Medgar Evers College: Having the courage to make change

FRANK RAGLAND | 4/12/2011, 4:44 p.m.

Last week, readers of the Amsterdam News were greeted by a rather mean-spirited opinion piece by Brenda M. Greene, professor of English at Medgar Evers College. Dr. Greene's article was sharply critical of the changes and improvements at the college that the new administration has implemented. What really motivated her strange little writing was cleverly concealed in a miasma of academic cant and dissembling. The fact underlying her animosity is this: She is now required to teach a full complement of courses. The events that gave rise to her situation is described below.

Headed by President Pollard and Provost Johnson, a new administration was installed at Medgar Evers College at the beginning of the fall 2009 semester. The new administration immediately declined to approve Dr. Greene's long-standing practice of teaching few, if any, classes. For more than a decade, she had received full release-time from her teaching responsibilities so that she could engage in her own research and special projects.

In particular, Dr. Greene directed the Center for Black Literature. Because of the work of its founder and past director, Dr. Elizabeth Nunez, a prominent local novelist, the Center had attained considerable respect over the years. The crux of the problem was not the Center itself, but rather it was whether Dr. Greene could rightly be absolved from her professorial responsibilities to Medgar Evers College, an institution that for nearly a decade had held, among all of the senior colleges in CUNY, the dubious honor of having the lowest percentage of full-time professors actively engaged in teaching.

The new administration carefully explained that any improvements in student retention, graduation numbers and improved learning outcomes required that the number of full-time faculty actually teaching be maximized. Obviously, given the constraints of the tight budgets that were being effected across CUNY during the fall of 2009, the English program at Medgar Evers College could ill afford to be totally bereft of the services of one of the most senior members of the English department as a classroom teacher. This set the stage for the confrontation between Dr. Greene and the new administration.

Prompted by Dr. Greene and her allies, several local politicians soon contacted President Pollard and insisted that she be exempted from the newly implemented requirement that full-time faculty at the college need to be actively teaching and working with the students. Fortunately, most political figures carefully avoided involvement in the college's internal academic decision-making processes, and neither President Pollard nor Provost Johnson were inclined to provide the exemption that Dr. Greene wanted.

Thus, the new administration had shown the courage and determination to make this and other badly needed changes that were not aimed specifically at Dr. Greene, but were designed to improve a situation at Medgar Evers College that had, over a decade or so, become a scandal. The new requirement seems to be working very well indeed, since Medgar Evers College's percentage of full-time professors actively teaching is now the highest of all the senior colleges in CUNY.