakdown in communication” for the faculty’s vote of “no confidence” in him and his administration last month.

John “Ski” Sygielski, HACC’s president for the last nine years, defended his leadership and expressed eagerness to work with faculty to improve the culture at the 56-year-old community college during a news conference in Harrisburg Tuesday afternoon.

“We will not let this experience blemish the 56 years that we have,” Sygielski said. “I believe, if anything, this will allow us to recalibrate. This will allow us to work together moving forward.”

Sitting next to Sygielski was board of trustees chair Tom Richey, who reiterated his support for Sygielski, saying the board feels HACC has “one of the best college presidents in the country.”

The board voted unanimously last month to extend Sygielski’s contract, which was set to expire at year’s end, through June 2023. The decision was made before Sygielski and the board were made aware of the faculty resolution, according to statements on HACC’s website.

Faculty President Kathleen Adams Pratt told LNP | LancasterOnline Tuesday that she would like to see "immediate dialogue open" so faculty and Sygielski can address the concerns laid out in the resolution, which include "inattention" paid to enrollment trends and "abrupt" reorganization decisions. 

HACC is a publicly funded community college with five campuses including one in Lancaster.

It shares many of the challenges facing colleges and universities across the region: declining enrollment partially due to a dwindling pool of high school graduates, changing demographics and technologies, and broader competition.

For this reason, Sygielski said, HACC will experience “some anxiety and unrest” in the months ahead. The college is amid its “One-College” initiative which seeks to sustain the college’s resources as well as attract and retain students.

Sygielski is forming a 20-member committee to “ensure that HACC is a very good place to be, place to work (and) place to learn.”

Sygielski suggested the “no confidence” resolution doesn’t reflect the opinions of most HACC employees. Out of 957 full-time and vested adjunct faculty, 254 voted against Sygielski and his administration, he said.

Only 812 faculty members were eligible to vote, however. More than half participated, and 70% voted "no confidence."

"That is no small number," Adams Pratt said.

He did, however, acknowledge “missteps” he’s made.

Perhaps one was cutting on-campus mental health counseling for students last year to help cut a $2.7 million budget deficit. The college later contracted with a Harrisburg-area counseling group to provide services to students, albeit off campus.

Sygielski said resigning was “under no consideration” and expressed optimism for the future.

“The arrows are moving in very positive ways now,” he said.