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College Chaos: Medgar Evers College's Mission in Question

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By Herb Boyd, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

As Eric Daniels was grieving for his surrogate father, professor William Daly, last October, he went to lunch with William L. Pollard, president of Medgar Evers College.

Pollard had recently become president of the college after replacing Edison Jackson, the longtime leader of the college whose larger-than-life personality left a large imprint on the school.

Daniels went to the lunch with an open, if not somewhat skeptical mind. “I thought that was a generous gesture on his part,” Daniels said during a recent interview, “but I had some other things on my mind.”

After some pleasantries about Daly, who was a librarian specialist in the college’s archives, Daniels got down to brass tacks, grilling the president on why he was dismantling certain programs. “I wanted to know why he was supposedly fixing things that weren’t broke,” Daniels began. “It was like dismantling the Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan was there.”

Daniels, 45, was particularly incensed by the turmoil swirling around the NuLeadership program, where he has been a student for two years.

“To think that this program was in jeopardy was one of the things I pressed the president on,” Daniels continued, “but he kind of blew me off. He practically admitted to me that he had no plans for that program or any others related to Black males on campus.”

In a recent full-page ad in the New York Amsterdam News, Pollard, while not directly addressing Daniels’ charges, offered another take on his plans for the college, which include strengthening the quality of education at the school. “We must make academic and administrative decisions based on careful, honest evaluations of how our programs impact our students,” he wrote.

Moreover, he continued, “We are proud of the good work of many of the college’s approved centers and institutes. Supplementing instruction by means of research and community service is a vital part of a quality educational institution. Centers and institutes will only be born after rigorous review and approval by the college’s governance process, the president and chancellor’s endorsements, and finally the CUNY (City University of New York) Board of Trustees’ affirmation.”

But, despite this apparent public support for centers, the directors of some of the most high profile centers on campus worry that Daniels has the president’s number, and that he is less than forthright with them, and that neither he nor CUNY’s central administration are really behind their efforts. The directors say that since the current administration’s arrival, they have never received a definitive response as to how they view centers. In fact, when the administration was reminded that the centers were an integral part of the core mission of the college, the directors were told that the mission needed to be changed.

“Changed” is the operative word for several programs that have been at the center of the academic maelstrom at Medgar Evers. Along with the eviction notice from the college to the seven-year-old Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, which is directed by Eddie Ellis and Dr. Divine Pryor, the college’s Senior Vice President and Provost, Howard Johnson has also reportedly eliminated the Writing Center and the Center for Teaching and Learning. The directors of the Dubois Center and the nationally recognized Center for Black Literature have also come under fire.

The charges leveled by faculty members include the refusal of the administration to sign off on grants for faculty and students’ research, and the denial of job reappointment of faculty and staff members.

Dr. Brenda Greene, a full professor at the college, heads up the prestigious Center for Black Literature, which hosts the annual National Black Writers Conference, discussed her sudden lack of institutional support under the Pollard administration.

“I wrote a proposal for an NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] for the National Black Writers Conference, a conference which has attracted writers such as the Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Walter Mosley, Ishmael Reed, Sonia Sanchez, Alice Walker, John Edgar Wideman, Cornel West, and Kamau Brathwaite. The provost initially refused to sign off on it, and eventually did so, but only after extensive negotiations.”

The administration seems to downplay the value of having such notables on campus and much of the work that the centers accomplish. In fact, the provost’s refusal to sign off on this proposal, as well as several other cases, seems to stem from his belief that the centers and the work they accomplish directs professors away from the classroom.

Recently, according to a faculty member who wished to remain anonymous, Johnson refused to sign off on a grant that would provide $15,000 in stipends to student research projects and other grants related to faculty and student research.

When the administration was asked to respond to some of the faculty’s claims, the reporter was referred to a college spokesperson, which dispatched several memorandums that were an apparent attempt to clarify their position on several of the more controversial issues.

In a statement released by the college’s Office of Communications on the day after Christmas, Pollard said, “We will not allow special interests to deter this administration from making the necessary changes designed to ensure the academic integrity and fiscal soundness of Medgar Evers College. … We will continue to serve the needs of this diverse population through our academic programs and relevant centers.”

The memorandum seems to take direct aim at the Center for NuLeadership, which the administration was forcing to vacate its office space as of Dec. 30, 2010. The Center for NuLeadership has been working to facilitate the re-entry of the formerly incarcerated into society through the education process. The provost’s letter gave a vague explanation for his lack of support for the much-needed work done by the center for the Black community. “This decision,” the request stated, “arose out of legal, substantive, and procedural concerns about the actions of NuLeadership.”

Furthermore, the college took steps to recover what they claimed were computers that belonged to the college. Pryor and Ellis challenged that claim, insisting that the computers were theirs. That argument was settled recently when the college admitted that they did not own the computers that were seized in December during an after-hours raid by the administration on the center.

A check of manufacturers’ records confirmed that the computers belonged to Pryor and Kate Kjung Ji Rhee, and that they were purchased long before their affiliation with Medgar Evers.

“We always knew the computers were owned by us and were confident that the law would ultimately be on our side,” Pryor said in a statement to the press. “This is another step towards justice for us against a Medgar Evers College administration with an utter contempt for civility and law.”

And as the administration seems to bungle their relationship with the Center for NuLeadership, and misses out on an opportunity to help a much-needed segment of the Black population, there are also complaints about how the administration has handled other faculty issues. One instructor at the college noted that Medgar Evers, though being one of the smallest colleges in CUNY, has the most contract grievances filed against it.

“They can’t be trusted,” said Ellis, when asked about the administration’s integrity and sensitivity. “It’s not about sensitivity; it’s about integrity, which they don’t possess.” Feeling they are not getting a fair hearing from the administration, and wanting to stop the eviction, Ellis and Pryor took their case to court, and a date has been scheduled for early February, according to an e-mail from Ellis.

“Without a single piece of tangible evidence, the administrators have proclaimed that formerly incarcerated students are a ‘threat to the security of the college and an insurance liability.”

In an earlier and related press release, Ellis said, “In an unprecedented series of events, Provost Johnson has refused to recognize the Center for NuLeadership as a legal entity within the college. He has blocked the center from receiving future funding for re-entry programs, refused to process and disperse their existing approved funding and defied the MEC College Council’s instructions to forward to CUNY Central their recommendation that NuLeadership on Urban Solutions be recognized as a fully functioning center.”

In their own defense, the college’s leaders have said “there is not, nor has there ever been, a Medgar Evers College policy enacted that penalizes any prospective or current student who has been incarcerated. Our issue is the steadfast resistance of NuLeadership to adequately address the legal, substantive and procedural requirements of the college and the university.”

NuLeadership has been a campus presence since 2004. It began its operation during the tenure of former President Edison Jackson, who invited them to set up the program in 2003 to work, ostensibly, as a project under the auspices of the Medgar Evers Center for Law and Social Justice. After five year of showing its viability on campus, the Executive Committee of the Medgar Evers College Council approved the official establishment of the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, according to a statement from the center.

The collective policies and actions of Pollard and Johnson prompted the faculty to issue a vote of no confidence for both administrators. Out of 66 members of the faculty, 59 voted no when given a choice of backing Pollard’s policies, abstaining or supporting them at a late December meeting of the college’s faculty at Medgar. This was one of the largest faculty votes in recent years. Recent faculty votes were 35 in (’08), 35 in (’09) and 24 in (’10) for the faculty senate. The fact that 59 faculty members of the relatively small permanent faculty gave the administration a vote of no confidence shows the dissatisfaction that the faculty feels towards the administration.

In late December, faculty, students, and community leaders formed the Medgar Evers Coalition for Academic Excellence and Mission Integrity. The coalition has taken positions on the leadership, student support services and the Center for NuLeadership, and called for a number of actions, including the resignation of Johnson, the restoration of student support services, the redistribution of resources from consultants to students, the rescinding of the eviction of the Center for NuLeadership, the restoration of open enrollment, the creation of a pipeline for students who need support, and the restoration of full support for the highly praised Medgar Evers Preparatory School’s Dual Enrollment Program, which would enable high school students to take college-level courses.

And, what has been the general reaction by students on campus to the turmoil? “Most students are not that aware of the situation,” said Cory Provost, a student trustee who attends Brooklyn College. “But, those who are aware want to be involved in whatever changes occur at the college.”

Those changes may be among several greeting the students when they return for the spring semester.

An Inner-City School Where Attendance Pays – Literally

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By Rebecca S. Rivas, Special to the NNPA from The St. Louis American –

How does an inner-city principal get her elementary students and their families to commit to attendance and good behavior?

An incentive of $300 is a good start, as Principal Natalie Means of Jefferson Elementary, in St. Louis, discovered.

In the fall, Jefferson Elementary offered 25 newly enrolled students $300, if they achieved 95 percent attendance, were not suspended, and their guardians attended three out of four Parent Teacher Organization meetings by the end of the fall semester.

The families also had to live in one of the surrounding rental areas - Residences at Murphy Park, O'Fallon Place, and Carr Square neighborhood - all developed by McCormack Baron Salazar company. Its partnering management company, McCormack Baron Ragan, funded the incentive program through an overseeing nonprofit group, Urban Strategies Inc.

Nearly 80 percent of the 25 students made the grade.

Means compared a group of non-participating students to the students working towards the incentive. Non-participating students missed an average of 2.8 days this semester, while students in the program missed an average of 1.5 days. Nearly half of the students enrolled in the program - 42 percent - nailed a perfect attendance record, compared to 25 percent of non-participating students.

National studies confirm that this type of incentive program works. However, with consistent state budget cuts, incentives are far from most principals' minds.

For Jefferson Elementary, McCormack Baron Salazar has kept a close watch on its progress for many years.

In 1998, McCormack Baron Salazar built Residences at Murphy Park, which neighbors the school. Soon after, Richard Baron, chairman and CEO of the McCormack Baron companies, raised about $4 million to revamp the school to entice neighborhood residents to enroll their children in it.

Since then, the company has supported the school in various activities by working with Urban Strategies, Inc. to implement them. This year, Kate Casas, project manager for the group, met with Means about her goals for the school year and what would help her to achieve them. Means told Casas that she wanted to focus on enrollment, attendance, and behavior.

Last year, Jefferson became an art-focused pilot school, or a school that runs autonomously within the St. Louis Public School District. Despite marketing and neighborhood canvassing, Means did not reach her enrollment goals in 2009, she said.

Casas found a 2010 study conducted by Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr., which found that paying students for reading books, good behavior, and attendance had significant results, particularly with minority populations.

However, paying kids for test scores and grades did not produce results. Fryer conducted experiments in four urban school settings: Dallas, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City. In all, 18,000 students in more than 250 urban schools participated in his trials.

Even if the program at Jefferson didn't produce results in all students, it left them with a valuable lesson.

This semester, three African-American children from one family entered in the program. The two younger siblings succeeded, but the sixth-grade boy did not. The family had just moved from Mississippi, where they enjoyed a more rural lifestyle. A few weeks into the school year, Everest Wright, 13, got into a fight and was suspended.

"I was having a little bit of an off day," Wright said. "Someone said something to me, and I flipped out."

When he got home, he instantly realized the severity of his actions. But, it really hit him at Christmas time.

"I saw my momma take my brother and sister to the store and pick out their presents, and I thought, ‘That could have been me,'" he said. "A lesson did come out of that. Before I start fighting, I try to think about it first. Is it worth it?"

His sister, third-grader Diamond Lofton, bought a Nintendo system, a new coat and several clothes with her money. Wright had to put his present on layaway.

Every other week, Casas and two Washington University students would mail home letters to the families to inform them about their status of succeeding. With some families, a letter was all it took. But, for others, they made home visits to offer any assistance and resources to help the guardians and students achieve their goals.

The process increased the trust level that parents had for the school, Means said, particularly for families who had negative experiences with their previous schools.

"We were all positively impacted by this," Means said. "I think a barrier was broken. They saw us as partners and not someone that was invading their space and looking for problems to go report. I would love to do it again."

Last month, Urban Strategies president Sandra Moore and Baron congratulated the families who completed the program at the school.

Urban Strategies plans on offering the incentives again with a goal of 125 children next time.

Smiley Convenes Dialogue on America's Future

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By Dorothy Rowley, Special to the NNPA from the AFRO-American Newspapers –

Public Broadcasting Service personality Tavis Smiley is on a mission to help America hold on to its legacy as a global leader.

After suffering through two costly wars, a faltering economy, failing public education, and continued job losses, Americans are worried about the country’s ability to hold on to its greatness, according to Smiley.

To zero in on these and other problems, Smiley recently brought his nationally-televised town hall meeting format to the nation’s capital with a group of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial panelists to ponder America’s future.

The conversation, which was held at George Washington University, was broadcast by C-SPAN on several occasions. The event followed Smiley’s lauded series of “State of the Black Union” presentations.

Prior to the event, Smiley told the AFRO that the dialogue—which brought together Democrats and Republicans—was about efforts to put the country back on the right track.

Citing a recent poll in which more than half of the Americans interviewed said they felt America’s better days are behind it, Smiley said, “it’s all just unacceptable.”

Smiley added that, as far as he knows there are no Black people who are better off today than they were two years ago, and said President Obama’s stimulus package should have been much larger.

“When he controlled the House and the Senate, he didn’t get a bigger package and he should have fought for that,” Smiley said of the president. However, stimulus funding from Washington has mostly been dished out to states when it should have gone straight to the cities to help alleviate poverty-in urban communities, according to Smiley.

As for the state of Black America, Smiley said. “This is our last chance to get it right…and if we can’t count on Barack Obama to help us get it, we’re in trouble.”

Economic Punishment Vote May Determine 2012 Campaign

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By Tom Risen, NNPA Correspondent –

Frustration with the economy is former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty’s main explanation for Republican losses in 2008 and his prediction for 2012, as he considers a run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Pawlenty is currently on a multi-city media blitz for his book “Courage To Stand”, which outlines the loss of “strong-back jobs” that do not require college degrees as key to voter decision making in 2012, during his appearance in the nation’s capital at the National Press Club (NPC).

Pawlenty had been considered as the running mate for Republican presidential candidate Arizona Senator John McCain in 2008. However, he does not believe the result would have been different had he been chosen instead of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. “After the economy cratered in 2008, I think whoever the running mate had been was going to lose,” Pawlenty told the crowd. “And, I think we’re going to see more of that this time around.”

Pawlenty appealed to “restore American common sense” by not increasing government spending, which he feared could increase taxes and damage businesses. In his book, Pawlenty contended an increase in the “socialist” spending mentality under President Barak Obama’s Administration -- expansion of federal programs such as health care --could lead America to the same high unemployment and budget troubles now faced by European economies. “Just because we followed Greece into democracy doesn’t mean we need to follow them into bankruptcy,” said Pawlenty. “As government pushes in, industrialism, responsibility, accountability, family, neighborhood, and so on, get pushed out.”

Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Il) is also expecting more “punishment politics” in response to the economy in 2012. Davis, who is running for Chicago mayor, considers himself “a fiscal conservative” and attributed the Democratic Party’s recent loss of the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama to Republican Mark Kirk as a prime example of such backlash against incumbent Democrats. Davis cited unemployment as the defining complaint among Black voters and expressed understanding of why Republicans are wary of budget increases.

“Although I agree that in reality meeting people’s needs doesn’t mean wasting resources, a lot of the government spending on education and welfare that I may call ‘investments’ others would call ‘giveaways,’” Davis said. “There are some issues in Black life that relate to moral standards, but the bigger issues seem to be “get a job” ensure there are opportunities to get to college or experience a certain economic state of well-being with the rest of society.”

NPC President Alan Bjerga called the timing of Pawlenty’s book tour, immediately following his term as governor, “a path to presidential nomination.” President Obama also released a book prior to his bid for the presidency as did Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan – all of whom announced their candidacies at the NPC.

In a hint of what might come with a Pawlenty presidential campaign, the Minnesota Republican said the conservative message against government spending coming from political movements, like the Tea Party, could provide a solid message for the conservative movement “for years to come.”

While Pawlenty placed great importance on education and gave high praise in his speech to Michelle Rhee for “speaking truth to power” as chancellor of Washington, D.C., public schools, he also cautioned against increasing federal role in education, welfare, and public housing. Pawlenty declined to detail how he would appeal to both spendthrift Republicans and Black voters.

“I don’t want to focus on identity politics,” Pawlenty said. “I want to look at every aspect of the different social programs and do what’s right for the country.”

Scott Sisters Free at Last

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OPINION EDITORIAL

By Ben Wrobel –

Last week, Jaime and Gladys Scott walked out of prison 16 years after they first entered. Their double-life sentences were criticized as indicative of the egregious sentencing in our criminal justice system, and their release by Governor Haley Barbour was hailed as a long-overdue victory for justice, as well as an example of a governor using his commutation powers to right a wrong.

“I have no doubt that the reason the governor let them out is that this is a grave injustice,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, who advocated strongly on the sisters’ behalf. “We need more days like this in Mississippi. We need more days like this in this country.”

The sisters’ release marks the end of a grassroots campaign led by a coalition of concerned individuals and groups, including the sisters’ family Evelyn Rasco and Nancy Lockhart, their attorney Chokwe Lumumba, the national NAACP, the Mississippi NAACP State Conference and other organizations. Supporters from around the country brought attention to the sisters’ imprisonment and petitioned Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour for their freedom.

“This is a result of all of the individuals across this state and across the country who saw injustice in what was taking place and gave voice to it,” stated Mississippi NAACP State Conference President Derrick Johnson. “This is a great day to let us know that if we stick together, work together, we can make mighty things happen.”

Jamie and Gladys were each condemned as teenagers for a first-time offense in which no one was hurt and court records maintain that little more than $10 was stolen. The sisters were convicted of luring two men to be robbed by three teenage boys. The boys each received eight years and served less than three.

The sisters’ case has become increasingly tragic and urgent over the years. While in prison, Jamie lost use of both her kidneys.

“They have served more time than they should have served," Lumumba said.

After leaving prison, the sisters returned to Pensacola, Florida, where their mother and children live. Jamie has three children, ages 23, 20 and 17, and two grandchildren, ages five and three. Gladys has two children, ages 22 and 15 and two grandchildren, ages seven and four.

Jealous said that the NAACP will continue to ensure that the sisters receive the best medical care available, and Lumumba said that he would help the sisters seek a full pardon.

“Our next step is to ensure that the sisters get the health care that they need, and ultimately, the full pardon they deserve,” stated Jealous.

According to Jealous, the sisters’ release speaks to the urgent need for the work the NAACP and their allies are doing to encourage governors to use their clemency powers to advance justice. He says that for more than a century the NAACP has pushed governors and presidents publicly and privately to use their clemency powers to advance justice.

“The case of the Scott sisters gives hope to others who are unjustly imprisoned,” stated Jealous.

“During the past few weeks, two governors released black Americans who had been railroaded by our nation's criminal justice system. One week before the Scott sisters were released, New York Governor David Paterson commuted the sentence of John White, a man who was defending his family. We hope that this trend continues in other cases, such as the case of John McNeil, a Georgia man who was given a life sentence for defending his home.”

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