Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York (CUNY) was named after a slain civil rights hero and Black leader who spent his life fighting for the rights of all people to be included in the economic, social, political and educational mainstream of American society without bias or prejudice. The college that bears his name was founded to provide higher educational opportunities to the underserved urban populations of Central Brooklyn and beyond. Since its inception, Medgar Evers College (MEC) has been true to that mission. One of the ways it fulfills its mission is in the creation of centers within the college, which concentrate on specific population groups or academic disciplines: for example: the Center for Women’s Development or the Center for Black Literature.
One of the centers at MEC, the six-year-old Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, has been singled out for attack, severe criticism and special treatment. Ironically, and perhaps coincidentally, this center focuses on the population of students who have been formerly incarcerated but are now seeking to turn their lives around through the acquisition of a college education. For the past several weeks, there has been a continuing controversy between the Center for NuLeadership and the college’s newly appointed senior management staff, led by President William L. Pollard, Vice President Lloyd Blanchard and Provost Howard L. Johnson, over the legitimacy of the Center for NuLeadership and its funding. President Pollard referenced these issues in the July 8th issue of Our Time Press. It is imperative that we clarify and provide background information on these issues.
In “Summer News from Medgar Evers College,” Dr. Pollard writes about a funding grant proposal submitted by the Center for NuLeadership in January and the fact that “Provost Johnson received the [funding] proposal in May 2010 and raised in writing a series of questions reflecting the college’s legitimate concerns.” To be clear, there was no grant proposal submitted in January. The Center for NuLeadership was solicited by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services to begin a series of negotiations on a Court 2 College grant that would provide formerly incarcerated people with an opportunity to attend college. The proposal to which President Pollard is referring, is a draft proposal and the Center for NuLeadership attempted to meet with the president for several months to discuss the proposal. Furthermore, the Center for NuLeadership was provided with the provost’s questions related to the proposal on the same day that President Pollard sent a message re: nonresponse to questions on the proposal to the college community.
The college’s senior management team has used the request for authorization of the proposal as a basis for questioning the legitimacy and status of the Center for NuLeadership. The funding proposal has nothing to do with our application to be approved as a center. By mixing the two, the president has given the impression that the Center for NuLeadership is unwilling to cooperate with the provost. Nothing is further from the truth.
In April 2009, at the request of MEC’s former president, Dr. Edison O. Jackson, the Center for NuLeadership – with the assistance of the college’s legal counsel – submitted a formal written proposal to be recognized as a center within the college. The proposal was presented to the Medgar Evers College Council, the highest governing body within the college, and approved by a unanimous vote. The College Council instructed the former Provost to forward the proposal, with their recommendation for approval, to the CUNY Office of Academic Affairs, for final ratification by the CUNY Board of Trustees. This was never done. Provost Johnson, with the approval of senior management, has still refused to forward the approved proposal. Instead, he has drafted a series of questions and demanded that the Center for NuLeadership answer them before he forwards the proposal.
Simply put, the provost has decided to supersede the authority of the College Council and CUNY Central by disregarding the established CUNY guidelines for the establishment of centers and creating his own prerequisites for approval. The Center for NuLeadership has no objection to answering the provost’s questions, and will. However, it firmly maintains that the proposal should not be subjected to any additional prerequisites or requirements not asked of other centers, nor should its application be held hostage pending answers to these additional requirements. The College Council, not the provost, is the governing body of the college. It has already voted approval of the proposal. The provost cannot now impose further requirements and ignore the College Council’s mandate.
For over six years, the Center for NuLeadership has operated at Medgar Evers College with absolutely no problems. We were assigned an account with the Research Foundation of the City University of New York (RF), in the name of the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, for purposes of funding, payroll and other expenses. We have received extensive funding opportunities for the college and have always been self-sufficient in covering the costs of our staff, operations and programs. There has never been any question or issue with any of our grant proposals. We have always followed CUNY rules and regulations to the letter and have always complied with any and all of the “legitimate concerns” of the college to secure approval for these funds.
While the controversy focuses on the Center for NuLeadership, its outcome has broad implications for all of the Centers in the college and for the relationship between the College and the Central Brooklyn community. The centers were established to serve both the College and Central Brooklyn Community. When the college interferes with the governance and programmatic issues of the centers, this negatively impacts the community. Will the new managers of the college adhere to and respect the rules governing the college or will they continue to attempt to create their own rules, or change the college’s rules when those rules do not suit their purposes?
Based upon our six-year history at Medgar Evers, there are no reasons why the Center for NuLeadership’s proposal should not be sent to the CUNY Office of Academic Affairs immediately. There are no prerequisites involved. Sending our proposal to CUNY does not require approval of anyone at the college beyond the approvals already secured. Finally, there are no reasons why the president and the provost should not welcome the work that the Center for NuLeadership is doing as opposed to trying to curtail it.
Dr. Divine Pryor, Executive Director
Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions
Mr. Eddie Ellis, Deputy Director
Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions