Timothy Driscoll, an adjunct faculty member who taught for decades at City Tech, was remembered by his colleagues with a plaque commemorating his long service to the school. But the attempt to honor a devoted educator got lost in a bureaucratic maze when the college administration ordered the plaque be taken down the next day.
On March 17, faculty at the NYC College of Technology held a modest ceremony to honor the work of Driscoll, who taught in the college’s social science department and who passed away last year after teaching at City Tech since the 1970s. As part of the event to celebrate his life and work, a plaque was put up in the hall outside an office shared by the department’s adjuncts, dedicating the room to his memory.
Loved By All
“After news of his death was announced at a department meeting last year, I volunteered to lead the way in getting the memorial made,” said Howard Sisco, an associate professor of psychology. “Tim was loved by all.”
The inscription on the plaque reads, “This room is dedicated to the memory of a man who had a heart bigger than the baseball stadiums that he loved; a man who liked everyone and embraced diversity; a man who always had a twinkle in his eye and a joke on his lips.”
“In his over 40 years at Tech, Tim made a lot of friends who appreciated his incessant storytelling and his wonderful sense of humor,” agreed Costas Panayotakis, a professor of sociology. Driscoll was an aide to former New York Governor Hugh Carey as well as a Vietnam veteran; colleagues say he would regularly draw on this broad life experience to make a point. “He talked in terms of stories,” Panayotakis recalled, “whether it was to explain or to entertain, Tim always had a story.”
The moving dedication ceremony was well attended, Panayotakis told Clarion. “One other adjunct wrote and read a poem for the occasion.”
The day after the ceremony, the plaque was removed on orders of the college administration. According to a statement from the office of City Tech President Russell Holtzer, proper protocol had not been followed. Although the administration refers to the room at issue as a “classroom,” Sisco says it is a windowless room used as office space by the adjuncts.
“With good intentions, but perhaps a lack of information, a plaque was hung in one of our classrooms to honor the long service of an adjunct instructor. It constitutes, in effect, a naming of that classroom,” wrote Stephen Soiffer, special assistant to the president of City Tech, in response to a question from Clarion in April. “There is a very specific policy of the Trustees of The City University of New York about namings, which can be found on the CUNY website. It is contained in Article VIII in the trustees Manual of General Policy. That policy includes a requirement that namings be carefully vetted and formally approved by the Trustees. It is a policy to which this college, as other CUNY campuses, must conform.”
Soiffer did not elaborate on why hanging a plaque in a hall was necessarily the same as naming a room. “Logically, it doesn’t seem the same,” commented another faculty member. “You could put up any number of plaques, but a room wouldn’t therefore have multiple names. It seems like a stretch to equate the two.”
“We were unaware of any protocol,” said Sisco, who sought input from faculty in his department for the plaque and shared an office with Driscoll for six years. “I think the administration was fine with the plaque,” he told Clarion, “but there was likely a complaint from someone and they had no choice but to tell us to take it down.”
The policy referred to in the City Tech administration’s statement is Section 8.04 of CUNY’s Manual of General Policy, titled “Naming.” Most of its text is concerned with naming of campus facilities in exchange for “a significant gift” to the college. Specific amounts, ranging from $25,000 to $15 million, are cited for naming things from scholarships to departments to buildings; naming of rooms is not specifically discussed. The policy also provides for “namings…with no financial gift” in order “to honor distinguished service,” which requires “a thorough review by the campus to ensure appropriateness.”
Sisco said that department members will try to get the plaque put back up with official permission. “We are going to try to go through a formal channel, hopefully one that will not cost thousands of dollars,” he told Clarion.
Some in the department contrasted the administration’s swift removal of the plaque honoring Driscoll with its slow response to cases of Nazi graffiti on the college’s walls. “Swastikas in a college elevator were not removed for weeks after I reported them this semester,” said Panyotakis. “Another time, a couple of years ago, swastikas in a men’s room were reported at a labor-management meeting, but were not removed for nine months.” Colleagues have wondered, Panayotakis said, why Nazi hate symbols can be tolerated for months, but a plaque honoring a long-serving adjunct must be immediately removed.