Controversy at Medgar Evers College is not only causing uproar between faculty members but is also going off-track from the college’s original mission.
As the saga of the predominantly Black college in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, continues, several members of the Medgar Evers College Coalition for Academic Excellence and Mission Integrity met last week to discuss their next moves. The group consisted of faculty members, representatives of elected officials and community members.
On Tuesday, members of the Medgar Evers Coalition attended a public hearing at Brooklyn Borough Hall to testify before the CUNY Board of Trustees.
Next week, several people will be heading to the Brooklyn Supreme Court to support the Center for NuLeadership at the hearing on their lawsuit against Medgar Evers College and CUNY. The center is suing CUNY, alleging they were illegally evicted late last year. The center is known for its programs to help ex-convicts re-enter society through education.
Several of the college’s faculty members are accusing the current president, Dr. William Pollard, and senior vice president and provost, Dr. Howard C. Johnson, of “egregious acts.” A laundry list of issues includes questionable reappointments of faculty and the dissemination of notes of non-reappointment to faculty and staff via email or classroom visits rather than certified mail.
Meanwhile, CUNY’s central administration remains supportive of the college’s administration. “President Pollard and his team are focusing on student success,” said CUNY Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson. “He has given the faculty and students at Medgar Evers College much-needed access to student support services and, to the extent possible, access to full-time faculty who can help mentor and educate them,” he said.
But Hershenson’s accolades don’t echo what many are seeing on campus. Along with the eviction of the Center for NuLeadership, faculty members are alleging the elimination of a much-needed Writing Center, tutors for the learning center and the reduction of staff for the college’s library and student computer lab.
Dr. Brenda Greene, who serves as an English professor and director of the Center for Black Literature, is leading the fight to get new leadership at Medgar Evers College. She said that, with all of the problems listed, the college is losing steam.
“In terms of fulfilling its mission, the college had been fulfilling its mission until we had new leadership come in,” she said. “Medgar Evers was founded to serve the residents of Central Brooklyn who are Black. We have students who come into the college because they want a second chance. Sometimes they have to drop out but they come back.”
Greene added that in January, at a Medgar Evers College community council meeting, Pollard said Medgar was “not at a Black college.” “To make that statement to the community–he’s missed the mark,” Greene said. “He doesn’t understand what kind of institution he is at.”
Pollard is not new to controversy. He had a complicated tenure as president of the University of the District of Columbia, an historically Black, public commuter university in Washington, D.C., from 2002 to 2007. Published reports chronicle a series of controversies at UDC, including his selection of a family friend who lacked a PhD to serve as provost of the college and a series of budgetary battles with the D.C. City Council. UDC is 66 percent Black and Medgar Evers College is 86 percent Black. Pollard was also a dean of the historically Black Grambling State University in Louisiana in the 1980s.
While Greene continues to be a leader in the fight to fix the school, several faculty members say that it’s Greene and others who need the wake-up call.
A Medgar Evers College professor for 13 years, Education Department Chair Dr. Nancy Lester said that the elimination and reduction of staff was a result of budget cuts made by CUNY. For example, the writing center lost its funds because money ran out from the CUNY Undergraduate Education Initiative, which was lost at all CUNY schools.
Lester also said that the majority of the faculty does not share Greene’s point of view and that reassigned time of faculty members has led to the revolt.
Math professor Dr. Frank Ragland has been at Medgar Evers College for the last 24 years, and said that it’s the “30 plusers,” faculty members who have been at the college for more than 30 years, that are causing the problems.
He said that the “30 plusers” have run out two previous presidents, and that the president before Pollard, Dr. Edison O. Jackson, allowed faculty members to be paid six-figure salaries while working only three hours a day. These hefty payouts and money mismanagement led to a budget deficit at the college.
Ragland accused Greene of being bitter because she had been forced to start teaching classes again after ten years of being a department chair. Greene denies this accusation. “I went back to the classroom last year but that is not the issue,” Greene said. “They are trying to make this into a personal issue,” she said.