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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Chancellor Motley, Whither CPCS?

Chancellor Motley, Whither CPCS?
Chancellor Motley, Whither CPCS?

Pity the students of the College of Public and Community Service. I have written ad nauseam over the past two years, first as a CPCS undergraduate, then as a graduate student, about the reign of terror instituted by CPCS Dean Adenrele Awotona since his arrival in summer 2005. Without rehashing things overmuch, let me start by saying that I’ve seen crazy things in academia since I first started college in 1984, but I’ve never seen a college dean purposely try to destroy his school, aided and abetted by a university administration and a board of trustees.

This is precisely what has occurred at CPCS. Provost Paul Fonteyn pushed hiring Awotona despite some sketchy (and very recent) red flags on his resume, involving behavior that bore a striking resemblance to what he has since done to CPCS. Then-incoming Chancellor Michael Collins went along with that decision, fresh from beating current Chancellor Keith Motley out of the job. (The fact that many CPCS leaders openly supported Motley over Collins could not have helped here, and perhaps also explains why Motley and Fonteyn are not considered to be the best of pals.)

Fonteyn has not been quiet about his disdain for a CPCS pedagogical model built on a foundation of mutual respect between faculty and students, a commitment to educating urban adult learners with educational backgrounds typical of many working-class people who have never had a real break in their lives (certainly not under the discipline-and-punishment educational regime that is now seemingly the law of the land), and a competency-based system of student evaluation rather than a traditional grading system.

So it comes as no surprise that Awotona was installed on schedule and immediately did what prisoners are often told to do when they first arrive at the big house. He found the toughest SOB at CPCS, administrative Dean Sarah Bartlett, and beat her down. The woman whom every single student at CPCS owed their place at the table to, who worked ceaselessly along with the rest of the CPCS administrative staff to ensure that students who wanted a degree got a degree, even if it took several years, and much administrative tai chi and one-on-one counseling on her part. That kind of maneuvering by Sarah, and virtually all of the rest of the CPCS staff, in putting student well-being first and money second, certainly stuck in the craw of many of the new breed of bean-counting business types that plague public universities across America.

It took months, but by the middle of 2006 spring semester, Sarah Bartlett was forced into political Siberia in the Registrar’s office, and Awotona’s purge was in full gear. Staffers were eliminated, forced to quit, or moved out of CPCS altogether. In fall 2006, many courses were cut before students had a chance to register. One-third of the faculty was summarily dismissed a week before classes began (for which their union won them over $100,000 as a settlement for contract violations).

Since that time, Awotona has spared no expense in bulking up his personal staff and running a conference on “rebuilding Iraq” that cost the school tens of thousands of dollars and had under 100 attendees.

As a teaching assistant in CPCS classes, I’m able to see what current students are going through quite clearly. Writing and most other tutoring is a thing of the past. Faculty are forced to teach courses they have no expertise in. The once-democratic governing structure of CPCS, with representation by student, staff and faculty, has been shredded. Students don’t know where to turn. They try to take required classes only to find them cancelled. They try to get various kinds of administrative assistance only to be sent on goose chases. Entire majors are disappearing, and even programs with increasing enrollment like Community Media and Technology are in jeopardy. Students from CPCS are now treated as substandard students or worse.

Now Dean Awotona has screwed up the coursebook for next semester. CPCS Curriculum Council Chair Professor Cuf Ferguson and others corrected over 30 major errors in time for publication only to have them ignored and only partially fixed a week into the registration period. Courses are missing, rearranged, incorrectly labeled, not properly cross-referenced, they list the wrong faculty, and the coursebook design is shoddy. Awotona has been resistant to fixing the latest mess he has created. Again, CPCS students suffer.

At this juncture, I ask the Chancellor Motley the obvious question. I want to know if he is going to fix this mess, remove Awotona for gross malfeasance, and make CPCS students whole for all the damage they have sustained to their education. Or if he is going to pull the plug on the school.

As a CPCS alumni, and as one of many CPCS teachers trying to salvage something from this fiasco, I join the CPCS community in demanding action be taken. Not feel-good PR. Not patting folks on the head. Not keeping the CPCS “brand” on life support while allowing Awotona to run a profit-before-people imitation of the CPCS of Christmas past.

Please, either save the school or kill it, Chancellor. Wavering, equivocating and shilly-shallying from top UMB administration figures ain’t gonna cut it.

Jason Pramas, a doctoral student in Public Policy, is a 2006 alumni of the CPCS Community Media and Technology program.