The impact of COVID-19 on the failed leadership of Medgar Evers College, CUNY

TERRENCE RICHARD BLACKMAN, PhD | 6/18/2020, midnight
I write to you concerning the leadership and the future of Medgar Evers College (MEC), the only predominantly Black institution ...
Medgar Evers College

I write to you concerning the leadership and the future of Medgar Evers College (MEC), the only predominantly Black institution of higher education in New York state. MEC, birthed through your tireless efforts, years of struggle, perseverance, and commitment to provide Central Brooklyn with access to excellence in higher education is in danger.

Prior to the advent of COVID-19, under the leadership of Pres. Crew and Provost Okereke, the institution has been on an inexorable slide downward. CUNY’s Chancellor Matos Rodríguez has announced that Pres. Rudolph Crew will serve a final year at MEC and will retire at the end of 2021 after the DeKalb County School Board rejected his appointment as school superintendent. In our COVID-19 impacted world this decision puts MEC at risk of being a failed higher education institution. Chancellor Matos Rodríguez’s announcement demands the very serious attention of our community. The coronavirus is killing Blacks and Latinos in NYC at twice the rate at which it is killing white New Yorkers. The death rate per 100,000 for Hispanics is 22; for Blacks 20; and for whites is 10. In Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Flatbush, Kensington and East New York (ENY) the death rates exceed 300 per hundred thousand.

MEC with a satellite campus in ENY and its main campus in Crown Heights ought to play a critical role in supporting the Central Brooklyn community as we re-emerge from the shadow of COVID-19. However, our School of Science Health and Technology has played, thus far, no role in support of the community’s fight against the coronavirus and there is no plan for the same. This lack of planning and meaningful community engagement is indicative of the failed leadership of the Crew-Okereke leadership team. Given our historical mission/function it is essential that we examine and understand the possibilities for MEC and the critical role its leadership must play in shaping the institution and supporting the community that emerges post-COVID-19. It is evident that the main impact of the various scenarios will be on student persistence, as our students and our faculty struggle to adapt to online coursework. MEC is an institution with a limited record of creating a compelling online experience. We have relatively few students in fully online environments. We will be seriously hurt if our current students are dissatisfied with our digital offerings and decide to go elsewhere. Many of our students are likely to delay returning until campus life is back to something close to normal. Moreover, MEC emphasizes the value of the on-campus experience and it will be difficult for us to foster this sense of connectedness in a digital setting.

The warning signs are flashing, our current enrollment numbers as of June 3, 2020 reveal a 19% decline in continuing student enrollment when compared to this point in 2019. This reflects an acceleration of a trend that has characterized the Pres. Crew/Provost Okereke administration. In 2007 enrollment was 5,522. In 2013 at the final year of the previous administration the enrollment was 6,491, an increase of 969 students. In 2014, at the beginning of the Crew administration, enrollment was 6,701. In 2019, based on figures released by the Crew-Okereke administration, enrollment was 5,798, a loss of 903 students! At $6000 per student this represents a $5,400,000 budget loss. Our enrollment is trending downwards and given the data of the last seven years and the lack of a clear and credible plan for the next academic year there is a distinct possibility that MEC could emerge from the academic year 20-21 as an institution with 2000 students. The implications for MEC and Central Brooklyn cannot be understated. Our mission is to connect young people, particularly those from Central Brooklyn, to opportunities through scholarship, teaching, learning and community service. We seek to honor the memory and work of Medgar Wiley Evers. The Pres. Crew/Provost Okereke leadership has demonstrated that it cannot accomplish this task. Their continued presence in these roles in this critical 2020-2021 academic year poses a grave risk to Medgar Evers College. It is time for the Central Brooklyn community to demand that the chancellor end the benign neglect of MEC and appoint competent and committed leadership now. June 2021 will be too late.

Terrence Richard Blackman, PhD is an associate professor of mathematics at Medgar Evers College, CUNY.