On January 24, CUNY Trustees voted to name Dr. Carole Berotte Joseph as president of Bronx Community College. She will take office this summer.
“The University is most fortunate that an individual of the extensive experience and stature of President Berotte Joseph has accepted the invitation to return home to CUNY,” said Michael Arena, University Director of Communications and Marketing. Berotte Joseph received her undergraduate degree from York, was a faculty member at City College for more than 20 years, and served as vice president for academic affairs at Hostos from 1996 to 1998.
During the search process, faculty at BCC raised serious concerns about Berotte Joseph’s contentious relations with faculty during her a six-year stint as president of Massachusetts Bay Community College in Wellesley, Massachusetts – and they told Clarion they were frustrated that CUNY Central Administration had failed to respond.
But with Berotte Joseph’s arrival as president just a few months away, faculty leaders at BCC sought to extend an open hand. Latest reports from Massachusetts said her relationship with the faculty union there had somewhat improved.
“It is important to recognize, as many of us at BCC do, that Dr. Berotte Joseph has done nothing against our faculty or staff,” said Andrew McInerney, chair of the BCC College Senate and also a member of the search committee. “I believe she will be judged on the basis of her actions at the college, not for her past.”
“The issues we have are with Chancellor Goldstein, who in no way paid attention to our concerns,” said the chair of the college’s PSC chapter, Sharon Persinger.
“Community colleges have always been a place where people go for second chances in life,” said Jim Freeman, chair of the Social Sciences Department and a member of the presidential search committee. “We’ll aim to work with her, and build the best relationship we can.”
During her tenure at MassBay, Berotte Joseph received a 2007 no-confidence vote from its faculty for creating “institutional chaos” and a “divisive and distrustful atmosphere.” She was also censured by the Massachusetts Community College Council (MCCC), a National Education Association affiliate that represents 6,000 faculty and professional staff at 15 community colleges.
“She had more employees leave the college than the other 14 community colleges [in Massachusetts] combined,” said MCCC President Joe LeBlanc, who described Berotte Joseph’s administration as a “reign of terror.” But LeBlanc said that lately there had been some change. “While she still has a long way to go to become a union friendly president,” he told Clarion in early February, “she does seem to be meeting us part way in the closing months of her tenure at MassBay.”
In the 2007 no-confidence vote, complaints against Berotte Joseph included consistently refusing to settle even the most clear-cut grievances; allowing her chief academic officer to threaten local union leaders with a lawsuit for slander because of their criticism of the administration; repeatedly ignoring the first-choice recommendations of faculty hiring committees; and reorganizing faculty divisions with minimal consultation.
MassBay, a commuter college of 5,000 students, has had eight provosts during Berotte Joseph’s presidency. In 2007, a state agency barred the college’s popular nursing program from accepting new students due to a lack of key personnel.
BCC faculty questioned Berotte Joseph about her troubles at MassBay when she visited the campus on December 8. “She was very dismissive,” recalled Freeman. “Nobody in the room felt she adequately addressed their questions.”
The next day more than 180 members of the BCC faculty attended an open plenary meeting of the College Senate. They approved a resolution urging CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein to add more candidates to the pool of finalists that at that point included only Berotte Joseph and Myrtle Dorsey, chancellor of Baton Rouge Community College in Louisiana. Goldstein did not respond until days before the Board action, and only at the insistence of faculty governance leaders.
“The Chancellor followed University presidential search guidelines, which included campus visits by finalists designated by the BCC Search Committee and confidential input from campus constituencies, including faculty and staff,” Arena said when asked about the resolution.
In a statement after her appointment, Berotte Joseph stressed her CUNY ties. “This is a wonderful and very special homecoming for me as I return to my roots in the CUNY system,” she said.
Persinger expressed hope that Berotte Joseph would fare better on familiar ground in New York City, and would act to revitalize a school that has suffered from lack of resources and official neglect. “She has quite a lot of energy, and it would be good to have energy for positive change,” Persinger said. “Is that what we’ll get?” BCC faculty, staff and students are about to find out.