With members of the Medgar Evers College administration looking on, faculty members held a news conference on the front steps of the Brooklyn campus to voice their frustration with the administration and school president Dr. William Pollard.
The faculty members are accusing the school’s leaders of going beyond their authority and removing department chairs without just cause. They’re also accusing them of hiring new faculty without any input from school departments and violating governance bylaws in the process.
Recently, Dr. Sallie M. Cuffee was removed as chair of the social and behavioral sciences department, and Kiho Kim was removed as chair of economics and finance in 2010.
Cuffee, who is also chair of the Medgar Evers Faculty Senate (the faculty governing body on campus) claims that another dozen professors have been removed without just cause or consultation with their respective departments. A writing center for students was eliminated and tutorial services have been cut dramatically. A Medgar Evers administration spokesperson said that the writing center is being “restructured.”
“The situation at the college has so deteriorated that grievances with the union by both faculty and staff are being filed constantly,” read a group statement. “It was recently said by the Professional Staff Congress (PSC-CUNY) that the majority of grievances filed with the PSC come from Medgar Evers College.”
The AmNews interviewed several faculty members after the news conference to get their perspective on the situation at the college.
“I am representing faculty concerns,” said Cuffee. “They were very concerned about the conditions and the hostile climate that presently exist at Medgar. We see the infractions to our bylaws. We see bullying and intimidation. We see the abuse of power especially against women daily. And it’s out of control.”
“First of all, we believe that even the removal and intervention of the chairs came as a top-down decision rather than from internal processes within the department,” continued Cuffee. “We don’t believe that if a chair is elected, that chair should be removed because the administration has decided that the chair hasn’t met the educational objective. One would actually have to look at that and find out what they mean by ‘educational objective.’ “
But Jay Hershenson, senior vice president for university relations and board secretary at City University of New York, believes that Medgar Evers administration–and by extension, CUNY–have made appropriate decisions.
“There are 17 academic department chairs at Medgar Evers College,” said Hershenson. “During the past three years, in just three cases, the college administration intervened after determining that the leadership was unsatisfactory in meeting the educational goals of the department in serving student and college needs. Administrative leadership means that when changes are warranted, they will be made in order to ensure that the education of students is the top priority.”
Dr. Iola Thompson, professor in the School of Liberal Arts & Education and executive committee member of the Faculty Senate, doesn’t believe that the leadership at Medgar Evers College is doing right by the faculty or the students.
“Since coming to the college, his leadership just hasn’t been up to par, because to lead an organization, a person must know and understand it,” Dr. Thompson said. “He didn’t do that before he took a hatchet to it. And I don’t understand why this is being done. There must be something else going on and we need to know why.”
Thompson also had some words for the AmNews’ recent stories on Pollard, Medgar Evers College and some of their programs and accomplishments.
“Many of those things were already in place before he arrived,” Thompson said. “So they didn’t really have much to do with it at all.”
But issues with the administration and workplace environment weren’t all the faculty members wanted to talk about. In a joint statement, the outspoken faculty members said: “The president and his administration told the staff that spearheading a customer service initiative would improve staff relations (as if to say that staff are the problem at the college). Students come to Medgar Evers because of the nurturing and caring environment they receive from both faculty and staff. But under the current administration, faculty and staff are demoralized because of the ways in which they are treated by the administrations.”
Hershenson believes that the professors missed one more point regarding the initiative.
“The college’s customer service program is not just for staff, it is for the entire college community–including the students for whom Medgar Evers College is their ladder to educational and economic success,” Hershenson said. “It is naysaying, at best … to portray improvements of customer service as anything other than ensuring a welcoming and hospitable learning environment.”
But according to Cuffee, Medgar Evers College’s environment hasn’t been all that welcoming lately. “We have found it very hypocritical and contradictory, because the provost and president talk about integrity, honesty and respect. Who doesn’t value those attributes?” she said. “We simply ask that they practice what they preach. If women are filing equal opportunity complaints, then that should tell them something.”
Hershenson also noted that only seven faculty members were present at the news conference, while the school has over 200 faculty members.
Cuffee had a quick answer for that.
“Faculty [members] are afraid, and those who came out were brave. We invited more but they were afraid,” Cuffee said. “We did have community support, so he can say what he wants. We may not have had a crowd, but we will get there.”
While Cuffee believes the movement will grow, what will become of Medgar Evers College in the meantime? Dr. Nathaniel Ezuma, a professor in the School of Business and treasurer of the Faculty Senate, doesn’t really know.
“I don’t see where it’s going,” he told the AmNews. “There’s too much confusion. Academics can’t function in a place that has confusion. Where are we going? I don’t know. We fired faculty. Who’s going to be teaching? And I’m really concerned about the quality of faculty that’s been brought in. Unqualified faculty–and they are being pushed.”