Medgar Evers College President William Pollard announced his resignation on January 30. His departure came after three-and-a-half rocky years in office and mounting problems at the college this semester, culminating with the school being warned this November that its accreditation was at risk.
The news was widely welcomed at the college. “We had an incompetent president,” said PSC Chapter Chair Clinton Crawford. “There were no more arguments that he should stay.”
But while many faculty and staff were cheered at the prospect of a new president, they also voiced concerns that Chancellor Matthew Goldstein has not designated an interim president. Instead, Pollard is to remain in office until the search for his successor has been completed, a process that could take six months or longer.
“We need to have an interim president so we can deal with the immediate problems we face in regard to accreditation,” said Sallie Cuffee, chair of the Medgar Evers College (MEC) Faculty Senate, who noted that CUNY has often named interim leaders after presidential resignations.
After Pollard was named president of MEC in 2009, he and his newly appointed provost, Howard Johnson, quickly alienated faculty, students and community supporters of the college. Faculty votes of no-confidence were approved by wide margins in December 2010 and again in April 2012, the latter by a vote of 136 to 13.
In the Fall 2012 semester, Medgar Evers College went through a series of crises. Problems with the campus computer labs meant they could not be used for the first three weeks of the semester, and a number of students received notices that they were behind on tuition payments that were supposed to have been covered by financial aid. Ongoing cuts to the college’s Learning Center had reduced its number of tutors by half. On Oct. 17, several hundred students walked out of their classes and held a rally in MEC’s main plaza, demanding better student services and the resignation of Pollard and Provost Johnson.
With an 8% decline in student enrollment and its own projections of a $3-million deficit, on October 3, the Pollard administration directed department chairs to formulate plans for reducing Spring course offerings by as much as 30%. The administration backpedaled on course reductions after protests by the PSC and Faculty Senate, but the college was shaken. The downward spiral continued in November when the Middle States Commission on Higher Education officially warned MEC that its accreditation was at risk, due to a failure to comply with three of the 14 criteria used by the Commission. MEC is required to provide a monitoring report on September 1 of this year, documenting that it meets all 14 standards. If the Commission determines that the college has made insufficient progress, the school can be put on probation, which can be followed by either suspension or removal of accreditation.
“It’s going to take many years for the damage to be repaired properly,” Crawford said.
In a January 30 statement, Chancellor Goldstein announced that a presidential search committee had been formed that included seven members of the Board of Trustees and Lehman President Ricardo Fernandez. Faculty and student representatives remain to be appointed. The statement affirmed that Pollard would continue as president until a successor was chosen.
Brenda Greene, professor of English at MEC and executive director of the college’s Center for Black Literature, served on the search committee that selected Pollard in 2009. That panel began meeting in April of that year and brought finalists to campus by May, a schedule that Greene says was too hasty: CUNY should learn from that experience, she told Clarion, and be sure to allow time for a full and thorough search process. Meanwhile, she said, CUNY should install an interim president who can rally a demoralized campus.
Student activists who mobilized opposition to Pollard last fall also want an interim president, and they are backing former Brooklyn Congressman Major Owens for the position. Owens is currently a distinguished lecturer in MEC’s Department of Public Administration.
PSC Chapter Chair Crawford said an interim president could help bring the campus together to face the challenges ahead. “It’s our institution and we need to make sure to protect it,” he told Clarion.