MORE THAN A SEAT AT THE TABLE: During a Nov. 20 hearing on diversity at the City University of New York, Executive Vice Chancellor José Luis Cruz testified called the public-university system was a ‘national leader’ on the issue. But black staff members, including Borough of Manhattan Community College’s James Blake, noted that those in charge of hiring and course programming were largely white. Above, Borough Manhattan Community College on Chambers Street.

“Until we deal with the structural power centers in the university—that’s the faculty who make the decisions on what courses are offered, who will get hired—as long as there is no diversity there, there’s not going to be a lot of black folks,” James Blake, president of the Borough of Manhattan Community College Black Faculty and Staff Association, testified at a Nov. 20 City Council hearing on diversity at the City University of New York.

About 40 percent of CUNY faculty are non-white, according to the Office of Recruitment and Diversity. The make-up of Professors and other instructors doesn’t match the public-university system’s student body, which is almost a quarter black and 30 percent Hispanic.

CUNY: National Leader

CUNY officials, including Executive Vice Chancellor José Luis Cruz, testified that the public-university system has been a “national leader” in the issue of diversity in higher-education because the percent of non-white faculty was almost twice the national average.

“But the fact remains that we have work to do,” Mr. Cruz acknowledged. “I’ve been in the room when a member of a faculty promotion committee for a female African-American candidate expressed concerns about the emphasis on the black experience and lack of European-inspired voices in the faculty’s scholarly work.”

Despite the fact that CUNY officials have launched many initiatives in recent years to increase the number of faculty of color hired, black full-time faculty’s representation in the public-university system remained at 12 percent between 2014 and 2017.

CUNY officials testified that in 2017, the Faculty Diversity Working Group began encouraging colleges to factor in when non-white employees were underutilized during the recruitment process, resulting in 54 of 99 new hires during the 2017-2018 academic year coming from minority groups.

No Room at the Top?

But numbers don’t tell the whole story, Mr. Blake noted. He expressed surprise when this past summer the Chronicle of Higher Education named the management at the Borough of Manhattan Community College the nation’s most-diverse among two-year colleges—which contradicted his own observations that about 80 percent of those in charge of hiring and course programming at the campus were white.

“We may very well be the most-diverse, but they didn’t break it down by top management, middle management and lower management,” he said, indicating that black administrators often held lower positions of power.

That was also true among faculty, he stated. “We’re generally at the lower levels of faculty appointment, which is less money than a tenured Professor. As we retire, we’re not replaced with people of color. I’ve been here 48 years; I know what I’m talking about.”

Council Member Inez Barron, who chairs the Committee on Higher Education, was concerned that the lack of diversity at the leadership level was reflected in the curriculum.

An Absence of Majors

CUNY officials noted that undergraduate students were required to take courses that addressed diversity. But Brenda Greene, director at the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, believed there was a lack of institutional support for African-American and Africana studies, and pointed to the fact that none of CUNY’s graduate schools offered a Master’s degree in black studies.

Earlier this year, CUNY appointed its first Hispanic Chancellor, Félix Matos Rodríguez. Ms. Barron noted that more non-white leadership could be recruited because there were seven colleges that had Interim Presidents. Mitchel B. Wallerstein, President of Baruch College, has also announced his intention to step down next June.

“This is a golden opportunity for CUNY, with so many vacancies and openings for college President positions, to help facilitate the change that we know is so important,” she stated.

The Council Members also expressed concern about the decreasing number of students of color at CUNY’s senior colleges. While 30 percent of students at Kingsborough Community College were black, just 11 percent were at Baruch College, and 13 percent at Hunter.

Dropoff at ‘Elites’

“Though the racial makeup of the CUNY student body as a whole reflects the diversity of the city, it is a different story at the university’s so-called higher performing colleges, which serve predominantly white and Asian students,” Ms. Barron said.

CUNY officials pointed to a new pilot program at Macaulay Honors College that will recruit students from BMCC and Bronx Community College to continue their education. But Mr. Cruz stated that “pre-college educational inequities” have limited opportunities to attend these colleges for low-income students and students of color.

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez believed that segregation in the city’s public middle- and high schools contributed to that gap.

“We have the most-segregated education system in the nation, we have public schools for the rich and public schools for the poor,” he explained. He claimed that those in higher-performing schools that served wealthy students had a higher chance of getting into CUNY’s senior colleges. (It is worth noting that about half of the students at Stuyvesant, one of the city’s eight specialized high schools, were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch).

 “Everything is a pipeline,” Mr. Rodriguez added.

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