This year Medgar Evers College President William Pollard and his administration have been the target of criticism from faculty and staff – often concerning friction with MEC’s academic centers, which support many projects serving the Central Brooklyn community. The sharpest conflict has been with the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, which was finally forced to leave MEC in March after a long-running dispute about its status on campus.
Run by formally incarcerated people who credit higher education with helping to transform their lives, the Center for NuLeadership supports other former offenders in gaining access to college and does policy work on criminal justice issues. Its work been praised by other advocates for ex-offenders; MEC administration charged that it was poorly administered.
However, it was CUNY Senior VP for Legal Affairs Frederick Schaffer who was reprimanded by State Supreme Court Justice Herbert Kramer at a March 4 hearing when the judge learned that CUNY confiscated a pair of privately-owned laptop computers from NuLeadership’s office at MEC and copied the hard drives. “You have no business looking at somebody’s personal computer,” Justice Kramer told Shaffer. If there is evidence of wrongdoing, the judge added, “You get a search warrant.” CUNY returned the computers soon after the hearing.
NuLeadership has relocated to offices in Bedford-Stuyvesant, said Executive Director Divine Pryor. The group is in talks with SUNY Old Westbury about serving as a feeder program through which formerly incarcerated people could attend that college, Pryor told Clarion; its current projects include a social justice lecture series and curriculum development at Union Theological Seminary.
Pollard has often responded to faculty and staff criticism by saying that he is intent on creating a “student-centered” college – but a petition from 500 students now says that he is on the wrong track.
The petition was circulated at the end of Spring semester by the Ad-Hoc Committee for Truth Search, a recently formed student group. It asks Pollard to meet publicly with students to address a list of 31 questions on issues of financial transparency, college priorities and community relations. In interviews with Clarion, student activists expressed dismay about diminished support for the college’s learning center and writing lab, and a lack of equipment such as photocopiers in the library.
“They have this slogan, ‘We help students achieve success,’ but I’m not seeing it,” said Bonita Grant, a public administration major and one of the Committee’s leaders.
Upon receiving the petition, Pollard offered to meet with a couple of members of the group in his office. Students in turn asked him to schedule a town hall meeting, with at least a week’s advance notice. Instead, the administration sent faculty an e-mail the morning of May 9, asking them to inform students of a town hall meeting to be held at 6:00 pm the same day. Only a handful of students attended.
On May 16, student organizers took their case to a governance meeting of 50 to 60 faculty members and college officials in the college’s main auditorium. Campus security personnel initially threatened them with a summons for “unlawful assembly” when they entered the auditorium, but backed off after intervention by former Congressmember Major Owens.
As the meeting drew to a close, a pair of students spoke briefly at the invitation of Provost Howard Johnson. President Pollard, sitting a few feet away, refused to acknowledge their presence, and Johnson quickly adjourned the meeting as stunned faculty members looked on.
“The way it ended was surprising,” said Brenda Greene, a professor of English at MEC. “That would have been the perfect opportunity to say, ‘I hear your concerns, let’s set up a time for a meeting since the town hall meeting didn’t work.’”
MEC has seen some slight progress on complaints from union members about a lack of basic due process. For example, the administration has now ended its practice of using security guards to deliver letters of non-reappointment to faculty members at their classrooms.
“They are beginning to meet their responsibilities,” said PSC Chapter Chair Clinton Crawford. But “until they change the present climate” overall, Crawford said, the school will not see real improvement. MEC still has the most union grievances of any CUNY campus.