Faculty & Students Fight for NYC’s HBCU
By Maitefa Angaza
From Part One of this article (MA)
Comments attributed to Terrence Blackman were not made by him and he was not a MEC founder. Also, Dr. Rudy Crew’s letter of resignation to the Medgar Evers College Community stated that he’d begin his new job in Georgia in July, 2020. So had the offer not been rescinded, he wouldn’t have been at MEC through June 2021 as reported.
In last week’s article, “The Ire this Time,” we reported on the disturbing state of affairs at Medgar Evers College, considered New York’s honorary HBCU. This week we provide more information, context and comments, including an alarming update as Fall classes are about to begin online.
Sakia Fletcher, outgoing student government president, graduated in June with a degree in Public Administration and Public Policies. Her last semester in office was a proving ground for the type of public servant she will be. She says that during the height of the pandemic, Rudy Crew was not around and students had to act fast to pick up his slack.
“We secured $50,000 from Student Technology and wrote a grant called the Medgar Evers College Relief Fund,” Fletcher said. By her accounting 200 students received $150 and 100 received $500, $1,000 or $1,500, the latter amount for students directly impacted by COVID-19 as a result of either they or a family member having contracted it.
And while CUNY provided laptops for students without them, Medgar Evers College needed to purchase bundles from internet service providers to give Wifi codes to students, as other CUNY schools did. Fletcher said that she and other students were expected to handle this themselves.
“The only info the college did give was the contact information for the different providers, and in many cases the providers’ free services did not reach the areas where students live.
“I live in the Bronx,” she said. “Most students commute; not everyone can afford to live in Brooklyn now, so many have moved out, but still go to Medgar.”
Fletcher says that for many MEC students to this day, it’s “a huge issue” that they do not have Internet service at home. She was one of them.
In addition, intimidation by the administration is said to be typical at Medgar Evers College, affecting not just students, but faculty, and even faculty representation. Dr. Zulema Blair, the current Vice-Chair of the College Council and Chair of the Department of Public Administration, is noted as one who has dared to speak out. Meanwhile, in a climate that some feel prioritizes retribution, advances that the College could make to solidify its legacy and attract and retain students, go unexplored. Fletcher cites one of her frustrations as an example.
“For a predominantly Black institution in Central Brooklyn named after a civil rights martyr to not have an African American Studies degree is shameful,” said Fletcher. “And for the only predominantly Black CUNY institution to still have classes in portable dormitories — it’s horrifying and humiliating!”
Barry Lituchy has worked at Medgar Evers College since 2007 as an adjunct assistant professor of History in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Asked about the general climate and student morale at MEC before the pandemic hit, he believes there was disappointment and fear for the mission.
“It seemed as though the college was being starved, and even undermined, from within. Medgar Evers College has this mission to be the HBCU for the New York City metro area, but the people at the top inside the institution don’t have any respect for that.“
An issue of concern addressed by Prof. Lituchi is what he calls, “a complete lack of respect for the faculty, particularly the adjunct faculty.”
CUNY’s 2017 contract requires three-year assignments for adjuncts who have taught the equivalent of two courses each for 10 consecutive semesters within a department. Prior to this, adjuncts had no job security from one semester to the next. While most colleges have complied, said Lituchy, MEC has tried to avoid it.
Three years ago he filed a grievance — on behalf of all the adjuncts, he says. He won. But now in 2020, adjuncts were again notified that they would not be retained. Lituchy filed his second grievance the same day. He feels the administration should actually be seeking to retain high-performing adjuncts, as they work at “much lower rates” than full-time or tenured professors, certainly lower than the high-salaried President Crew and Provost Okekere.
Dr. Armondo Howard, Chair of the Department of Physics and Computer Sciences at MEC, describes the current scenario as, “depressing.”
“We are being told that we cannot have some of our best adjuncts teach,” he said. “This is a tragedy for the university! I believe these adjuncts are the kind of people who will bring up enrollment and help keep the college going forward, which is exactly what we need.”
Dr. Shermane Austin, Deputy Chair of this department, is a tenured professor.
“A number of adjuncts, part-time faculty, are involved in a grievance process led by the PSC CUNY union over three-year appointments initially approved and then rescinded,” said Austin. “However, when affected adjuncts in the Physics and Computer Science Department were assigned courses for the upcoming fall semester, we were notified by the Dean of the School of Science, Health and Technology that they could not be hired until the grievance was resolved. These are two separate issues.
“Not only have adjunct faculty been unfairly penalized, but this is also an academic issue. In the age of Covid-19 and the disruptive impact of remote learning on our primarily minority student population, our best and seasoned adjuncts have been removed from teaching.”
A concerned faculty member who prefers to remain anonymous shared some of the causes of the alarm and frustration felt by many colleagues:
“Provost Okereke is running the college and we are now doing distance learning. Faculty are very concerned that there are exceedingly large classes, some from 42 to 50 students, and our college has a policy that no online instruction should have more than 30 students. Black and brown students are disproportionately affected by COVID-19. It’s really important to ensure that they have the optimum environment to get the attention they need.
“You also have asynchronous classes, which means students do not have designated times to go to classes. This was a policy imposed by the administration without consultation from faculty. And as a result, there is no specified time when students can meet with faculty members online. This is going to further impact the retention and performance of students.
“I am struggling with, how do I design my classes, where I can’t mandate that students meet with me? This goes against the mission of the College, which is to engage students to provide a nurturing and safe environment. This also violates the academic freedom of faculty members. When registration first started the classes had times and days. The provost had the registrar remove them. I don’t know how we’re going to do it. I really don’t.”
It would appear that the way forward for Medgar Evers College lies in the direction of CUNY demonstrating respect for and accountability to the students, faculty and staff. Real action informed by those most impacted by decision-making must be taken and the College’s full agency must be restored in honor of the heroism and sacrifice of its namesake.
Evelyn Maggio, a tenured professor of Business Law who’s been at the college for 23 years, says she’s not seen anything like the preferential treatment given the often-absent Rudy Crew.
“The Chancellor is letting Crew stay, supposedly for a year, because he’s a friend,” said Prof. Maggio. “The widow and the family of Medgar Evers wrote to the Chancellor, basically asking him to remove Crew. And now he is starting a search for a new president, but you know these searches — they can go on for six months, they can go on for six years!”