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Interview: Is Medgar Evers College Under Attack? Faculty Battle Provost and President
Turmoil rages at Central Brooklyn's historically Black institution of higher learning. Medgar Evers College, part of the CUNY public university system, is experiencing a public battle. Faculty have issued a resolution condemning the school's president and provost.
Several full time Medgar Evers College faculty and staff members who are part of the coalition that has been formed and who wish to remain anonymous responded to the following questions:
1. Please explain what exactly has been going on at Medgar Evers College over the past several weeks. What prompted a group of full-time tenured faculty to issue a Resolution on President's and Provost's Leadership & Management?
President Pollard and Provost Johnson came to Medgar Evers in August 2009. Since that time, a number of issues arose which prompted faculty to be concerned about the competence, leadership and academic integrity of the President, Provost and his administration.
The final actions that prompted faculty to issue a Vote of No Confidence in the Offices of the President and Provost and in the leadership of the administration were the result of faculty learning about a number of irregularities in the procedures for the reappointment and non reappointment of faculty, the unprofessional behavior of the administration in disseminating letters of non reappointment to faculty (letters disseminated in classrooms), the cut back in services and resources for instructional support and the pending eviction of The Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions.
The following represents a list of concerns leading to the Faculty Vote of No Confidence.
• Faculty are concerned about the administration’s lack of respect for shared governance.
• Upon arriving at the College, the President authorized a CUNY group to conduct an assessment of the college. The assessment was primarily conducted with administrators, center directors and some chairs. This assessment was never concerned with the college community but decisions affecting the college have been made as a result of this assessment.
• The administration has neither a Strategic nor Master Plan after one year. As a result, there has been no movement with academic programs and the administration's inabilty to hold college council meetings has prevented academic programs, policies and curriculum issues from moving forward.
• Faculty feel disrespected and “bullied” by the Provost’s management style and professional demeanor in meetings.
• The Provost has refused to sign off on grants related to student and faculty research because he does not want to approve reassigned time that would allow faculty to work on grants and be released from teaching.
• The Provost initially told faculty who were scheduled to move in the new Science, Health and Technology building that unless they were actively involved in research, they would not be allowed to move into the new building. Faculty met with the Dean and Provost and came together to resist this. The Provost eventually relented and agreed to let all faculty move into the new building.
• The Provost eliminated the role of pre-professional advisor for pre med students and biology majors. This position had been at the college since 1975 and when this was made clear, the Provost insisted that there was no
• The Provost removed the Chair from the Department of Economics in the Spring 2010 semester and in August 2010, removed the Chair of the Education Department. Both of these Chairs had been elected by the faculty in their departments as required by the PSC CUNY contracts. These issues are in litigation.
• The search for the Provost lacked transparency and did not represent shared governance and practice. Faculty expressed their concern to the President and requested a new search. Additionally elected officials requested from CUNY that the formal appointment of the Provost be tabled or delayed because there were a number of concerns related to the Provost’s leadership and relationship with faculty. These requests were ignored and the President and Chancellor expressed unequivocal support for the Provost.
• In previous university settings, the Provost was accused of plagiarism and mishandling of the tenure and reappointment process for faculty.
• The President speaks of a student-centered campus. Medgar Evers College has always been a student-centered campus and students have praised the quality of student/faculty relations. However, the current administration has reduced resources for The Learning Center, Computer Labs, Library and Psych labs.
• The Provost eliminated the Writing Center and the Center for Teaching and Learning.
• The Administration changed the venue for commencement (which has traditionally been held on the college campus) without input from faculty and students. They relented after external sources, CUNY and elected officials intervened.
• The President hired top level administrators and consultants in the midst of a budget crisis. In previous administration at the University of the District of Columbia, the President was accused of mishandling the budget of the university and wasting millions of tax levy dollars.
• The Administration cancelled the Jazzy Jazz series and only brought it back (on a much smaller scale) after community outrage.
• The Administration removed Carver Bank ATMs and replaced them with Citibank ATMs. Upon learning of community outrage, the administration stated that they would look into bringing them back. To this date, the Carver ATMs have not been brought back to the campus.
• The Administration issued an eviction notice for The Center for NuLeadership and although the proposal for formal approval of the Center under CUNY guidelines was approved before the current administration came into existence, the President and Provost have refused to forward the proposal to CUNY.
• The current administration has not been able to get a quorum for college council meetings, the governing body of the college. There were only three meetings in the last year and only one legitimate meeting in the Fall 2010. As a result, issues related to curriculum and policy have not been addressed.
2. Councilman Charles Barron has spoken in defense of this group's resolution with this statement as reported in Our Time Press:
During the 1960s, residents of Central Brooklyn, represented by various community leaders and elected officials, requested that the Board of Higher Education (currently known as the CUNY Board of Trustees) establish a new college to serve their community. After many discussions and active involvement by community residents, the Board of Higher Education agreed in 1967 to establish Community College Number VII in Central Brooklyn. For the first time in the history of the Board of Higher Education, representatives from the local community participated with representatives from the Board in planning for a new college and selecting its President. The college was established as a four-year college of professional studies offering both two-year and four-year degree programs and incorporating the six statements developed by the community into the charge for a four year college. The other five mandates were that: 1) the college would develop new and improved methods of teaching and would pioneer innovations in education; 2) that the college would emphasize professional studies without neglecting liberal arts; 3) that the college would be responsive to and serve the educational and social needs of its community; 4) that the community would have input in the selection of a permanent site; and 5) that the community should determine the name of the college. The Medgar Evers Community Council is represented on the College’s College Council, which is the governing structure of the College.
3. The Center for NuLeadership was shut down when Medgar Evers security took the office computers, an issue of real contention among disgruntled Medgar Evers faculty. Professor of Mathematics Dr. Frank Ragland believes that the Center for NuLeadership, an innovate public policy, research, training, advocacy, and academic center founded by previously incarcerated professionals, should be a CUNY-wide initiative and not just a Medgar Evers program. What's your response?
The Center for Nu Leadership was closed, not shut down, when the college administration took their office computers. This was done after office hours and after the College had already issued an eviction notice effective Dec 30, 2010. Since then the court has issued a temporary stay against the eviction.
The Center for NuLeadership is a Center that was developed according to the guidelines stipulated by the CUNY Guidelines on Centers, Institutes and Consortia, Centers are specific to campuses and are involved in one of the following: research, training and instruction and service to the surrounding community. Thus, Prof. Ragland’s remarks reveal his lack of understanding of the nature of Centers.
The programs and work conducted by the Center for Nu Leadership are not just to help formerly incarcerated individuals. This is a specific center, the only one of its kind in the country. It is known as a national think tank and in the six years that it has been at MEC, it has been dedicated to teaching students to create and deploy new and innovative paradigms for solving community development and related criminal justice challenges in communities of color, trained students to produce research, policy, practice and programs that reveal and reconcile the contradictions within and among the various disciplines comprising the study of urban affairs and criminal justice and developed new “community specific” models in these areas.
CUNY has a college-wide Black Male Initiative and Reentry Task Force. The work of the Center for Nu Leadership enhances the work of the CUNY wide initiatives in these areas and in fact, Dr. Divine Pryor had been asked to be part of specific task forces in these areas. Medgar Evers’ policy against Nu Leadership is in direct opposition to CUNY Central, its Board of Trustees and the Black Male Initiative.
Furthermore, the staff of the Center (known as the NuLeadership Policy Group) initially came to the College at the request of former President Edison O Jackson, who upon seeing the group present at the Black and Legislative Puerto Rican Caucus, was so impressed that he asked them to consider Medgar Evers as his home. In April 2009, at the request of MEC’s president, Dr. Edison O. Jackson, the NuLeadership Policy Group – with the assistance of the college’s legal counsel – submitted a formal written application to be recognized as a center within the college and renamed itself the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions. It is the first academic center in the country whose staff is comprised of formerly incarcerated professionals educated at the post graduate level.
4. In that same interview for Our Time Press, Professor Ragland says this:
"And let me tell you something if I may.
Ragland: These men and women who are dissenting are not interested in those men. They are as reactionary and arrogant as you can imagine. And they have no interest in them.
OTP: No interest in them?
Ragland: Because of their success. They feel they have their tenure and position in the college, and they are isolated from having to deal with them. These people were making lots of money. All legal, they’re not stealing. But they have been bought off. Not the most competent people were being brought in. Some of them didn’t have any classes and they’re fighting for this! This is what this is about. This is about the gravy train. Well, we’ve all lived in New York City long enough to know that your train may start on Flatbush, but when it gets up to Dyre Avenue, it stops. And all gravy trains sooner or later stop.This man is trying hard, but he is fighting with these people, continuously complaining for their own selfish purposes. If they are so dissatisfied, they’re all 30-plusers. They could go ahead and retire at full pension, but they just hang around and kick up trouble. And nobody listens to them because they’re tainted. They’ve let departments get dismembered, and the faculty gets filled up with people who are completely unqualified."
Ragland goes on to say that "the same plan is afoot in English. Because these are the two departments that got dismembered." Are there, in your experience, unqualified faculty teaching English at Medgar Evers? If there are English Department faculty who do not have to actually teach still working at Medgar Evers, what exactly are they doing to earn their pay?
Prof. Ragland is one faculty member who does not have all the facts. The vote of no confidence came as a result of a number of issues. Sixty six people, mostly tenured faculty, came out to vote and only 6 of these people voted against the vote of no confidence and one abstained. To have 66 faculty vote in a faculty election is significant and to have 89% issue a vote of no confidence is even more significant.
There are no unqualified faculty teaching English and all faculty in the department are involved in teaching.
The approval process for hiring faculty to teach follows the college's governance plan, union contract and CUNY Bylaws. All full-time and part-time faculty who teach in academic departments must be approved by a departmental personnel and budget committee consisting of senior faculty in the department, a faculty academic review committee consisting of senior faculty in all departments of the college and a college-wide review committee consisting of chairpersons from all college departments.
5. The faculty resolution was drafted in part because of the reduction in support services intended to help students succeed in college, including elimination of the Medgar Evers Writing Center and the Center for Teaching and Learning as well as a reduction of tutors in the Learning Center budget and reduction of staff in the College’s library and in the Student Computer Lab. These are all basic resources American college students expect to be in place at the university level. Are these kinds of cutbacks taking place at colleges and universities around the country because of the bad economy, or is something unique happening at Medgar Evers?
When there are budget cuts, resources will be cut. However, these resources were cut within the first 12 months of this administration. How do you cut resources and hire additional high paid top level administrators and consultants? How do you cut instructional resources and reduce the number of faculty in academic departments? The administration’s notion of student-centeredness is skewed.
Given the nature of the college, a comprehensive college offering associate and baccalaureate degree programs, and one that moves students from basic skills through college level courses, we need more not less support for students’ success. The current administration is dismantling rather than expanding and building on the resources needed for student success.
6. What has been the student response to the events taking place at Medgar Evers College?
As students become aware of the issues, they are disturbed. Some issues such as the bank issue, the Jazzy Jazz and the Center for NuLeadership do not directly affect them but as they become more aware they are becoming more engaged. There are several student leaders who are holding forums and passing petitions to educate students on issues that directly affect them.
Students came out in full support of having the commencement changed back to the college last year. At the beginning of the semester, the Provost refused to sign the PAFs allowing tutors to be hired for the Learning Center and enabling the library to stay open for late evening and weekend hours. Students signed a petition and with the assistance of the SGA, the PAFs were signed and library hours expanded. However the service in these areas has not been fully restored.
Some students question eliminating a writing center and building a billiards room rather than expanding the space for the Learning Center. Currently there is one room, the size of a small classroom, for the Learning Center and the College has over 7000 students.
This is also the only CUNY unit with no dedicated Writing Center.
7. Have faculty or students at any of the other CUNY schools offered support for your resolution and the new activism at Medgar?
A coalition of faculty, directors, staff, students, community leaders and clergy has been formed to mobilize around these issues.. Representatives from CUNY Contingents Unite and a Student International Group based at Hunter attended the first public meeting which was held on Friday, December 17. They have stated that they want to be involved.
8. Classes for the spring semester will begin on January 29th. What do expect to happen during the intercession, and what do you think college life will be like next semester?
The Coalition that has been formed will meet and continue to update and mobilize people around the situation. We want to make sure that all faculty, students and staff are aware of the issues.
9. What can people in the community who want to support the faculty resolution do right now?
Those who want to be involved should attend the next public information meeting. We are also in the process of setting up a website where people can get more information. We will want people to be involved in a number of activities in support of the resolution. This information will be given out at the public meeting and available on the website.
PUBLIC INFORMATION MEETING ON SITUATION AT
MEDGAR EVERS COLLEGE, CUNY
6:00 PM, WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 5, 2011
Fort Greene Senior Citizens Council
966 Fulton Street (Cambridge Place & Grand Ave), Brooklyn NY, 11238
Public Meeting to find out why and how MEC is under attack