Medgar Evers College, the newest and smallest member of the City University of New York system, finds itself in a familiar but unenviable position — cloaked in controversy — as faculty leaders press for the immediate ouster of its new president and provost.
With the university reeling from a recent round of faculty dismissals and key staff cuts, an ad hoc faculty group has charged President William Pollard and Provost Howard Johnson with exhibiting “offensive and hostile” behavior toward faculty and “shortsightedness” when it comes to addressing the needs of students. The 7,000-student school serves a mostly Black, working class and nontraditional student body.
The Faculty Committee of the Whole, formed in the absence of an official council, also has spawned an offshoot coalition composed of community leaders, other faculty and staff, students and clergy. The Faculty Committee, consisting of 60 professors, most of them tenured, requested a meeting with Pollard that has not been granted. The December no-confidence vote is the latest escalation in the conflict.
In response to the no-confidence vote, Pollard, president since August 2009, issued an open letter to the college to dismiss calls for his ouster, saying the faculty group represented only minority voices of its 188 full-time faculty who are disgruntled with his plans for Medgar Evers. Pollard’s letter also re-affirmed the steps he says he is taking to “refine institutional protocol and processes” at the college; boost the college’s academic reputation and its graduation rates; and ensure that the majority of professors teaching students are full-time faculty, not mainly adjuncts.
During the 2009-2010 academic year there were 310 adjunct faculty at the college, officials say.
Such personnel issues have been a point of contention for the faculty, who charge that union violations are “blatant and numerous” and that “workplace intimidation and bullying” are forcing some in their ranks to step down. In some cases, “faculty whose contracts weren’t renewed were notified by campus police who walked into their classrooms in front of students or informed by e-mail instead of them receiving notifications by registered mail, which is called for in the bylaws,” says Dr. Brenda Greene, an English professor at the college and an active member of the new faculty group and coalition.
Greene and others on the faculty point to the fall 2010 dismissal of key members of the public administration department faculty as one ignition point in the current firestorm. The removal of the chairman of the English department is another. There also are mounting concerns, say the coalition, over budget cuts to the campus learning center, library, computer lab and writing tutorial center and Pollard’s endorsement of a CUNY policy that would end open admissions at the campus.
“Areas that have allegedly been eliminated, such as the writing center, are either being restructured, integrated, enhanced, or expanded where possible,” says college spokesman Christopher Hundley. “The administration is very sensitive to the roles of student services and well-trained faculty and in the success of our students.”
While not averse to change that supports the college and its students, Greene says the faculty group and coalition banded together “to ensure that the college isn’t turned into something that it isn’t.”
Medgar Evers isn’t a “traditional college and doesn’t take a narrow view of education,” contends community activist Lumumba Bandele, who used to be an academic advisor and professor at the college. But that could all change if CUNY is successful in its quest to eliminate the college’s longtime open enrollment policy, which has made it possible for many non-traditional and underprepared students to earn their degrees.
Hundley denies most of the allegations against Pollard and his administration, saying “many of the decisions made have not been meant to alienate anyone, including the community, and they are not part of some grand plan to strip the college of its mission.”
Neither Pollard nor Johnson is new to controversy. An embattled Pollard was forced to step down from his previous position as president of the University of the District of Columbia amid charges of seriously mismanaging millions of dollars in public funds. Johnson, a former executive vice provost for academic affairs at Syracuse University, was implicated in an act of plagiarism when he moved on to the University of North Texas and posted an academic plan that mirrored one at Syracuse.
Natalie Leary, a graduating senior and president of the student chapter of the NAACP, says she initially had high hopes in Pollard. But while she says she understands the impact of budget cuts on the campus, “the way that the administration is responding to them have resulted in bad decisions that negatively impact the quality of our education.”
On most days, Leary says, trying to snag one of the 20 computers in the campus language lab or computer center “is like trying to get into the hottest club in New York. Students are lined up for miles at the door.” Even worse, she says, is when she is met with a sign saying the lab is closed because “the school can’t pay the staff to be there.”