After a contentious battle between Medgar Evers College faculty and CUNY administrators, three MEC professors have been tapped by their colleagues to serve on the search committee for the college’s new president.
A last-minute intervention by the CUNY Board of Trustees excluded two faculty leaders from being considered for the search committee.
The three faculty representatives chosen for the search committee are Associate Professor of Mass Communications Iola Thompson; Professor Umesh Nagarkatte, who is chair of MEC’s Mathematics Department; and Professor Sikiru Adesina Fadairo, chair of Computer Information Systems. Thompson, Nagarkatte and Fadairo combined have more than 80 years of faculty experience at Medgar Evers.
“These are long-time members of the faculty. People know them,” said PSC Chapter Chair Clinton Crawford. “We hope they represent all of us well and make their voices heard so the right choice is made.” Though Crawford was one of the two excluded critics, he voted for all three faculty members who were eventually selected. The three faculty representatives will serve on a 15-member panel.
Thompson was the first faculty representative elected to the search committee, at a February 11, 2013 meeting of the Medgar Evers College Council. Crawford and MEC Faculty Senate Chair Sallie Cuffee were the next highest vote-getters, but fell short of the number of votes required. When faculty petitioned for a second meeting of the College Council to continue the balloting, outgoing MEC President William Pollard scheduled it for Friday, February 22,2013, over the objections of faculty leaders, who said that holding the meeting on a Friday would depress turnout.
When the Faculty Senate pressed Pollard for an explanation for his insistence that the meeting be held on a Friday, his response was short: “On advice and consultation with Medgar and CUNY legal counsel, the Friday day was selected as a means for giving sufficient notice to all faculty to participate in the very important activity.”
The February 22, 2013 meeting drew 33 faculty members of the Council, four more than the quorum of 29. CUNY Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs Frederick Schaffer announced that under the New York State Open Meetings Law, 29 votes, and not simply a majority of those present, would be required to elect the other two faculty representatives. After multiple rounds of voting, Cuffee had 25 votes and Crawford 23, with the next closest candidate drawing just six votes.
Turnout increased at a College Council meeting the following Wednesday, February 27, 2013 – but faculty found their choices were now circumscribed by a resolution passed two days before by CUNY’s Board of Trustees. Adding a new requirement at the last minute, the trustees’ resolution decreed that one faculty representative would have to come from each of MEC’s three Schools – Liberal Arts, Science and Business. This immediately made the top two vote-getters at the last College Council meeting ineligible: like the already elected representative Iola Thompson, Faculty Senate Chair Cuffee and PSC Chapter Chair Crawford both work in MEC’s School of Liberal Arts.
“They wanted to make sure that Clinton and I would not be in the running, so they delineated who could be on the search committee in the middle of the process,” said Cuffee who decried the Board’s move as “paternalistic.”
“It was totally unusual and high-handed,” Crawford told Clarion. “They wouldn’t do that elsewhere.”
The trustees’ resolution sought to influence the vote in another way as well: it empowered Chancellor Matthew Goldstein to designate the final two faculty members on the search committee if the College Council did not elect them by the end of business on February 27, 2013.
The administration of President Pollard, who came to MEC in 2009, was marked by antagonism toward faculty and staff that led to two faculty votes of no-confidence. Last November 2013, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education warned MEC that its accreditation was at risk: two months later, Pollard announced his resignation, effective on appointment of his successor. In the wake of Pollard’s announcement, his controversial provost, William Johnson, abruptly went on leave; he and several other top MEC officials have been replaced by interim appointees.
In an interview with Clarion, Thompson said that she and other search committee members have received an e-mail from Goldstein stating that he wants a new president chosen by June – a timetable Thompson thinks is a mistake. “The process is too fast to find the best candidate,” she says. “It’s March already.”
Nagarkatte, the School of Science representative on the search committee, told Clarion he supports a June 2013 deadline. The new president, he added, should be a “facilitator” who values the importance of “constant communication, transparency and shared governance.”
With MEC facing a September 1, 2013 deadline to respond to the accreditation warning from Middle States, Thompson agrees that the school needs new leadership quickly.
But she believes that an interim president, one who already knows the school, should be appointed immediately to lead MEC’s effort to respond to Middle States, while a more thorough national search for a longer-term president is pursued. Otherwise, she says, “We don’t know how a president coming in on such short notice will be able to help us address this.”
Crawford warned that CUNY conducted a similarly swift presidential search process in the spring of 2009 and ended up replacing retiring president Edison Jackson with Pollard, whose tenure has been marked by nearly constant conflict.
“They are replicating the same scenario,” Crawford warned. “And we’re going to end up in the same place if they go that way.”