Op-Ed: The Politics of the Medgar Evers College Presidency


Editor’s Note: This op-ed was received from The Committee to Protect the Mission and Integrity of Medgar Evers College, which includes a number of faculty and staff members. KCP is complying with their request to not name names as it could put their jobs at risk.  

On May 29, 2020, Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriquez posted on the CUNY website, a statement that President Rudolph Crew was retiring at the end of the 2021 academic year. To be specific, the Chancellor stated the following:

“I forged a friendship with President Rudy Crew during my tenure as president of Hostos Community College, and a collaboration that was centered on our mutual commitment to improving student outcomes. He took the reins at Medgar Evers in 2013, and harnessed his vast experience as an educator and administrator to restore a sense of mission and pride at the school. His Medgar Evers College Pipeline program, designed to ease the transition to college for high school students from under-performing schools, is the type of initiative that advances this University’s mission of extending educational opportunity to all.” 

This announcement sent jolts of surprise through the Medgar Evers College community since President Rudolph Crew had informed the college community that he was the sole finalist for a position as Superintendent of the DeKalb Country School District in Georgia and that he expected to begin the position on July 1, 2020. 

The President was subsequently rejected by the School Board for the position because of his record concerning bullying, mismanagement of funds and poor leadership. Given that faculty, staff, and student concerns re: violations of shared governance, bullying and intimidation as well as a decline in enrollment, retention and graduation, and the President’s failure to execute his strategic goals had plagued the Institution during his tenure, they were disturbed that the Chancellor would make this announcement without consulting the college community and would ignore continual requests through the 2019-2020 academic year to meet with faculty, students and staff with respect to their concerns. 

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) provides a statement on the evaluation of college presidents.  This evaluation is based on the significant contributions made by the president to the wellbeing of the College. Faculty, having served their institutions much longer than administrators, are significant stakeholders in the college community.  Their collective expertise gives them “primary responsibility” in such areas of academic governance as “curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, research, faculty status, and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process.”

Thus, the fact that the Chancellor affirmed his friendship with the President and the President’s Pipeline Program as indicators of his rationale for reappointing the President for a final year is extremely problematic. It is apparent that the President’s reappointment is based on something other than the wellbeing of the College.  

Benign neglect is an attitude or policy of ignoring an often delicate or undesirable situation that one is held to be responsible for dealing with. It appears that CUNY sees the Presidency of the College as a precarious situation and does not want to address it; this falls within the definition of benign neglect. The Chancellor’s reappointment of President Crew for another year despite documented evidence of his failed leadership and management, his disinvestment from the college, and votes of no confidence speak to benign neglect and politics. In short politics and benign neglect, rather than excellence and performance are being used to determine the qualifications for a President at Medgar Evers College, a predominantly Black college founded by community leaders, elected officials and residents of the central Brooklyn community.  

It is also indeed ironic that in the midst of the coronavirus the Chancellor has chosen to ignore and discount the requests of the faculty, staff and students at Medgar Evers College.  The impact of the coronavirus on Black and Brown people is devastating. It is killing Blacks and Latinos in NYC at twice the rate at which it is killing White New Yorkers. The death rate per 100,000: for Hispanics is 22; for Blacks is 20; and for Whites is 10.

In Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Flatbush, Kensington and East New York (ENY), neighborhoods from which many Medgar Evers students come, the death rates exceed 300 per hundred thousand.  CUNY has always celebrated its diversity. In fact, diversity is considered central to CUNY’s mission and has been institutionalized in New York State law as a condition of the university’s funding. Therefore, during this current crisis, it is important that CUNY’s diversity and inclusion mission is protected, preserved, and advanced and that the impact of the coronavirus on CUNY’s communities of color are carefully examined.  

CUNY’s decision to reappoint a President with a record of failed leadership as the College plans for the upcoming semester during this coronavirus is unacceptable; the need for effective rather than lame duck leadership is critical.  The reappointment of a President whose record demonstrates a lack of strong and competent leadership is antithetical to CUNY’s mission to protect communities of color.

Let’s examine the facts re: the President’s leadership and his stewardship of the College.

  1. President Rudolph Crew and his leadership team have failed to achieve and evaluate the goals of his five-year strategic plan (2015 – 2020): a 25% increase in enrollment; a 25% increase in retention; a 25% increase in graduation rates; a 25% increase in internships; and a fundraising goal of $25 million over five years.  
  2. Student enrollment is at an all-time low. It decreased from 6,765 in (F’ 2015) to 5,708 in (F’2019).  
  3. The number of Full-time Equivalencies (FTEs) decreased from 5130 to 4588, thus negatively impacting the College’s budget which is driven by FTEs and tuition.
  4. The current number of incoming freshmen is 1900 compared to 2300 at this time in 2019 and 2700 at this time in 2018.*
  5. The College has the lowest graduation rates (10.3% the lowest in CUNY) for senior colleges from college of entry in CUNY
  6. One-year retention rates for first time freshmen (FTF) decreased from 58.4% in F2014 to 51.1% in F’2018.  The College has the lowest FTF retention rates among senior colleges in CUNY.
  7. Enrollment for First Time Freshmen (FTF) who participated in partner schools through the Pipeline or College Now decreased from 16.3 to 12.6 in Fall 2018 over three years, the lowest among the CUNY senior colleges.
  8. There is a budget deficit and on GIVING TUESDAY, Medgar raised $853.000, the lowest amount in CUNY.
  9. Faculty and staff overwhelmingly (95%) voted No Confidence in President Crew and his leadership team.  
  10. Over 700 students signed a petition calling for the resignation of President Rudolph Crew and Provost Augustine Okereke.  
  11. Tutors in the Writing Center were reduced to 4 tutors (from 10 in past years). Tutors in the Learning Center were reduced to 25 (from 50 to 100 in past years).
  12. Full-time faculty decreased from 268 in (2014) to 237 in (2019) while the number of managerial and executive level positions increased from 187 in (2014) to 218 in (2019). 

We are gravely concerned about the future of Medgar Evers College and request that politics, benign neglect, and friendship not determine its future.  We ask the Chancellor for following:

  1. The immediate resignation of President Rudolph Crew;
  2. A meeting with the Committee on the Mission to Protect the Integrity of Medgar Evers College no later than June 15, 2020; and
  3. The appointment of an Interim President who has institutional history and who will collaborate with the college community to create a college culture that embraces social justice, shared governance, integrity, and transparency while supporting students, faculty, and staff.  This appointment should occur by July 1, 2020.

The Committee to Protect the Mission and Integrity of Medgar Evers College. On Behalf of Concerned Faculty, Staff and Students