Tensions still are flowing on the campus of Medgar Evers College (MEC), as the administration and a fraction of the faculty fail to find common ground on the direction of the school.
The mostly Black CUNY college has had flare-ups since the arrival of William A. Pollard, who replaced longtime President Edison Jackson in 2009. The dissatisfied professors are saying the college is straying too far from its historic mission. However, administrators at MEC say that only a small number of faculty members disagree with the way the school is operating and that the positive things going on at the school, which was named after the slain civil rights leader, outnumber the negatives.
In an op-ed published in the AmNews on Feb. 16, William R. Smith, on behalf of the group Concerned Faculty of Medgar Evers College, stated that Pollard launched a “unilateral overhaul” by taking away services Smith believes are crucial to the MEC population. This includes the elimination of the Writing Center and the Center for Teaching and Learning.
Smith, who is not a MEC faculty member, also cited “reckless firings of effective administrators” and non-reappointment of faculty, which he said was in violation of the school’s bylaws.
Other professors that the AmNews spoke with said that Pollard is not responsible for the progress he cites and that the previous administration should receive the accolades. Faculty also accused Pollard of not having a strategic plan in place to improve things at the school since he began his tenure in 2009.
Pollard was accused by faculty members of not bringing in more degree programs to MEC and attempting to relegate the school to a community college-level institution.
Faculty union representative Clinton Crawford said that many of his colleagues have not been reappointed to tenure positions, which, he says, is in violation of the union contract. Several faculty have also been fired.
“The union is against the university because of the unjust release of faculty who have received favorable reviews,” he said. “This has been going on since the arrival of the administration. A criterion has been set that people should follow. People are still not being re-appointed.”
Dr. Delridge Hunter, chair of interdisciplinary studies, said that the curriculum is now changing at MEC to reflect a more European complex. He also said CUNY is offering what he calls “alternative pedagogy.”
“The university decided that we are too Black and that we are going to be turned into a mainstream college,” Hunter said. “What I find is that they are deliberately killing the auxiliary programs. Every university I know kept them and they use them. We don’t have a writing skills center, and we need that in order to teach the students. Closing the programs down means that you are trying to change the mission of the college.”
In an interview with the AmNews, Vice President of External Affairs Dr. Moses Newsome and Valerie Kennedy, counsel to Pollard, both defended the administration against the accusations made by the faculty members. Both said that any changes to the curriculum or programs have gone before the faculty and must be approved first.
“Any change in curriculum is something that works its way up,” Newsome said. “We are always going to make sure that the college stays true to its mission. We have implemented a customer service initiative on campus for faculty and staff regarding how they convey their services to the individuals. We are also making sure the college is a part of the community.”
In reference to MEC being identified as a Black college, Kennedy said that the college has several efforts to stay connected to Black culture. She cited MEC’s recent extensive Black History Month programs, which hosted an event almost every day in February.
“Dr. Pollard has made several remarks focused on the legacy of Medgar Evers College,” she said. “We have made education possible to Black students who have been overlooked by this city–students who are being empowered.”
Speaking in favor of what is going on at MEC, several students, faculty members and community leaders countered what some professors are saying about the school. Likewise, at the annual borough hearing of the CUNY Board of Trustees, which was held at Brooklyn Borough Hall in February, several people praised the functioning of the school, including several students, faculty members and some professors.
“We are very fortunate to have funding from the NIH, NSF, New York State agencies and other agencies to help us in our endeavors to promote science among the students,” said biology professor Edward Catapane. “The mission of these programs is basically to increase the number of historically unrepresented minority and economically disadvantaged undergraduate students, who complete educational programs leading to careers in biology and medicine and allied health areas.”
Jonathan Missel, director of adult continuing education, said the MEC’s Workforce Initiative and Community Justice Program are also thriving. “Since its inception, the program has served over 100 aspiring and existing entrepreneurs through customized training modules and support services, often in partnership with the Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Sovereign Bank,” he said. “The long-term goal of the initiative is to secure funding to support an entrepreneurship center from Nordi & Liminal Business Development.”
MEC alumnus and professor Earlene Smiley said she has served under every president of the college and praised the college’s efforts in her recent testimony. “Medgar Evers is committed to what the original purpose was: to serve those low-income, underrepresented students, and our challenge is, how do we get those students to stay and to get through?” she said. “Understanding about the underprepared students, but the faculty and the administration at Medgar Evers College is committed to saying that we will be that minority-serving institution in CUNY that services anybody who wants an education.”