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Faculty Discontent Spreading at Medgar Evers College: No-Confidence Vote of 136-13
Medgar Evers College (MEC) faculty and professional staff approved a vote of no confidence in the school’s President William Pollard and Provost Howard Johnson by a vote of 136-13 in a referendum held on the campus April 18 and 19, 2012. The vote was organized the MEC Faculty Senate, which subsequently called on Chancellor Matthew Goldstein to ask for the resignation of the college’s top leaders.
Sallie Cuffee, who was elected president of the MEC Faculty Senate in March, 2012 said it was an “overwhelming vote of no confidence” in Pollard’s leadership.
“It’s a message that people are disaffected and the leadership we have has to be removed,” added PSC Chapter Chair Clinton Crawford.
Since Pollard and Johnson took the helm of the college nearly three years ago, discontent among the college’s instructional staff has been on the rise. Critics say the administration has reduced student support services while padding the ranks of upper-level administrators; taken an antagonistic approach to relations with faculty and staff; interfered in the selection of department chairs; and eroded the historic ties between the school and the Central Brooklyn community it was founded to serve in 1970.
In December 2010, a mass meeting of Medgar Evers College faculty endorsed a similar declaration of no confidence with a smaller vote total of 59-6. It was an action Pollard dismissed at the time because it lacked the imprimatur of the school’s Faculty Senate.
The MEC Faculty Senate was then inactive and elections that should have been held in 2011 did not take place. After almost a year of delay, Faculty Senate elections were finally held this year in March, bringing administration critics like Cuffee into office.
The newly elected Faculty Senate held a public hearing on April 2, 2012, to allow faculty to voice their concerns about the direction of the college. On April 4, 2012, the Senate authorized the no-confidence vote that was carried out later that month by secret ballot.
At a May 3, 2012 press conference at City Hall, Cuffee and Faculty Senate Vice Chair Evelyn Maggio said that the Pollard-Johnson administration’s antagonism toward faculty has been accompanied by a hostility toward women in positions of authority. They pointed to the removal of four female department chairs, as well as the departure of two female deans and the female provost who preceded Johnson. City Councilmembers Letitia James and Charles Barron and retired Brooklyn Congressman Major Owens (currently a Distinguished Lecturer at MEC) voiced support for dissident faculty members at the college and for the community-based Medgar Evers College Coalition for Academic Excellence and Mission Integrity (www.meforthecommunity.org).
Cuffee herself was removed by the provost as chair of the social and behavioral sciences department April 5, 2012, shortly after being elected president of the Faculty Senate. “They are getting rid of female chairs who are vocal in criticizing the Pollard administration for its abuses,” said Maggio.
After Cuffee’s removal, the provost appointed the associate provost as her replacement – though the associate provost’s faculty appointment is in the education department, not social and behavioral science. “This is in direct violation of governance [procedures] and the Bylaws,” Cuffee told Clarion. “The department is in free fall.”
The outgoing head of MEC’s Faculty Senate, Jean Gumbs, defended Pollard in a press release issued by the administration. “As a department chair of one of our biggest programs, nursing, I have not witnessed or experienced any of the harassment or gender discrimination that has been discussed,” said Gumbs. The press release included similar statements from two other department chairs and two administrators who report to Pollard.
Pollard declared that an “unfortunate campaign of miscommunication by a few faculty members” was the real problem at MEC: “I am confident that we are complying with University protocols for hiring decisions and budget allocations in all of our actions.” The female deans who left MEC “resigned voluntarily,” he insisted, and “actions taken to remove chairs” were based on performance, not sexism.
Following the April, 2012 vote of no confidence, the MEC Faculty Senate released a statement urging Chancellor Goldstein to ask for the resignation of Pollard and Johnson.
Goldstein’s response has been a studied silence. At the April 30, 2012, CUNY trustees’ meeting, the Chancellor spoke out strongly in support of College of Staten Island (CSI) President Tomás Morales, who had been recently targeted for a no-confidence vote by faculty members at CSI. But he made no mention of Pollard or the no-confidence vote at MEC.
Clarioncontacted CUNY’s communications department, noted the contrast, and asked if Chancellor Goldstein had any comment on the faculty vote at Medgar Evers. In response, a CUNY spokesperson provided a copy of the press release issued by the MEC administration – but offered no other comment.
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