June will mark a new phase in Medgar Evers College (MEC) history: a new president will likely be named who will hopefully put MEC back on the path of academic achievement. But before the new president arrives, CUNY Chancellor Goldstein has directed that the School Governance Plan (SGP) — last updated in 1992 — be brought in compliance with current open meeting law. Vice Chancellor Frederick Schaffer has been appointed by Goldstein to draft an Interim Governance Plan (IGP) that would consistently achieve a quorum in order to function effectively. The final IGP will be presented to the CUNY Board of Trustees in June so that MEC will have a functioning governance council in September which will review the IGP in a year for permanent completion under the leadership of the new president.
Schaffer addressed a meeting of various MEC constituencies, telling the group that the CUNY Board of Trustees is mindful that for the past several years “governance at MEC was not operating well.” Almost every other CUNY school has amended their governance plan to comply with a Court of Appeals decision requiring CUNY colleges to comply with state open meeting law. MEC’s 1992 document is complex, and there number of vacancies making it difficult to obtain quorum to get the school’s business done.
Schaffer said his first draft came from the original and he took ideas from other CUNY College Council plans.
Senate Faculty member Dr. Sallie Cuffee questioned the legality of the meeting itself for being in compliance with the 1992 document. In addition, she pointed out that Shaffer emailed his IGP around 6:30pm the day before, leaving little time for stake holders to scrutinize the document before the meeting. Schaffer acknowledged the late transmission but stressed that time was of the essence as June is fast approaching.
“The Chancellor gave me the task of constructing a first draft of an IGP that would preserve as much as possible some of the traditional structures that are part of the old governance plan, but at the same time would achieve a more effective plan. That is the goal,” said Schaffer. “There is no ulterior motive in term of changing balances of power,” said Schaffer, “and I do know that no governance plan — no matter how good or perfect — can work unless there is good will and coming together for the college to achieve what’s necessary to move the college forward.”
Schaffer kept stressing the bottom line. “You need a new governance plan that works. A new president needs to be able to partner with you in ways that are effective,” he said. “This can’t wait. It would be a grave tragedy if this didn’t get done before a new president arrives and there is not an effective way for that person to work with faculty and student body and other members of the staff.”
Dr. Senen Vivero suggested electing a committee chair and later in the meeting was himself elected to that position (putting to rest Dr. Cuffee’s procedural questions about the role of MEC Counsel Valerie Kennedy in convening and running the group). Vivero suggested the group needed time to review the plan in order to suss out what was stricken or not included from the original document.
Dr. Amor welcomed the change in the governance plan and said “the Faculty Senate was one of the main instigators in why we haven’t been able to do things.” He was called out by Dr. Cuffee for not having attended any Faculty Senate meetings.
Employee Beverly Tarver also said she needed time to review the IGP, but looking it over she wondered why classified civil service employees were eliminated from the IGP. Schaffer said he was trying to reduce the size and complexity of the College Council, while making it more faculty dominated. He said he did so not out of lack of respect, but because the current amendment process is truncated, with a more deliberative process available over the next year.
Dr. John Flateau reminded the group about the June timetable being imposed upon the process. “If we at this college are going to maintain some of our own autonomy and self-determination,” said Flateau, “then we need to move to conduct our business.”
Dr. Clinton Crawford asked on behalf of students present why the number of students on the College Council was reduced in the IGP from 23 to 3 students. MEC student Evangeline Byars said she was concerned about the plan to greatly reduce the number of students on the College Council. Addressing Schaffer, Byars said, “It is very concerning and alarming that you are trying to remove the student voice from the governance process. I think that is something the committee needs to look at. It was not the students who were the reason why you have not been able to move with the [school’s] business. It has been because there has been division because you won’t give us an interim president but you are trying to give us an interim governance plan.” She added, “The students need to continue to have a voice.”
Schaffer’s IGP reduces the size of the College Council overall, primarily be decreasing the number of non-faculty (administrators, staff and students), thereby making it easier to achieve a quorum and to conduct deliberations. This will also result in making the faculty a higher percentage of the membership similar to most other CUNY campuses. In addition, the IGP provides for the election of alternates, thereby making it easier to achieve quorum.
The past few years have seen an unprecedented level of distrust among various constituencies at Medgar Evers College. The school is now turning a corner with new leadership pending. A good faith, transparent IGP would help lay a strong foundation to move the school forward. The challenge is to get it finalized within the next couple of months. The MEC community has risen above other challenges and will rise above this one, too.