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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

An alternative analysis of the current ‘crisis’ at CPCS

CPCS was founded over thirty years ago based on important core principles, including those of an inclusive, democratic, and participatory learning community; commitment to diversity, equality, and social justice; as well as, engaged service to students, the public, and the communities of Boston.

We believe that these core principles are currently being undermined, to the overall detriment of CPCS and its mission, through a highly orchestrated smear campaign against the new Dean of CPCS, Dr. Adenrele Awotona.

A central tenet of this campaign is ‘either you support this campaign or you’re against CPCS and the UMB’s urban mission’. We are writing this statement to challenge that view. We support CPCS, but we do NOT support the way this campaign is being carried out or the ‘regime of truth’ which its proponents are promulgating. Their campaign is characterized by misinformation, lack of basic civility, distortion of facts, and false, potentially libelous accusations. Here are only a few of these distortions:

They claim that CPCS has been singled out for under-funding and a denial of resources. The entire higher education system is under-funded; every college within UMB has suffered severe cutbacks in recent years. In fact, CPCS has received more than double the funding on a per student basis than the rest of the university. It costs twice as much to support one CPCS student as it costs to support a student in other parts of the university. Energy should be spent lobbying and campaigning for higher education as a whole, not framing one college as the victim of a problem which is in fact systemic.

They claim that the administration has been trying to get rid of CPCS for a long time and is attempting to do away with competency-based education . In his March 3 memo to the University, the Chancellor explicitly stated his support for competency-based education and CPCS: “I am writing to communicate with the University community about my commitment to the College of Public and Community Service (CPCS) and to express my continued support for competency-based education and the advancement of the University’s urban mission as expressed through the efforts of . . . CPCS.” The allegations that the administration wants CPCS to ‘serve a very different student population paying full price and with a different kind of educational philosophy devoid of the urban mission’ and that ‘the Provost has a plan to destroy CPCS’ are pure speculation.

They claim that tenured-faculty unanimously support ousting the Dean. This is factually incorrect. More than a fourth of the tenured faculty chose not to participate in the “no confidence” referendum.

They claim the culture of participatory democracy within CPCS is under attack. The so-called participatory democracy at CPCS actually entails a core group of senior faculty and retirees (‘founders’) who wield tremendous power over matters such as hiring, promotion, budget and raises. In the Strategic Planning Report (Strategic Planning Data Report by Ibis Consulting Group, December 2005), http://www.cpcs.umb.edu/support/faculty_staff/documents/ibis_consultant_proposal.pdf, the data gathered anonymously from faculty indicated that many felt the Policy Board does not focus on faculty concerns and lacks accountability. For example, favoritism, rather than standard personnel procedures such as annual faculty merit reviews (not conducted for several years) determine salary increments. When Dean Awotona signaled that he would not uncritically embrace the College’s current governance structure and that he had equity concerns about the informality of procedures for hiring and promotions, a campaign was mounted against him. One analysis is that Dean Awotona is being attacked in part because his efforts have threatened this status quo. Since this group of faculty has not received support from the university administration in their political quest to overthrow the Dean, they have gone to the community, using unsubstantiated allegations to promote their goals.

They claim their attacks are not racist and accuse the Dean of “playing the race card.” They use race in different ways at different times to serve their interests. Thus, for example, they claim that the administration’s stance toward the former Dean was racist but their stance against the current Dean is not racist. They promote themselves as standard bearers of anti-racism despite the fact that they have been largely unresponsive over the years to complaints by numbers of the College’s Black faculty and staff that CPCS, itself, has to deal with its own organizational racism (in the past decade, the number of black tenured and tenured-track faculty at CPCS has declined precipitously–from 14 to 4, by 2005). The campaign against Dean Awotona, has been fueled by a public email list, with postings that are relentlessly rageful and have drawn upon racist imagery. Rather than urging their supporters to be respectful and avoid inflammatory language–and perhaps to reflect upon what has been unleashed- -the Policy Board shifted responsibility for challenging this language onto the Dean himself. A retired faculty member has publicized undocumented allegations against the Dean (even circulating them to students). Moreover, an important measure of how intimidating CPCS has been for people of color is the fact that, recently, seven Black people who work at CPCS have expressed collectively concerns about rising racism within the college. With all this, the core group who has mounted this campaign attacks anyone who mentions the word ‘race’ or ‘racism’ in connection with their efforts, rather than critically examining their own actions.

They attribute past declines in enrollment to the central administration and the current increases to their own efforts. CPCS enrollment declined by more than 50% in ten years. It has risen slightly during the current semester. The reasons for enrollment trends are complex and cannot be reduced to a simplistic ‘us vs. them’ analysis. In fact, the same student services office within CPCS was in place during both trends; the dramatic decline took place during the tenure of the former Dean.

They claim that the Dean doesn’t involve faculty in dialogue. It is certainly true that communication between some members of the faculty and the Dean has broken down. At the same time, when someone’s every move is constructed as an attack and is woven into a vilifying narrative, it is not easy to seek dialogue. Clearly, both sides need to address this. Currently, the Policy Board has instructed faculty to refuse to participate in committee work or other academic responsibilities.

Dean Awotona is not the first to feel the wrath of this group; in recent years, any individual or administrative decision that challenges the status quo has been met with a divisive attack. Within the wider UMB community, CPCS is known for these campaigns. This may be one reason that there has been little support for CPCS among peers from other UMB colleges who are equally committed to the urban mission. Dean Awotona is, also, not the first, but rather the third black CPCS dean to be pressured to leave by the College’s most senior faculty. This pattern suggests that all who value CPCS’ mission should promote de-escalation and mutual respect.

Further, we question the ethics of recruiting students to join the campaign against the Dean. Using class time to mobilize students fails to consider student-faculty power dynamics. The best way to serve students is by first-rate teaching and advising, not by sending slanderous accusations against their Dean to them . The current campaign is not the kind of principled social justice struggle from which students can learn, engage, and grow.

In our view, the extraordinary time and energy devoted to the ongoing confrontation represents a distraction that prevents the College from collectively addressing internal challenges in the areas of mission, curricula, effective pedagogy, transparent and equitable governance, faculty responsibilities and rights, and student recruitment.

Overall, we are concerned that the enormous and vindictive energy being directed at Dean Awotona will only further undermine the vitality and viability of CPCS. The proud history of the College demands that we work together to provide the best possible education for students, rather than expending resources, time, and tax-payer dollars on power struggles which serve neither the students, the university, nor the communities around it.

Partial list of signatories : Carolyne Arnold, Associate Professor, CPCS; Elsa Auerbach, Professor, English Dept., CLA; Jose Barcliffe , Administrative Assistant, CPCS; Reyes Coll-Tellechea, Associate Professor, Hispanic Studies Dept., Robert Crossley, Chair, English Department; CLA; Lelieth Dolan, Student Services, CPCS; Carolyn Dunn, Office Manager, CPCS; Clara Estow, Chair, Hispanic Studies Dept., CLA; Robert Johnson , Chair, Africana Studies Dept., CLA; Anna Madison, Interim-Associate Dean, CPCS; Celia Moore, Chair, Psychology Dept., CLA; Chris Nteta, Professor, CPCS (ret.); Senator Bill Owens; (ret.) Marc Prou, Assistant Professor, Africana Studies Dept., CLA; Richard Rakobane, ALRI; Asgedet Stefanos , Associate Professor, CPCS; Jemadari Kamara, Professor, Africana Studies, CLA; Denise Patmon, Associate Prefessor, GCOE, Linda Dittmare Professor English Dept., CLA