Goodbye to a Labor Institution

Silver Spring college for trade unionists holds final commencement

(April 23, 2014) Four decades after a labor studies center formed on 47 sprawling acres near the Beltway, the National Labor College will conduct its final commencement ceremony April 26 at the Silver Spring campus.

The institution, affiliated with the AFL-CIO, has fallen on hard financial times in the past few years. Officials thought they had a buyer for the campus last year in a partnership with Reid Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church, which has facilities in Silver Spring and Glenn Dale, and the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County. That would have let administrators move to a smaller space and conduct most courses online.

But that plan fell through after the housing commission pulled out.

(In December 2013, officials announced the closing and a tentative agreement to sell the campus to Washington, D.C., real estate development firm Monument Realty. Pam Zandy, marketing manager for Monument Realty, said that the firm has not completed the deal to purchase the Silver Spring campus. “We are still in negotiations,” she said recently. In late July 2014, the Amalgamated Transit Union purchased the campus.)

“It was with heavy hearts and great emotion that college board members took the action that they did based on some hard facts about the financial instability of the college,” college President Paula E. Peinovich wrote on the institution’s blog. Attempts to reach Peinovich for for further comment were fruitless.

Officials have a teach-out plan with some other colleges, including Penn State, to let students who will not graduate this semester transfer to those institutions. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education approved the plan to let the labor college award accredited degrees through Dec. 31, 2015, the college’s website says.

Last year, the labor college donated to the University of Maryland, College Park, its massive George Meany Memorial Archives, the official archives of the AFL-CIO that had been at the Silver Spring campus since 1993. The archives are estimated to have a value of $25 million, and contain more than 40 million artifacts, including papers of key labor leaders and official records of AFL-CIO proceedings.

The 47-acre campus, which includes dorms, classrooms, offices and a conference center, was valued by the state last year at about $45 million.

The property was once owned by a Roman Catholic religious order, the Xaverian Brothers. The AFL-CIO purchased it in 1971, then formally dedicated the George Meany Center for Labor Studies and began offering degree programs for union members in affiliation with Antioch College in 1974.

The college later became an independent degree-granting institution and became the George Meany Center for Labor Studies/National Labor College.

It has been accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education since 2004.

Enrollment at the college this final semester was about 300 students, almost all of them part-timers. It has awarded bachelor’s degrees in business administration, labor studies, and union leadership, and has been offering mostly online courses in recent years.

The closing convocation and final commencement ceremony will be April 26 at the Kirkland Center on the campus. Union leaders, alumni and others are expected to attend the ticketed event, which will not be open to the general public.

The college is expected to formally close the Silver Spring campus on April 30.

– Excerpted from the Rockville-based “Gazette” weekly owned by the Washington Post