Hundreds of Medgar Evers College students marched through Crown Heights Monday afternoon, demanding the immediate resignation of MEC President Dr. Rudolph “Rudy” Crew.
“Crew must go!” And “Black student lives matter!” the crowd of young people chanted during a protest that started at Grand Army Plaza and ended at at the college on Bedford Avenue
Medgar Evers College, named for the civil rights activist who was murdered in 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi, is a predominantly black college in the CUNY system.
Student protesters claimed that Crew, who was recently appointed for another year as president of MEC, had failed the college during his seven-year tenure. A budgetary deficit, declining enrollment, and bullying by Crew and his administration were just a few of a long list of damning allegations launched at the president by not only the students but also some of its faculty…
Dr. Zulema Blair, vice chair of the College Council and chair of the Department of Public Administration, said that meetings with the president and administration often resulted in a toxic atmosphere: “People are fearful to speak up and fearful to speak at all, because there’s a lot yelling in the meetings,” said Blair.
“Staff members are often dismissed and faculty members are not given reappointments or tenure,” when they do speak up, she said.
Some administrators claimed cronyism was what guided Crew’s original appointment. A friend of then-Schools Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, Crew, 69 was hired in 2013 to replace MEC’s outgoing president William Pollard within a year of Crew’s appointment as Oregon’s first chief education officer.
“When Pollard left, we asked to do a comprehensive search for an interim president. And instead of CUNY honoring that request, they brought in Rudy Crew, who had not finished his job at the Oregon school system and where he was accused of spending excessive money on travel and vacations,” said a senior MEC faculty member who asked to remain unnamed. “He was recruited with no higher education experience. Faculty protested, because we felt the search was compromised.”
Crew previously served as chancellor of the New York City Board of Education, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, and Oregon’s chief education officer. In 2008, he was named the National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators.
His record reads like a superstar. Still, the faculty member pointed out, he had worked his career in K-12 and had no experience in leading higher institutions:
“Dr. Crew then appointed leadership through nepotism and based on friendships, bringing in people who also had no experience,” she alleged. “Any faculty member who didn’t go along with it was either not reappointed or not advanced. Many really good faculty members either were fired or left.”
The most notable case of alleged bullying occurred when chief diversity officer Sylvia Kinard was allegedly yelled at and harassed by Crew for forwarding a discrimination case outside of MEC to the CUNY administration in 2018.
Also, during Crew’s tenure, student enrollment fell 15 percent. Full-time equivalencies also decreased, which negatively impacted the college’s funding.
In 2014, MEC had a four year graduation rate of 7 perecent; first-time students in the CUNY Medgar Evers College class of 2014 who attended classes full-time were among the least likely in the nation to graduate on time. After six years, the graduation rate was 16.1 percent and by 2018, 18.6 percent of that class had completed their degree, according to collegfactual.com.
Blair believes the final straw was the college’s inability to provide faculty and students with the educational resources necessary for their success. While COVID-19 ravaged the city and other CUNY schools were able to get access to laptops and wifi, students at MEC had to wait.
The protesters were connected in spirit with the ongoing protest movement against police brutality which started with the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis:
“Some simple-minded people would say ‘How does MEC fit into the Black Lives Matter Movement?’” said Sakia Fletcher, student government president at MEC, at the rally. “It has everything to do with the Black Lives Matter Movement. MEC was birthed from protesting, petitioning and lobbying from black people.”
During the rally, protesters were directed to take out their phones and compose an email to the chancellor of MEC demanding Crew’s resignation.
Dr. Crew nor his office could be reached immediately for comment.
Professor Owen Brown, who teaches sociology at MEC, said he was initially supportive of President Crew but changed his mind when he saw what he was doing.
“For four years we’ve been underfunded. It’s time for a change. It’s time to have leadership that’s invested in the college,” said Brown. “How do we have a president that says he’s invested in the college but during the COVID crisis was interviewing for another job?”
Most recently, Crew was hired for the position of DeKalb County School District Superintendent, where he was lauded for his creation of programs aimed at reaching at-risk youth. He was scheduled to start July 1.
“We were very mindful of what we were looking for,” Dekalb County School Board Chairman Marshall Orson told AJC. “We wanted a superintendent who had big district experience. Someone who more than moved the needle, but showed results for those students who are more at risk. We found … a person who had done that job. He had done it in New York and done it in Miami.”
But, in a 4-3 vote, the school board reversed its decision in May over public “controversies” and “past histories,” which Dekalb County School Board Chairman Marshall Orson said was “a very deliberate campaign” trashing Crew which never brought up his track record for addressing issues with equity.
At MEC, Sheilah M. Paul, founding dean of the School of Education, also painted a much different picture of Crew’s impact on the college. In a letter to the faculty dated June 5, 2020, she said the numbers proved a “rebirth” of the school since Crew’s appointment, claiming the school was in a much better position today compared to the years prior.
“For five decades, we’ve been challenged to do a lot with little resources, and we’ve done exceptionally well,” Paul wrote.
In a document attached to the letter entitled, “MEC Comparative Institutional Renewal and Growth – A Comparative Snapshot,” Crew’s accomplishments were laid out in numbers.
For example, in 2014, at the beginning of the Crew administration, the total graduate headcount was 999. By 2019, the graduate headcount had grown to 1269, an increase of 27 percent.
The document also cites as a key accomplishment of the Crew-Okereke leadership the MEC Brooklyn Pipeline Initiative— Crew’s signature initiative– a strategy to connect students in the K-12 system to MEC, to ensure they transition successfully into college and are provided connections to quality career pathways. The program boasts:
- 450 Students were enrolled in BPDC Fall 2018
- 2,543 Students to date have participated in BPDC
- Providing tutoring to spur middle school academic achievement
- 1800 Students to date have received college credits
“We take pride in these accomplishments and are grateful for the visionary, inclusive, and charismatic leadership of Dr. Crew and his Administration,” wrote Paul in the letter that was undersigned by 21 other lead faculty members. “An unbiased look at these accomplishments confirms that Medgar Evers College has come a long way under the leadership of President Crew.”
“Let the record show that we are far better than we ever were,” said Paul.
Days later, in a response letter undersigned only by the “Committee to Protect the Mission and Integrity of Medgar Evers College,” and naming no faculty, the letter pointed to MEC’s graduation rate, noting– in both number of students and overall percentage of increase– that it was still lower than Crew’s predecessor.
“The Crew-Okereke administration has lost almost all of the enrollment gains of the Pollard era,” according to the letter. “This fact tells the true story of the institutional decline that characterizes this administration’s tenure at the helm of Medgar Evers College. We note for the record that at $6000 per student this represents a $5,400,000 budget loss directly attributable to the incompetence of this administration…
“We note further that this continued decrease in enrollment at the only Predominantly Black Institution in the CUNY has had a significant negative impact in the education of African Americans in the community.”
The responding committee’s letter also pointed out that the Pipeline Program is now defunct, while its website lists two administrators who are no longer with the college.
MEC alumnus Gia Goeshawna also spoke at the rally about how pleas to improve the college were summarily overlooked: “As a student leader, you feel like you’re running into a brick wall,” said Goeshawna. SGA presidents routinely “sell out after being offered jobs for their silence,” said Goeshawna. “I’m tired of peacefulness. I’m tired of shaking hands and smiling. That doesn’t work.”
In another letter addressed to current Chancellor Felix V. Matos Rodriguez, who re-appointed Crew, MEC Student Government President Sakia Fletcher wrote:
“Psychologically, you delivered the fatal blow to our morale and institutional worthiness by bringing Crew back to Medgar, because … Your message reads loud and clear: ‘Medgar students don’t deserve the best, they put up with anything less than excellence.’
That, Chancellor, is your message and legacy to Black students at Medgar Evers College,’ she wrote.
“And we will be sure it is never forgotten in the Black community.”
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