Union members say he is unfit for the job
The interim dean of the CUNY School of Professional Studies (SPS), Jorge Silva-Puras, is widely seen as a candidate for the school’s permanent dean position, but many full-time faculty members and staff at the school are criticizing his leadership.
An April 11 letter signed by 93% of the full-time faculty at SPS blasted Silva-Puras’s time as interim dean, arguing that he has communicated poorly with faculty, failed to fill top positions, and has been moving too quickly to develop the new CUNY Online initiative. The letter, which does not mention Silva-Puras by name, is addressed to the search committee for the full-time dean and has been distributed to the CUNY Board of Trustees, sources said. It was also sent to PSC officials and CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez.
“He’s very incommunicado, very isolationist,” said one academic director who spoke to Clarion on the condition of anonymity. “We feel completely iced out.”
The CUNY Board of Trustees appointed Silva-Puras as the interim dean of SPS in May 2021 and he began the job a few months later in August 2021. He previously served as vice president for academic affairs and provost at Sagrado Corazón University in San Juan, Puerto Rico. A CUNY statement said Silvas-Puras had “spent seven years, from 2013 to 2020, as an adjunct professor and distinguished lecturer at CUNY’s Hostos Community College, offering lessons in entrepreneurship and business management.”
At the time of his appointment as interim dean, Chancellor Matos Rodríguez said that “the many facets of Mr. Silva-Puras’s résumé make him an exceptional choice to lead the school forward.”
But the SPS faculty letter paints a far different picture.
“Most significantly, he has indicated resistance to approve searches for faculty hires that are urgently needed to replace outgoing academic directors. No fewer than five academic directors plan to retire or step away from their roles within the next two semesters,” the letter said, adding that Silvas-Puras had also “blocked other essential hires.”
The letter went on, “As a result of the interim dean’s delays, it is possible that 18 of our degree and certificate programs will lack appropriately vetted and qualified directors for part or all of the 2022–2023 academic year. We believe the result of such an outcome would be calamitous, not only for our students, but for the faculty who teach in the programs and the staff who support them.”
The letter also stated that Silva-Puras had “failed to regularly communicate or engage with many members of the SPS community,” citing a lack of regular meetings and a “vague response to specific questions regarding pressing matters.” In one example, the letter said, “[an] academic director learned only after the fact that the interim dean met with one of his adjunct faculty members to discuss marketing efforts for his program.”
Another major gripe among the faculty members at SPS is that Silva-Puras “has moved with alacrity – and even, some of us feel, excessive haste – to appoint a number of other staff, including personnel to help direct CUNY Online, which will be an ‘in-house OPM’ (online program manager) housed within SPS to serve CUNY.” The letter went on to say the “rapid launch of this initiative, with little input from the SPS community members involved in its operation, is troubling.”
The faculty argue that this program would redirect resources away from SPS students, citing that the program’s new production and recording studio would remain inaccessible to the large adjunct faculty workforce at SPS who don’t live in New York City.
Concurrent to the faculty letter, an April 28 statement signed by “concerned employees” of SPS (the majority of whom are in higher education officer titles) said Silva-Puras had “displayed attitudes, values and behaviors that reflect ineffective and uninspiring leadership,” citing “instances of speaking disrespectfully and dismissively to staff, marginalizing students, misrepresenting college programs, implementing new initiatives without apparent regard for their negative impact on existing college operations and showing a persistent disinterest in the employees and programs that have lead CUNY SPS to its national prominence.”
The statement noted that the interim dean’s style of leadership has led to low morale among staff and that “many employees are either looking for other jobs” in part “because of consequential decisions he is making about the college.”
This is not the first time faculty leaders have raised concerns about SPS administration. In March 2018, Clarion reported that the school “released a draft of a new governance structure that alarmed union leaders and faculty activists” because the “proposed governance structures…would limit academic freedom, would not permit an independent faculty voice and would not be in compliance with the PSC collective bargaining agreement.”
In September 2019, Clarion reported that it had taken years of PSC rank-and-file activism to force the SPS administration to agree “to the PSC’s demand to test four recently installed water fountains located in a building with a history of poor water quality.”
A CUNY spokesperson responded to the accusations saying, “Over the last three years, CUNY has conducted 11 successful searches for presidents and deans, bringing a highly diverse pool of talented and experienced administrators from across New York and the nation to lead our colleges and schools. In accordance with the University’s Guidelines for Presidential Searches, all search committees include a variety of campus stakeholders, including faculty. Confidentiality is required and essential to a successful search.”
The faculty letter ended forcefully, saying that Silva-Puras is not the “right leader for CUNY SPS.” It continued saying that his “appointment as dean might very well threaten the proven quality and viability of our school’s academic programs, our school’s student-centered, inclusive and collegial culture and our steadfast commitment to equity, of which we are all rightly proud.”