Dr. Patricia Ramsey decided in the fourth grade that she wanted to become a college professor.
Early in life, the daughter of activist and entrepreneurial parents in Surry County Va. set ambitious goals for herself.
She graduated from elite universities and launched a career in education, first as a biology professor and later as a college administrator.
Ramsey is ready to take on the next big challenge in her career: helping Medgar Evers College (MEC) turn the page after a tumultuous period.
In March, the CUNY Board of Trustees appointed Ramsey as MEC’s sixth president. She officially beings her tenure on May 1.
Continuing Medgar Evers’ legacy
Ramsey, the first woman to lead MEC, told BK Reader she was “honored and humbled” to be selected president of CUNY’s predominantly Black college, which is named for slain civil rights champion Medgar Evers.
She comes to MEC with deeps roots at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Ramsey earned degrees from Norfolk State University and Howard University before continuing to Harvard University and earning a Ph.D. at Georgetown University.
She was also a professor and administrator at HBCUs in Maryland, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
Her new role at the Crown Heights college is also personal.
While researching MEC, Ramsey learned that her cousin, the Rev. Dr. Curtis Harris, was one of the civil rights leaders who went to Mississippi to build on Evers’ human rights legacy. Harris, who died in 2017, is the former mayor of Hopewell, Va. and a leading activist.
“Learning about my cousin’s role in helping to continue the work of Medgar Evers made me even more impassioned about serving at the institution,” she said. “He would be so proud of me if he knew that I had become president of Medgar Evers College.”
Tumultuous times at MEC
There was an uprising of sorts against Ramsey’s predecessor, Dr. Rudolf “Rudy” Crew.
In June 2020, members of MEC’s faculty and staff penned an anonymous op-ed in Politics NY that called for Crews’ ouster.
The group, which dubbed itself the Committee to Protect the Mission and Integrity of Medgar Evers College, presented a laundry list of problems under Crew’s leadership. It included low levels of enrollment, retention and graduation, as well as financial mismanagement and bullying.
Navigating a sea of troubles
Ramsey contemplates the challenges, as she prepares to take the helm.
She said she was troubled by the decline of student enrollment from fall semesters to the spring. It suggested that MEC was a revolving door of admitting students who choose shortly after to leave, she said.
She will investigate whether MEC’s policies negatively impact retention or if external factors are the cause. Often, challenges like housing insecurity or the need to work create obstacles for students.
Ramsey is already looking for additional funding sources. Her fundraising experience includes a senior position at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
“As institutions, we have to look at alternative revenue streams,” Ramsey stated, revealing that she is laying the groundwork to obtain funding for initiatives to achieve health equity, as well as housing and food security for students.
Giving a voice to the college community is a centerpiece of her vision.
Her plans include establishing opens hours to give them direct access to her and forming focus groups to hear from faculty and staff who are on the frontlines.
Listening to students is also essential. Ramsey envisions a system for dialogue modeled on her “Chat with the Provost Sessions” at Bowie State. It began as a “griping session” but evolved into an effective tool to address student concerns.
“The students are why we are here,” she emphasized. “We really have to focus on that. The students should have a voice on things that affect them.”
Ramsey looks forward also to inviting community residents to participate in a dialogue with MEC.
She said the college can help Central Brooklyn recover from the COVID-19 crisis. “The institution can be a great partner with the community” in helping to achieve equity in areas like health, economics and the environment, Ramsey stated.
As gentrification accelerates, MEC can also provide faculty experts who can help the city solve the affordable housing crisis.
“We are going to do all that we can to uplift the community,” she said, adding that MEC remains dedicated to that mission.