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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Setting the Record Straight About Race At CPCS

Since Adenrele Awotona is a person of color, there are many rumors circulating at the University about whether or not the CPCS crisis involving the position of Dean is race-related. I am also aware of signed faculty and student affidavits, which indicate that Adenrele Awotona has made allegations about racial slurs and that these allegations are untrue. As an African American professor at CPCS, who has a long history of fighting racial injustices, my view is that the CPCS crisis is not race-related, nor should it be characterized in this manner. If it were, I would be the first to say so. I live the experience everyday. I grew up in the segregated South. I am quite aware of institutionalized, race-related “glass ceilings” for administrators of color. And, I have written extensively about race-related matters, including three books (A New Perspective on Race and Color, 1997; Transitions in Consciousness from an African American Perspective, 2004; Evolving the Human Race Game: A Spiritual and Soul-Centered Perspective, forthcoming). I understand that from a distance it would be easy to view the CPCS crisis in racial terms. However, as tempting as it may be to view reality in such black and white terms, it is not that simplistic.

CPCS is probably the most “intentionally” diverse College on campus in terms of faculty, students, and administration. That said, the CPCS crisis is related to three fundamental issues: (1) the value of “participatory democracy” in a collegiate context and a managerial style that seemingly conflicts with that cultural and institutional value; (2) the desire to maintain the College as an integrated, interdisciplinary competency-based entity that is immersed in a new paradigm of higher education, and a basic misunderstanding, serious misreading, and/or serious disagreement at both the College Dean and University administrative levels about what is necessary and required pedagogically and systemically to successfully implement such an enterprise; and (3) despite both College Dean and University administration claims about CPCS enrollment concerns, the prospect of knowingly or unknowingly undermining the College’s urban mission for serving “non-traditional,” low-income learners and urban communities, and unwittingly destroying “the essence” of the College and/or transforming the College into an upper division College. It also has been verified that several years ago, there was even a plan to eliminate CPCS for fiscal reasons.

Within the College, the net result has been what I have characterized as “the head” and “the body” being largely disconnected and totally out of sync, due largely to “the head” not engaging “the body” in any kind of authentic, collective, collaborative dialogue.

Following are illustrative examples of the above issues. One example involves the CPCS Constitution and the issue of “participatory democracy.” The College’s democratically created and ratified Constitution was suspended, or at best ignored. Recognition of and collaboration with the elected College Governance, the three bodies chaired by a Latino American (Policy Board), an Asian American (Personnel Board), and an African American (Curriculum Council), have been non-existent or extremely limited, at best. Rather than using alleged Constitutional issues as an opportunity to engage in authentic and collaborative dialogue with the College, unfortunately this matter was used to ignore “the democratic voices” of faculty. For example, through a ballot process, I was elected Undergraduate Chair, but was not appointed presumably because of unresolved Constitutional issues. While I do not need this role or outside validation to know my worth as a person, I actually participated in the process so that hopefully I could be in a position to be helpful to Awotona. Yet, to this day, Awotona has not had one conversation with me about the election or the non-appointment. I only mention this to illustrate “the human factor” and process issues at play that many others have indicated to me. As a psychologist, for example, I have had both faculty and staff show up at my office in tears, alluding to how they were made to feel like “objects” by the managerial style.

Another example involves a unilateral decision that impacts CPCS’s integrative model of education. The CPCS Office of Student Services, for example, pivotal to serving CPCS students and central to the College’s mission, is being dismantled or at best severely weakened by a unilateral decision to transfer two highly important people, to whom CPCS students feel very connected. No forethought was given here to the issue of student retention. The impacted people were not consulted prior to receiving a written notice of their transfers. The espoused reason for the transfers was that it was to help with CPCS enrollment, yet there was nothing in the new job descriptions that referenced this function for CPCS, thus discrediting the espoused reason. These are also union issues, which are currently being pursued.

While seemingly reasonable and understandable, Central Administration has suggested that a mediated dialogue is now the proper strategy for CPCS advancement. However, without a moratorium for particular unilateral decisions, such a strategy ignores the lived history and efforts of CPCS faculty and staff already to have such mediated dialogues in regard to authentic collaboration, and the ongoing consequences of particular ongoing, unilateral decisions. For example, prior to the proposed strategy by Central Administration, some faculty spoke individually with Awotona about “process issues” and at least two mediated dialogues took place regarding College functional matters, both of which proved to be unproductive. Subsequently, unilateral actions were taken by Awotona, without consultation, to restructure the academic programs of the College in ways that may undermine the College’s mission. Currently, there are two parallel Governance structures at CPCS, with most faculty members choosing to align with the democratically elected, operative Governance structure, rather than an “imposed” program directors structure. Other faculty members may simply feel confused, or try to live in two worlds. Also, there have been student reports about a pedagogical discourse on grades being initiated by Awotona. Such substantive and transformational matters go to the heart of the College’s mission and the competency-based model of higher education, and cannot be taken lightly as simply an administrative matter.

And so, as painful as it is to state, a managerial style of unilateral decision-making, impacting College functions and programs, the College’s mission, and “real people” (not just “administrative positions”), without any substantive input from those being impacted, is a fair characterization of how a vast majority of CPCS faculty and staff have experienced the last eight months. On February 13 and 14, therefore, in a secret ballot, 18 tenured faculty members unanimously voted no confidence in Awotona; there were no votes of confidence. On February 15 and 16, in a second secret ballot, 45 faculty and staff voted no confidence in Awotona; there were no votes of confidence. Symbolically, these votes were about affirming CPCS’s cultural value for “participatory democracy,” CPCS’s integrated, interdisciplinary competency-based character as a College, and CPCS’s sense of its urban mission. Symbolically, the votes were also about affirming the University of Massachusetts’s institutional value for the “principle of joint effort,” the spirit of which is espoused in the Board of Trustees document commonly called The Wellman Document. While more specific details could be presented, suffice it to say that this brief summary provides some sense of the state of affairs at CPCS, which is not race-related.