In an open letter published this afternoon, Associate Professor of English at the CUNY campus Queensborough Community College Susan Jacobowitz describes better than I can the QCC situation that has been unfolding since September.
The latest complication was a vote, just before Hurricane Sandy, by the members of the English Department to remove their Chair and replace her with another from the department. The president of the college has now rejected the elected replacement.
Dr. Jacobowitz writes that, at a delayed meeting with the department that was finally held this past Tuesday:
Pres. Call announced that she would not approve of the faculty’s choice of David Humphries as chair. The reasons given were:
- That the department was deeply divided. Since the vast majority of the department had supported the new chair, this caused some confusion.
- That the department was under the influence of “outside forces” and that these forces (unspecified) had been involving themselves with the business of the English Department. Since the only consultations any of us knew of were with the union for advice about academic freedom issues related to our departmental vote, again there was confusion.
- That the department needed to “heal,” “feel safe” and “move forward,” which she decided could not be accomplished by recognizing the elected chair of the department and could not be accomplished with any elected chair from the English Department.
Please read Dr. Jacobowitz’s full letter. Here is the entire text (reproduced with permission):
Some of you may not be aware of the unusual events that have taken place in the English Department recently, many of which touch on critical issues of faculty governance that have broad implications for all of us at Queensborough Community College. We want to share our story with you because what is happening in the English Department affects all QCC faculty and we need your support.
Our vote not to change the number of contact hours for English 101 and English 102 was followed by Karen Steele’s e-mail threatening to shut down the English Department, scheduling no classes and giving notice of non-reappointment to all faculty (tenured, untenured and adjunct). Subsequently, the English Department utilized a provision in the Bylaws to recall the chair. The recall was not motivated by personal issues but by a concern with transparency, communication and direction.
Before the recall vote took place, President Diane Call invited faculty to meet with her in two groups, tenured and untenured. She noted in her invitation that the meetings were voluntary. At the meeting, It was suggested that the college would be willing to spend up to $40,000 on mediation services. the faculty who attended the meeting expressed their opinions then, and did not think the need to have an outside mediator.
During the recall supervised by the Faculty Executive Committee, the department voted overwhelmingly in favor of a change in leadership. Out of 30 full-time faculty members, over 20 voted for the recall and over 20 faculty members voted for David Humphries, the deputy chair of the department, to be the new chair. He ran unopposed. The following day, October 25th, David was invited to meet with Pres. Call.
Two days after the recall, on October 26, Pres. Call summoned the English Department faculty to a meeting. This meeting was postponed until Tuesday, November 6th because of Hurricane Sandy. During the meeting, Pres. Call announced that she would not approve of the faculty’s choice of David Humphries as chair. The reasons given were:
1) That the department was deeply divided. Since the vast majority of the department had supported the new chair, this caused some confusion.
2) That the department was under the influence of “outside forces” and that these forces (unspecified) had been involving themselves with the business of the English Department. Since the only consultations any of us knew of were with the union for advice about academic freedom issues related to our departmental vote, again there was confusion.
3) That the department needed to “heal,” “feel safe” and “move forward,” which she decided could not be accomplished by recognizing the elected chair of the department and could not be accomplished with any elected chair from the English Department.
To facilitate said healing, Sheena Gillespie, the former chair of the English Department, has been asked to assume the administrative functions of chair temporarily, without serving on the departmental P&B. A national search will be held to bring in a chair. In the meantime, Interim Vice President Karen Steele, the same person who recently threatened to eliminate our department, will present English faculty for reappointment to the college-wide P&B. When it was suggested by some faculty members that this could be seen as inappropriate or insensitive, they were thanked for their comments and feedback, as were we all when we expressed our shock, dismay and outrage.
The English Department remains committed to the belief that the best way to move forward as a department would be with the recognition of our elected chair. The question was raised whether or not after several months, when our “healing” has taken place, we might not elect a chair. Again, we were told that the decision has been made to keep someone in place to sign things while instituting a national search for a chair. A whole generation of dedicated faculty who have devoted their careers to Queensborough and to CUNY are not considered eligible to either be chair or to elect a chair. The “why” of this was never explained to us. As faculty members pointed out, all we can infer is that this is punishment and retribution for daring to recall a chair and that this will send a strong message to other departments that if they ever do feel that they need this kind of redress, they should know that they will never be able to to elect and have recognized one of their own to serve as chair. Ideally, in a department, to build strength and leadership experience and depth, faculty should serve as chair in rotation. We do not know when the prohibition against electing a chair or trying to serve as chair from within the English Department will be lifted, if ever.
There are no specific objections to or allegations against David Humphries, who was democratically elected to serve as chair in keeping with all of the requirements of the Bylaws. He has a sterling reputation and has earned the respect of all who have worked with him. He has emerged as a strong leader committed to CUNY, Queensborough, all of those who serve within the department and, perhaps most importantly, students. Near the end of the meeting President Call expressed her disappointment that the department — while in the process of recalling a chair and electing a new one — had not acted to move forward to accept the latest administration proposal for curricular change, replacing the recitation hour we have now with a conference hour that would preserve our workload but perhaps prove quite detrimental to students. This made it fairly clear that another punishment was being levelled against the department because of the vote that we took in September.
This does not bode well for the future of the English Department and perhaps for the future of many or all departments at Queensborough. Most of the faculty in our department feel shocked and dismayed that faculty governance has been and can be completely disregarded in this manner. Far from instigating “healing,” this action on the part of Pres. Call has greatly compromised and endangered our ability to move forward as a functioning department. We would prefer to begin the process of healing [repair] by uniting behind our democratically elected chair.
Dr. Susan Jacobowitz
Department of English
Queensborough Community College
The City Unniversity of New York