By Gloria Dulan-Wilson
Well now that I've recouped from one of the busiest weekends of Black History Month, I have finally gathered up the strength and energy to write this article.
The MEC Coalition took its concerns to Albany last weekend, during the 40th Annual Black and Puerto Rican and Asian Legislative Caucus and placed it squarely on the plates of the elected officials.
Armed with petitions, flyers, parent, student and educator support, they spoke individually and collectively with the elected officials in regards to the egregious acts that have been lodged against New York's only predominantly Black college.
The center of the controversy, William Pollard, newly selected president chosen to replace the outgoing Edison Jackson, who retired after 20 years of successfully leading and expanding the college from a near failure to one of immeasurable success; closely followed by his hand-picked provost Howard Johnson, appeared to have had the same idea. They sponsored a bus with students from Medgar Evers, in an effort to put on a dog and pony show, to persuade the officials that they were doing a positive job.
However, their efforts fell far short of their mark, despite a well crafted speech delivered by State Senator Eric Adams. His support of academic excellence, is of course, laudable. Something all can agree to. However, his speech, eloquent though it was, does not assuage the fact that Pollard and Johnson have eviscerated several essential programs that were part and parcel of what made Medgar Evers such a great success: The Center for NU Leadership, started by Dr. Divine Pryor, and recruited on to the campus as an integral part of their outreach by Dr. Jackson; and the DuBois Bunche Institute, founded and fostered by former Assemblymember Roger Green, Congressman Major Owens, among others, were both ousted from the campus - for what purpose? And what did the termination of these programs have to do with academic excellence? Additionally, MEC had the only Black Think Tank on campus, comprised of historical figures, entrepreneurs, political leaders, formerly elected officials, all of whom were drawing cards for other programs and funding sources. (It should also be noted that the program ended abruptly after Senator Adams' speech, and members of the audience were not afforded the opportunity of asking questions or making comments).
But back on the subject of academic excellence: One wonders what the rationale could have been for curtailing open enrollment for students who were aspiring to new career goals? Congressman Owens, who was part of the originating members who supported the establishment of Medgar Evers reminded us all that the premise of the school was based on the concept of COMMUNIVERSITY. And that there were several contracts drawn between the community and the CUNY bigwigs have been thrown under the bus.
It's clear that things are very much amiss at the college. In fact, anyone walking through the corridors, which were once alive with engaged students, will readily notice the ghost-town like appearance of the halls. Gone are the encouraging bulletin boards, the announcements of opportunities for student participation and achievements that used to populate the walls.
Albany became the line drawn in the sand. At a meeting held Saturday, February 19, caucus members came to hear the concerns of the MEC Coalition, and left determined that there would be no additional funding or other concessions until things were rectified at the campus.
Chancellor Goldstein, who backs Pollard and Johnson, has taken out full page ads in predominantly African American papers trying to thwart the growing discontent among the faculty, staff, and community. The Amsterdam News recently ran a headline stating the students at MEC were "clueless" about what was transpiring at the campus. The facts, however, are that the student organizations have been threatened with funding cuts if they participate in, or evidence any concern about the new regime. A regime that has largely targeted them for extinction, while simultaneously looking to replace them with students outside the boundaries of the Brooklyn community from which a large majority of the student body originates.
Actually, the more telling problem is that they are actually looking to supplant the New York student body completely by giving priority to foreign students who are coming in from other countries, paying high prices to attend CUNY Schools while the neighborhood gets priced out of the market. As it is, prices have crept up for education at our city "owned" university over the past few decades, with students who would otherwise have the right to a free education, paying almost as much as they would to go to a private college or university. In spite of that factor, the CUNY system is constantly crying broke - wonder who is monitoring their budgets?
Medgar Evers was, for all intents and purposes, not supposed to succeed. In fact the first four presidents, prior to the hiring of Edison Jackson, were major disasters. It was as if the CUNY higher ups were deliberately picking miscreants, who were clueless about the mission and intent of the college, which was named after slain Civil Rights leader, Medgar Wiley Evers. The appointment of the current president, is reminiscient of the earlier selections, who had no understanding or concern for the community; had little respect for or alliegience to the faculty and staff, and were largely there as place holders while the school slowly declined.
Such a decline would open the door for the CUNY higher ups to step in conveniently and take over the school, reshaping it so that it no longer serves the purpose of providing a quality educational millieu for African/African American/Caribbean students who have found success in a school that has been the underpinning of their success over the past two decades. (Pollard is alleged to have made threats to curtail financial assistance for several Caribbean-American students, stating they were receiving the assistance illegally).
When compared to other HBCUs, Medgar Evers existence is a drop in the bucket, having only been here a mere 26 years. But their progress has been meteoric. That is until the 2009.
The upshot of the Caucus weekend, however, is that the efforts to make it appear as if all was well at MEC, may well have backfired. Several of the pols who attended the meeting with the coalition, most notably Senator Kevin Parker, and Assemblymember Inez Barron, have vowed not to provide any additional funds to CUNY in general and Medgar Evers in particular until the problems are rectified, the programs are reinstated, and person more in keeping with the mission of Medgar Evers is brought on board to lead the college. This time a full fledged search must be launched to make sure that the right one is appointed- no more hastily selected individuals of questionable backgrounds.
Assemblymember Jeffries, and other elected officials are planning to hold hearings into the circumstances under which the current president was selected, as well as to the recent discontinuations of programs that had been beneficial to the campus, and the blocking of grants that would have enhanced several programs that had been in existence for quite some time. (Still don't understand why Carver Bank's ATMs were taken out and replaced by CitiBank. It may not be in the purview of the elected officials, but inquiring minds want to know.)
The New York State Panhellenic Council (comprised of the major Black Fraternities and Sororities) have likewise agreed to look into what is happening with Medgar Evers' students, and the policies that appear to be aimed at undermining its status as the only Black college in New York. It should be remembered that prior to her untimely, tragic death, Dr. Betty Shabazz, Director of Institutional Advancement and Public Affairs, was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Former President, Edison Jackson, was an active member of Phi Beta Sigma, hosting many student orient programs and scholarship award ceremonies at the campus. Irregardless of whether there are active faternities or sororities at Medgar Evers, the Pan Hellenic Council deem it important to take an active interest in the preservation of Medgar Evers as a predominantly Black college. This is refreshing, since Pollard has claimed that he was not brought to Medgar Evers to head a Black college.
Rev. Al Sharpton stated in his address to the Caucus church goers at the Wilborn Temple in Albany, we have far too many among us who have title without responsibility; who are in positions of power, but are not standing for those made it possible for them to be in that position. Who serve more as a blockage to progress, than a conduit.
It appears that Pollard has been brought into this situation for that purpose; in a which he is not suited- at least not by our standards of quality (though he may well be serving the purposes of the chancellor). And since he was not brought here to be the president of a Black college; it may well have been a case of mistaken identity. He does look a lot like us. But there the similarity ends sharply: MEDGAR EVERS IS A BLACK COLLEGE. It was from the inception, and will continue to be so, despite his or Johnson's or Goldstein's efforts to the contrary.
Academic excellence is not born of destroying programs; it comes from bringing in quality faculty; it comes from providing a millieu of growth, exploration, creativity, and progressive programs. It does not come via demoralization an0d intimidation, inuendos and reprisals. It comes through attracting the brightest and the best via those who are already a beacon for the school; not undermining that beacon, and engendering the ire of an entire community.
A series of television broadcasts via Manhattan Neighborhood Network, (MNN), will further discuss these and other concerns roiling around Medgar Evers College. Check your satellite and cable listings for dates and times. (Of course I will post it as part of my even alert as soon as I have additional information.)
But the main point is this -- to Brooklynites, and all residents of New York, whether or not you have or ever plan to attend Medgar Evers College - this is yet another attack on a Black institution. This is another incursion into our community, with the aim and goal of decimating us, demoralizing us, and depriving us of something that we have worked hard for and built with blood, sweat, tears, pride and respect. My question to you is this: NOW THAT YOU KNOW, WHAT WILL YOU DO ABOUT IT?
To lend your support contact the firstname.lastname@example.org, contact your churches, elected officials, community based organizations, and make yourselves a committee of one to demand the cessation of the dismantling of Medgar Evers and the reinstatement of programs that have been unfairly curtailed; and the reinstatement of open enrollment for students in the Brooklyn community. You are the people with the power; this is your community; Medgar Evers came about as the result of your efforts. Stand up, be seen, be heard, be counted, be respected.
STAY BLESSED &