“We showed our strength and unity,” City Councilmember Leticia James Joyce Brown told this reporter at the end of the three hour hearings on higher education issues sponsored by the CUNY Board of Trustees on Tuesday, February 8 at the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office. Councilmember James was referring to the powerful and often provocative remarks made by Medgar Evers College faculty, students and staff and by clergy, community leaders
and supporters of the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions. This group had come together to raise their voices and express their disappointment, dismay and frustration at the continuing unrest at the Central Brooklyn College named for Medgar Wiley Evers and founded by elected officials, clergy and community leaders in 1970.
The hearing, which was overseen by Vice Chair Philip Berry, afforded Councilmember James an opportunity to express her outrage that CUNY Board of Trustees Chair, Benno Schmidt and Chancellor Goldstein had refused to meet with Brooklyn elected officials and had instead attempted to have them meet with “their subordinates.” The Councilmember called for a rescheduling of this meeting as soon as possible. Councilmember Jumannee Williams joined Councilmember James in expressing the need to come to a resolution on the situation at Medgar Evers. Other community leaders such as Rev. Townsley, Jitu Weusi and Michael Hooper asked whether this type of response to elected officials would have occurred in other communities. This issue was a continual refrain throughout the evening.
Testimony in support of the Center for NuLeadership was at the forefront of many of the comments made by speakers at the hearing. Eddie Ellis a founding member of the NuLeadership Policy Group, expounded on the role of NuLeadership over the last 10 years as a think tank on issues related to criminal justice and on its impact on the lives of many formerly incarcerated people. Mr. Ellis noted that it was the height of hypocrisy for the administration to bring in a new program on juvenile justice while eliminating a nationally recognized program. Others such as Jonathan McLean and Onaje Muid, from the organization, Men of Color, talked about the personal impact the Center for NuLeadership as well as Dr. Divine Pryor and Eddie Ellis had had on their lives.
Faculty issues raised included the administration’s failure to follow proper shared governance procedures in the establishment of departments and the removal of department chairs as well as the dismantling of student support
programs, the elimination of the Writing Center and the blocking of grants for student and faculty research. Dr. Iola Thompson provided a description of the rationale and process for the vote of no confidence taken by the faculty and Prof. Heather Gibson raised a number of questions that pointed to the lack of faculty input and transparency in the merging of the nursing department. At the end of her presentation, Prof. Gibson stated that she didn’t have anything to gain by testifying but in her words, “I love Medgar Evers College.”
The last statement of the evening was given by Natalie Leary who read a statement by former Congressman Major Owens who was unable to attend the hearing. Owens declared that Medgar Evers College was essentially a “communiversity,” a term coined by the Founders. In Owen’s view, the current struggle at the college is a continuation of the struggle for a communiversity and against CUNY command and control.
Dr. Pollard, along with other Presidents from Brooklyn CUNY colleges, sat at the front of the room as the hearing took place. One wonders what was going through Dr. Pollard’s mind as he sat, stone-faced, and listened to the statements of the many in the room. Jitu Weusi asked whether Dr. Pollard and Dr. Johnson were brought here to destroy the institution. What is the future of Medgar Evers? Can there be a resolution to this turmoil, as Esmeralda Simmons, Director of the Center for Law and Social Justice asked? Can there be a mediation of the minds as expressed by Rev. Conrad Tillard? At the end of the hearings, Vice Chair Berry informed the group that all testimonies would be shared with the Chancellor and CUNY Board members.