The CUNY administration may have been forced to back down (for now) from their threats to dismantle the Queensborough Community College English Department, but they’ve launched a new attack in their effort to bring the rebellious department to heel.
On October 24 the QCC English faculty voted to remove chair Linda Reesman. Throughout the department’s battle over the administration’s Pathways initiative, many faculty regarded Reesman as an administration ally and an impediment to effective organization on behalf of the faculty’s interests.
The vote to remove Reesman was lopsided, as was the vote in favor of her replacement, deputy chair David Humphries. But at a meeting on November 6, QCC president Diane Call informed the department that she would not endorse Humphries’ appointment. Instead, a former faculty member would be brought on to perform the chairs administrative functions while the administration conducted a “national search” for a new chair.
According to a memo from one QCC faculty member (page one, page two), President Call justified the decision by claiming that the department was “deeply divided” over the chair issue, and that they had been improperly influenced by “outside forces.” According to my sources, however, the vote to remove Reesman was 21-7, and the subsequent vote to install Humphries was at least as decisive. And the only “outside forces” the faculty had consulted with during the process were their labor union representatives.
Compounding the faculty’s fear and outrage over this move is the fact that the administration’s chosen chair will not, according to President Call, be representing the department in hiring, tenure, and promotion matters in the Queensboro Personnel and Budget Committee. Instead those duties will be performed by interim vice president Karen Steele, the very administrator whose threats to dismantle the QCC English Department sparked the current scandal.
One final chlling insult: According to the faculty memo linked above, current QCC faculty will not even be eligible for consideration for the department chair position in the upcoming national search.
This attack on academic freedom and faculty governance has implications far beyond Queensborough. The Pathways dispute is heating up in departments across CUNY, and if the administration is able to bully QCC English, other departments throughout the system will think twice about standing up for themselves and their students.
This isn’t just a scandal. It’s a crisis.
Tuesday Update | The CUNY Advocate is reporting that QCC president Diane Call has reversed her decision to reject David Humphries as chair of the college’s English Department. More when I get it.
Second Update | Diane Call has sent an email confirming the news of her reversal to QCC faculty:
It is my decision to accept the recommendation forwarded by the English Department for Dr. David Humphries to serve as its Chairperson, effective November 14, 2012.
In a lengthy meeting with Dr. Humphries yesterday, he expressed his willingness and ability to advance the important work of the English Department in curricular and personnel matters. I have confidence in and appreciate his sincerity to unite the department as a community, in the best interests of the College and our students.
As the GC Advocate notes, Call’s email is silent on the question of whether she is similarly reversing her decision to appoint interim vice president Karen Steele to represent the English Department on the QCC Personnel and Budget Committee in place of the department’s chair.
This is, nonetheless, very good news.