By Marcus Ayala
The New York City Council held a hearing on higher educational and specifically the City University of New York, known as CUNY. The hearing addressed African-American Studies and the hiring of black faculty in the university’s colleges.
The chair of the City Council’s Committee on Higher Education, Inez D.Barron, and council member Robert F.Holden said they didn’t believe CUNY is as diverse as they claim to be.
CUNY Interim Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz said she believes CUNY is “Arguably most diverse university in world. We can’t be the university we strive to be without diversity.” She said diversity helps everyone.
Statistics given by Lehman College President Jose Luis Cruz indicated that, from 2010-2017, CUNY went from having 32.3 percent minorities enrolled to having 35.9 percent enrolled. Cruz said that half of CUNY’s undergraduate presidents are Black or Hispanic, with 44 percent of new hires being minorities, compared to 30 percent in 2013.
Rabinowitz said, “CUNY graduate school students are the most diverse nationwide.” City College, Brooklyn, Hunter and Lehman Colleges all have programs trying to help with diversity. The Rockefeller foundation donated $666,666 to CUNY’s diversity programs, it was said.
Among the four-year CUNY colleges offering Africana Studies (also called Black Studies) are Brooklyn, City College, College of Staten Island, and Lehman and Hunter Colleges.
Cruz said that the Lehman student body represents over 121 different countries and has the largest Hispanic enrollment in CUNY. However, he admitted, “We know we can and must do better.”
The next speaker was Claudia V. Schrader, who is the new president of Kingsborough Community College and is African-American. Schrader said that she started her college education at Rutgers in 1986 where she was a journalism major. She said she was the only black person in most classes and was overlooked until she changed her major to Africana Studies. She said, “Africana Studies can help others the way it helped me.”
Council chair Barron wasn’t impressed and offered statistics she had gathered herself. She said of all the new hires of professors, 47 were white and only 14 were black. According to Barron, professors at Lehman are 69 percent white, at Hunter and City Colleges they are 60 percent white and at Queens 57 percent white. Rabinowitz tried to defend CUNY, but Barron said, “Twelve percent of full-time new hires are black.” She said here were no blacks at the highest levels of the system.
City Council member Robert Holden worked at City Tech for over 28 years and is familiar with the system. He believed City Tech had made “No effort to recruit black faculty,” even though “most of our students were black.”
Holden said he believes that CUNY as a whole is seeing a flatline and not an increases in the number of minority professors. He said, “CUNY presidents aren’t getting the memo.” Both Barron and Holden said they believe CUNY presidents should interview all new faculty hires.
A woman who showed her disdain for the system in place was Brenda Greene, who is the chair of the English department at Medgar Evers College. Medgar Evers students are 84.7 percent black and the college doesn’t have a Black Studies major. (Though some CUNY college’s have Black Studies programs, CUNY doesn’t have a Black Studies master’s program.)
Greene said she believes this needs to be changed. Owen Brown, who is a sociology professor at Medgar Evers, agreed.
Someone who felt the pain of discrimination in the CUNY system first-hand was Mallory Small of City Tech. She said she has spent 17 years as an adjunct professor. Queensborough Community College denied her a full-time position after doing all that she had been told to do, she said.
She said she felt betrayed and had threatened to take the colleges to court after they hired others with less qualifications than she. She said she was told she’d be given a full-time position if she dropped the case but she refused.
She said she tried her luck with BMCC (Borough of Manhattan Community College) and they hired three white men over her, though she maintains she was more qualified. She said, “I have nothing to lose at this point.”
She closed out saying, “We need to all come together and find a solution.”