By: Tony Best
To elected officials in central Brooklyn, whether at the federal, state or local government levels, Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York is much more than another tertiary level school.
It’s a launching pad for the attainment of the educational aspirations of thousands of residents, an essential rung to climb the ladder of economic and social success.
“Many of our parents look to Medgar Evers College for the tertiary level education of their children and therefore what happens there is of crucial importance to them and to us as people’s representatives,” said U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke. “It’s important that the school is well-placed to give our children the education they need to get ahead in the 21st century.”
So, when the public figures noticed that student performance was slipping at the four-year school, they wanted not simply to know why but what was being done about it by CUNY. And they sought and eventually secured a meeting, brokered by Congresswoman Clarke with CUNY’s top leaders, including the Board of Trustees, the Chancellor and the senior vice chancellors to discuss progress or lack of it at the school, a majority of whose 7,000 students m trace the roots of their family tree to the Caribbean.
And while many of the officials left the session describing it as a “good meeting” they are taking a wait-and-see attitude about the crucial issue – steps to improve student performance.
“It’s clear that during the past two years, the college hasn’t met the benchmarks in almost every category of the CUNY evaluation process,” said Clarke. “The performance is a clear indication that the recent changes made at the college haven’t worked and that reflects on the management of the school, pure and simple.”
A key change in recent years was in the president’s office which is now occupied by Dr. William Pollard who succeeded Dr. Edison Jackson, an administrator who was widely credited with taking the school from a poor performing educational institution to one that brought smiles to the faces of parents, graduating students and faculty. During the Jackson tenure Medgar experienced rapid expansion in facilities and academic offerings and even pioneered an effort to encourage more young Black males to return to the classroom. Another change in evidence was conflict between the school’s top management and some of its faculty, a contentious situation that was characterized by calls for change at the top.
As if to add to the problems, elected representatives complained that communication with CUNY had left much to be desired.
“Many of us felt disrespected,” asserted State Senator Kevin Parker. “Requests were made for meetings and we often didn’t hear from CUNY central. Medgar Evers is important to all of us and in the past there was an ease of communication. But in recent times that situation changed. That’s why we are anxious to clear the air and to discuss the substantive issues.”
State Senator Parker said that while the problem of communication between the central Brooklyn community, CUNY and the college might be on its way to being resolved and the session turned out to be useful, the crucial questions about college performance weren’t answered effectively.
“We didn’t get an adequate response on the performance issues,” was the way he put it. “But now that Congresswoman Clarke has effectively opened the door with CUNY we must wait and see how things developed.”
Jay Hershenson, CUNY’s Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations, described the meeting as being “healthy” and vibrant.
“It was conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect and forthrightness,” he said. “We were candid” with each other. “We have every respect and high regard for Congresswoman Clarke and other elected officials and we were happy with the way in which the discussions were held.”
Hershenson told the Carib News that like all campuses and their presidents, the performance of Medgar Evers, its students and Dr. Pollard were being evaluated and the review was expected to be completed by the end of August.
“Our discussions about the college were aimed at enhancing the school and improving the performance of students and the facilities,” he said. “When the evaluation is completed that’s when we would be able to judge the school’s progress. The review is a very important part of the overall evaluation and it is being used with Dr. Pollard to review CUNY’s goals and Dr. Pollard’s. It is fair to say that the Performance Management Program is being used across the CUNY system” and Medgar Evers and Dr. Pollard were no exceptions.
It is understood that as Dr. Pollard’s five year contract is nearing its end and CUNY must consider whether to renew it.
"Much of the progress made at Medgar Evers College has taken place on the facilities front,” said Hershenson. “But much good work is needed on the academic front. Medgar Evers is moving to the next stage of its development and CUNY is committed” to its future growth and development.
“The elected officials are vital to the growth of the college,” was the way he put it.
A question which awaits an answer is what happens next for Dr. Pollard, does he remain with a renewed contract or will he depart.
The answer must await the evaluation process.