They stood in the rain chanting “We demand respect! Now!” Students are frustrated that questions presented to Dr. Pollard’s administration have gone unanswered. Among their litany of grievances is the absence of a Writing Center, inadequate space for tutors and the students who need them, and how school funds are being spent.
Gracia Branch, coordinator of a 31-point student petition said, “We have questions and we demand answers. There is so much going on in the school, and all we are hearing is gossip and rumors. We need answers. Students have the right to know we are being properly equipped to compete when we graduate. As students, we want to know that the funds given to the school is utilized for the best education we can get.
“Pollard has to go. He is not a good leader for Medgar Evers,” said Nafartari Charles. “There were a lot of good professors who are no longer here. There are conditions in the school that need fixing. He doesn’t give any respect to students. I personally spoke to Dr. Pollard a couple of semesters ago. When he asked my name, I told him it is Nafartari. He said ‘What good is Nafartari going to do you?’ ”
Justin Coello has concerns about academic supports. “We don’t have a Writing Center. It has been removed from the school. The one that was here before wasn’t funded by the school anyway. It was funded by professors who obtained grants. There is no more grant money, now the Writing Center is shut down,” said Coello. “It is problematic for students, especially those who are English majors. That is why our GPAs are lower than other schools, if that is the case. That is what they are bringing up – people’s GPA. But if we are not getting the help we need, how are we going to get anywhere. They are spending money they don’t need to spend. It is on our list of questions. Why is this money being spent, yet we are being told there are problems with the budget? Why are expensive varsity jackets being bought if we can’t have things we need. Why are there books in the library that we can’t take out of the library because they don’t have enough money? Other colleges are privileged compared to ours. We have something called a Writing Buddy. People don’t know about it. It is not being publicized. We are fed up.”
Gracia Branch explained why the students rallied. “The President wanted to meet with just me and Bonita Grant, the petition coordinators. We did not want to meet with him. It is not about two students. It is about the whole student body. So, none of the questions were answered. Not just a group of students, 500 students signed the petition.
If Dr. Pollard is going to give us 30 minutes or an hour, meet with the entire student body and discuss what is happening in the school. This is why we had to do this rally. They did not give us the meeting with the student body,” Branch said. “We need a sunshine meeting.”
Christopher Hundley, Director of Communications at Medgar Evers College, outlined the administration’s position. “This rally was in response to a 31-point petition that was submitted to the President’s Office a few weeks ago. The President’s Office attempted to reach out to the organizers of said petition through student town hall meetings as well as requests for individual student meetings. They are still trying to find a date that works for both parties.”
Hundley said, “The President’s Office had a student town hall meeting on May 9 – one for daytime students at 11:30 am and one for evening students at 6 pm to make sure they could accommodate all students that come here. In addition, Dr. Pollard’s office has reached out to the organizers of the petition to set up a separate meeting with the organizers of the petition to address those concerns. On that particular petition, there were a number of statements made that were completely inaccurate. Getting student signatures based on false information… that’s what we want to clear up with the organizers of the petition. So that they could understand fully what they were telling students what’s going on.”
Stressing two points Hundley said, “First, I would suggest the coordinators of the petition reach out to the President’s Office to try to set up a meeting to discuss all of those issues in-depth. The second thing I would say is one of the challenges we have is explaining to students there are different pots of money at the college. There is capital project money, there is SGA funds. Certain moneys can be spent in certain ways.
There are processes for all these things spelled out in our governance document.
If there are concerns about the ways moneys are being spent, there are student representatives who have lots of input in the budgetary decisions of the college.
They can appeal to those folks. We urged students to come to the town hall on May 9. We’d encourage the organizers of the petition to come and have a dialogue.”
Hundley outlined the purpose of the student town hall. “On May 9, we had presentations on the capital projects, scholarships, the library modernization project that’s being prepared for 2012, and a number of other initiatives. [During] the town hall meeting, we had people from outside come to speak to students… design consultants, [and others],” he said. “Dr. Pollard is open to address any questions about the future of the college. Dr. Pollard is dedicated to transparency. We make our budgetary decisions available to a larger range of administrators than in years previous through the college’s Internet. In addition, we focus a lot more on trying to make sure students understand exactly what the different pots of money are.”
Aware of the need for some improvements Hundley stated, “One of the things we have recently done – Dr. Pollard is the chair of this – is a customer service initiative. It is a committee dedicated to making sure that there are greater levels of service across every area of the college – financial aid, the bursar’s office, computer facilities. We are not just looking at students. We are looking at how we relate to each other across departments [and] anybody who is providing service to somebody else here. We are looking at ways of increasing congeniality across the college. The emphasis is on students.”
It seems a big problem at Medgar Evers College is the school e-mail system.
Lashawn Henderson said she was not notified about the student town hall meeting on May 9. “No, I was not. I have a student e-mail account.”
Nafatari Charles said she did not hear about the town hall through her student e-mail.
Gracia Branch said she was not made aware of the student town hall on May 9. “To be honest, I hardly use my student e-mail. The reason for that is because at times it is not working. I normally give teachers my personal e-mail. Professors know to get through to students via the e-mail address students give on the first day of class so that professors can notify students in case class is cancelled or for whatever reasons,” she said.
Bonita Grant “did not receive any e-mail from the college stating they are going to have a town hall meeting on May 9. Nothing at all.”
Gracia Branch said, “We only heard about it after the fact. After the town hall, I was told, ‘Oh, didn’t you know. We were looking forward to seeing you there.’ Looking forward to seeing us when we weren’t informed? This is what we are talking about. There is a lack of communication between the administration and the students. The reason that we ask that he notify us is so that we can notify students. If students don’t know, how are they going to show? Which is exactly what happened.”
Bonita Grant added, “When we submitted our petitions, we gave them our name and phone numbers. I cannot see why on earth we were not notified.”
Keston Boyce, current President of the SGA said, “I heard about the student town hall two days before. An e-mail was sent by my professor. She sent it to all her students. I don’t know how the other students were made aware. ” When asked if he received an e-mail from the administration, he said, “No.” Boyce was
not able to attend because he had class, but he said “It was a low turnout. I actually stuck my head in to see what was going on. It was a very low turnout.”
Anne Marie Shrouder-Gayle, incoming SGA President, said she attempted to schedule a meeting between the Pollard administration and the coordinators of the petition. She was also willing to be in attendance as a mediator, but they did not want to meet with the president.
Shrouder-Gayle said she was aware of the student town hall in advance. “It was announced on the overhead electronic message board. Apparently, students don’t look at it. They just walk by and don’t read it.” She also said she was not notified through her student e-mail account because “my student e-mail wasn’t working. It is a major student grievance. Communication is a problem here; e-mails sent out late, or never.”
Regarding other student grievances Shrouder-Gayle said, “Respect from professors is an issue.” On the issue of tutors she said, “We have tutors, but the Tutor Center is too small for the number of tutors we have and the majority of students who need tutoring. We were promised by President Pollard it would be expanded by the end of the semester. I will hold him accountable to his word.”
Dir. of Freshman Year Programs Jeffrey Sigler put things in perspective; “Medgar Evers College has a mandate to develop students socially and academically. The mission is to educate students for careers within a liberal arts setting. No matter what is going on, we are still educating students for success.”
Christopher Hundley assured Our Time Press he would send a written response to the 31-point student petition as well as answers to other questions. No official response had been received as of press deadline.