President Replaces Department Chiefs, Changes Curriculum
By NEANDA SALVATERRA
July 19, 2013
The removal of department chiefs and changes to curriculum have roiled Brooklyn College, where the administration is seeking accreditation for popular majors at one of the City University of New York's largest senior branches.
Brooklyn College President Karen Gould has rejected the faculty-elected department chairmen for three departments for the next school year, including the college's top majors—finance and business management and accounting—as well as the smaller department of modern languages and literatures.
The president also removed the director for the children and youth studies program and almost halved the program's course offerings.
"The administration's exercise of power is arbitrary and it has major implications, not just for professors but also for students," says Gertrud Lenzer, who was removed on July 1 as program director for children and youth studies, a post she had held since 1997. School policy allows the removal of unelected directors such as Dr. Lenzer without faculty consultation.
But Dr. Lenzer and others have asked the CUNY board of trustees to investigate and reverse Ms. Gould's other decisions.
A spokesman said the board won't intervene. "The matters referenced involve the exercise of academic judgments well within the authority of the college administration," said CUNY spokesman Michael Arena.
The changes at Brooklyn College come amid a broader clash between CUNY's central administration and its faculty over a program called Pathways that would standardize the core curriculum across all the colleges. Like accreditation, the effort—a legacy of former Chancellor Matthew Goldstein—is aimed at raising CUNY's academic standing but has rankled professors who say it is removing crucial requirements, such as learning a language.
Mr. Arena said the faculty was consulted about Pathways, which he said puts courses through more layers of review by professors. "It requires more from our students," he said.
With more than 16,000 students, Brooklyn College has been a focus of opposition to perceived challenges to CUNY faculty power, and some of the affected chairmen and chairwomen were popular, outspoken leaders.
The situation came to a head in May when Ms. Gould removed Robert Bell as chairman of the finance and business management department, a job he had held since 2002. He was unanimously elected by faculty members and has been a critic of the administration.
"I don't see why someone that has been unanimously elected should be removed. If it's not broke, don't fix it," Dr. Bell said.
The entire finance and business management department signed an open letter, posted online, in support of Dr. Bell's election as department chairman and filed a grievance against Ms. Gould. The grievance is pending.
The rejected chairmen at Brooklyn College are tenured faculty and weren't fired. Department chairmen are generally elected by faculty members, but the CUNY administration contends college presidents have the power to choose their own managers. Some professors said Ms. Gould violated school policy by failing to properly consult with each department's faculty before deciding to look for replacements.
The faculty have argued that Ms. Gould may have the power to remove a chairman, but only when the department's faculty is deeply divided.
"President Gould has failed to make a case for why Dr. Bell is not qualified to lead the department or why the department is incapable of managing its own affairs," the letter said.
Brooklyn College spokeswoman Keisha-Gaye Anderson said the changes are part of a normal review process. "The college is involved in ongoing efforts to further enhance quality offerings for the benefit of the student body," she said.
Ms. Anderson said the changes in the finance and accounting departments happened because of strong enrollment and the college's attempt to raise academic standards by gaining accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Such accreditation would be based on criteria such as how many professors have doctoral degrees, how regularly they publish research papers, their teaching load and the school's course offerings.
"Developing a nationally accredited School of Business merits a national search for the department's leader. The national search will be initiated this fall," Ms. Anderson said.
Ms. Gould rejected the accounting department's elected chairman last year. After the faculty filed a grievance, she agreed to consult with the faculty. An interim chairman supported by the faculty was appointed. The complaint was resolved.
Faculty in the modern languages and literatures department declined to comment.
In the children and youth studies program, professors said the reduction in available courses has hurt enrollment and made it difficult for students to graduate on time. Ms. Anderson said steps were taken to "change the management practices of the program." She said the cut classes could be taken in other departments.
Barbara Bowen, the president of the union for professors and staff, the Professional Staff Congress, said instances of a president refusing to accept an elected department chairman used to be rare but are increasing. "We are concerned when they override faculty governance without a solid reason," she said.