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Community Disengagement

eye on the news

Community Disengagement

A routine academic appointment at CCNY is sidetracked by Old Guard politicians. November 9, 2017
Education
New York

The City College of New York has been without a president since October 2016, when Lisa Coico resigned after the New York Times uncovered evidence that she fabricated expense reports to deceive prosecutors looking into the school’s use of foundation monies, and that she did not pay back a $20,000 security deposit for a rental home. Coico also received tens of thousands of dollars from the City College Fund, which provides scholarships to indigent students. The school launched a national search for a new president, but sources with knowledge of the process suggest that CCNY’s fiscal problems—years of mounting budget deficits amid a decline in state funding, all while the college has been trying to grow its expensive but excellent science programs— proved a deterrent for many candidates.

Vincent Boudreau, a political science professor and former dean of the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership, has been serving as interim president. Boudreau has been at the school for 26 years and is well liked by his colleagues. He has cut some administrative positions and done his best to restore some fiscal responsibility after Coico’s corruption. His competence, plus a stalled search process, made him a logical candidate to assume the position permanently. Colin Powell himself has backed Boudreau for the job.

But then a group of 20 former politicians from the neighborhood—including former congressman Charles Rangel, former governor David Paterson, and former assemblyman Keith Wright—decided that appointing Boudreau was unacceptable. “We can collectively attest that he has made no substantial effort to forge nurturing and meaningful bonds with the surrounding community,” they wrote in a letter to the New York Times. “Based upon this horrendous dearth of civic concern, social intelligence, political ingenuity and lack of community engagement, we cannot support this finalist’s candidacy for the office of president.” CCNY’s chancellor dutifully announced that the naming of a permanent new president was postponed indefinitely.

Boudreau has lived in the neighborhood and taught its students for the better part of three decades. What is Rangel, et al.’s objection to him? Perhaps a demand for “community engagement” is their coded way of suggesting that the next president should be a racial minority. Boudreau is white, and those leading the effort against Boudreau are black.

But there may be other issues at work here.

Rangel’s relationship with City College has been under scrutiny for years. After giving his papers to the school, he was caught using official House of Representatives letterhead to solicit donations for the Charles B. Rangel School for Public Service, a violation of congressional rules. “Even before that,” the Daily Beast wrote, “the $30 million academic center was criticized as a vanity project after Rangel funneled $1.9 million in taxpayer money to finance it.” In 2010, after corruption allegations forced Rangel to resign as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, CCNY considered renaming the center.

No doubt the sputtering Harlem political machine—which lost Manhattan’s last black congressional seat in 2016 to Adriano Espaillat, a Dominican immigrant—would like to flex its muscles again. A good relationship with the new City College president might mean more jobs and influence over contracts. Patronage and wheel-greasing has been the dominant political mode in Harlem for decades, and Boudreau might be out of step with the old guard’s proprietary view of how appointments are awarded.

In a statement, David Paterson praised CUNY for delaying the vote, saying that “all parties involved would agree that it is far more important to students, families and the community that we take as much time as possible to make sure we get the right person.”  But no evidence exists to suggest that Boudreau faces opposition from students, families, or the community. The letter is a last gasp of former politicians who don’t deserve a say in City College’s leadership. CCNY’s chancellor should stop humoring them and speed the way for Boudreau’s election.

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