Our Time Press Q&A with …DR. PATRICIA RAMSEY, Ph.D
President, Medgar Evers College
Dr. Patricia Ramsey was appointed by the CUNY Board of Trustees to serve as the sixth president of Medgar Evers College on March 22, 2021. She is the first woman president of Medgar Evers College, and was installed on May 1, 2021. (www.ourtimeathome.com/cuny-names-dr-patricia-ramsey-as-sixth-president-of-medgar-evers-college). Now that Dr. Ramsey has had a chance to look around the campus and meet with the students, faculty and community, OTP asked her what challenges did she see and what plans is she making to overcome them.
Dr. Ramsey: Medgar Evers College, grew out of the community and, as an institution growing out of the black community struggle, to get a four-year college established, you can imagine the college is under-resourced.
It’s very difficult when you start from behind to catch up, unless something is done to infuse a lot of resources into the institution. And so, (that part of the challenge) was not something that was a surprise to me. I did my research prior to applying for the position.
But it was the mission of the college and my opportunity to make a difference that inspired my desire to become a part of the Medgar Evers College family.
OTP: Can the college play a role in helping students beyond the tuition and books? How can the college support low-income students with family obligations?
Dr. Ramsey: The grant that we received from the mayor’s office, $20 million — the largest grant in the history of the college — was very generous. It will help us assist our students with wraparound services we’re not currently able to offer, especially to those who are enrolled in MEC’s Baccalaureate program.
We’re going to model CUNY’s ACE program which focused on degree completion. The longer a student is in school, the more costly the education. We are focusing on trying to get our students out in four years or less as Baccalaureate students. The mayor’s funding will assist us. Also, we have put in place a Transition Academy which addresses food insecurity issues and housing instability.
We have social justice in our DNA as we’re named for Medgar Wiley Evers who was a social justice champion. With some of the funding we will uplift the community and our students at the same time by partnering our students with small businesses and non-profits. Student participants in our Brooklyn Recovery Corps program will be placed with these institutions and organizations according to their majors. By the time they graduate, they will have earned some practical experience, and those small businesses and non-profits involved will have an opportunity to get expert support without having to pay those salaries. We will pay the student participants in the Corps program.
OTP: You speak of Medgar Evers College’s mission and the history there. What about community activism, or courses of study perhaps around community activism. Is that something that can happen there at Medgar Evers?
Dr. Ramsey: We already are doing some of that. We have the Center for Law and Social Justice for example which is involved in uplifting the community with community political education, analysis, and having advocates out in the community.
There is also the DuBois Bunche Center, which trains students in activism and they have a grant with the city where they have partnered with the police, and as it relates to a program that they are piloting to see if it’s something that needs to be put in place. And our Center for Black Literature plays a part because much activism in the community has come out of the literary arena.
OTP: What is the current graduation rate of students and what are your goals going forward as to how you’d like to see that rate improve?
Dr. Ramsey: The graduation rate is not where we would like it to be. The most recent figures for the graduation rate according to the U.S. Department of Education, they use a six-year graduation rate as the one that we focus on mostly in this country, the six-year graduation rate is 23%. The four-year graduation rate however is less, it is 19%. And we definitely want to turn that around.
To give you an idea of the impact that Medgar Evers is making with regard to graduation, although those rates are very low in comparison to some other institutions, Medgar Evers has the highest percentage of students – well, I shouldn’t say the highest, they compete with one other institution for the highest percentage of students that graduate and go on to graduate school in the CUNY system. We are only one-tenth of a percent less than the highest of all the schools in the CUNY system.
And so, in my opinion, I think people look at the wrong outputs.
I guarantee if you were to look at the students who get graduate degrees, African American students in this country today, although we have a smaller number of students that are going to predominantly black and historically black institutions, we are producing the highest percentage of folks who are graduating with terminal degrees. So, I think we need to do a better job of telling our story.
OTP: Now speaking of effectiveness, how would you like your effectiveness measured?
Dr. Ramsey: By the growth of the organization as an exemplar of above the line behavior and the success of the students. And one of the things that I discovered when I was researching for the position, I discovered a lot of negatives in the press.
And some of it comes from below the line behavior, and so, what helps an institution to grow is for the people at the institution to exhibit above the line behavior. It’s not something that cannot be learned. It can. And I as the leader set that example. So, I always treat people the way that I wish to be treated. I follow that golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And so, if I am in a meeting and someone is disrespecting his or her colleague, I don’t sit silent, I bring it to their attention.
OTP: Forgive my ignorance but when you say above the line, below the line, what does that mean?
Dr. Ramsey: Well, with above and below the line behavior, if you see something that’s wrong, and you go and talk about it behind the person’s back, that’s below the line behavior. If you see something wrong and you point to it and say, “Well, you see what they did over there?” That’s below the line behavior. Conversely, if you’re talking to individuals or about an organization, if you see something that’s wrong, and you cannot correct it, and you go to the person who can, that’s above the line behavior.
OTP:I see. It’s a constructive engagement kind of thing.
Dr. Ramsey: Yes, it’s constructive engagement but also if it’s something that you actually can do something about yourself, then you do it.
OTP: Speaking of your reputation and relationships, you have a very strong science background, biology, botany, et cetera, how do you plan to use that at Medgar Evers College? Would you like to expand the environmental programs or anything of that nature?
Dr. Ramsey: Well, of course as a scientist who has been a chief academic officer at institutions, I’ve always had to be very careful about making sure that people didn’t see me one way, as someone who’s only going to focus on STEM, because you need the other areas to support the STEM disciplines. I’m looking have a focus on health equity, and I’ve done a lot in that arena as well as in the environmental arena or the environmental justice arena.
(Note to readers: For information on three groups being created to support the Presidential Transitional Planning at Medgar Evers College, please visit: www.mec.cuny.edu/office-of-the-president/presidential-transition-planning)