Standing for Medgar Evers College Once Again: Part 1
By Maitefa Angaza
Medgar Evers College has been here before: students and faculty make charges of disrespect and disenfranchisement, and say that the CUNY chancellor and college president appear unmoved. Stakeholders, the students who rely on MEC, their family and professors, are outraged. Elected officials — those who’ve chosen to engage — haven’t been able come to the rescue in a system that taxpayers feel is rigged against them.
When Dr. Rudolph Crew was first appointed MEC president by the CUNY Board of Trustees, faculty and some students were alarmed, as were other Black educators and many members of the wider community. They were wary of Crew, who was dismissed from his former post as chancellor of the then New York City Board of Education. Terrence Blackman, a founder of the College, was one of those in vehement disapproval at the time. He did not feel that Crew’s appointment honored the spirit of MEC’s mission.
“I am a surviving member of the team of community members who negotiated with CUNY to bring this college into existence and name it for a civil rights hero,” he said. “The founders’ vision of the school’s mission was extremely clear. Medgar Evers College was to serve primarily the African-American community of Central Brooklyn, denying no student access because of the public school system’s failure to prepare them adequately. The college would bring them up to academic standards, teach them their history and imbue them with the concept of giving back. “
Blackman had said that over the protests of Black elected officials in Brooklyn, the chancellor conducted a 90-day search, with three out of 50 applicants chosen to be interviewed and introduced at MEC. But with no elected officials and very few students or faculty members allowed to take part, they say, Crew was selected as the new president effective August 1st of 2013.
Fast-forward to the present and Crew’s administration has been rejected by many at the College and in the community, with cries for his firing. Detractors have presented evidence of stagnation and reversal resulting in decreased enrollment and retention, the lowest graduation rates in the city compared with similar CUNY institutions, a failure to expand the types of degree programs offered, budget cuts resulting from a failure to maintain CUNY standards, and a student body and faculty charging administrative retaliation for speaking out.
(Our Time Press published an open letter to the community from a MEC faculty member detailing both these charges and a rebuttal from Crew’s MEC attorney back in February. This article presents the views of and impact on those most affected — the students and faculty.)
Dr. Crew applied for and was hired as the new superintendent of DeKalb County, Georgia in April. But weeks afterward, his appointment was rescinded. Although some wanted it to stand, others were strongly opposed, resulting in protests in the streets organized by both sides.
In the end, the DeKalb County administration, finding complaints of failure in leadership and of misappropriated funds, cooled on the idea of Crew as its leader. These claims came not only from his seven years at Medgar Evers College, but from his days as chancellor in NYC, as Oregon’s chief education officer, as superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and at stints in both Tacoma and Seattle, Washington.
In mid-May the DeKalb County school board rescinded its April appointment. Crew made his way back to Brooklyn and the Chancellor allowed him to return to his post as president — after formally resigning. Matos Rodriguez says Crew will remain until the end of the school year in 2021, which he was scheduled to do anyway, had he been retained for the job in Georgia.
Crew has since filed a lawsuit against the DeKalb County School District, saying that its reversal cost him his position at MEC. He is
seeking at least $1.5 million. He also filed charges with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that he was discriminated against because of his race and age.
The returning of Crew as President was immediately, and stridently, denounced by those at MEC who have long wanted him fired. They say it’s unheard of in the world of work for someone in any position, let alone this high of a position, to formally resign and then be allowed to return — particularly over the protests of those he aims to govern.
In addition to the 700 students who had signed a petition for Crew’s removal, a Change.org petition has thus far garnered close to 1900 signatures, with the added objective of removing campus trailers and creating space for actual classrooms for all students. And on June 8th the NY Chapter of Black Lives Matter joined with the students to bring a protest march to the streets of Crown Heights, shouting these same demands.
Part 2 next week: Student Government Steps up