A look at the sorry state of CCNY faculty interpersonal relations
An outside lawyer brought in to examine and diffuse tension among CCNY professors described faculty interpersonal relations as an “acrimonious state of affairs.” She offered her observations at a meeting last month.
“There was such hostility that it’s difficult to actually decipher what is real or not, what is conjecture or what is just an attack,” said Stacey Gray, a New York City attorney specializing in employment law.
President Lisa Coico enlisted the help of Gray last semester after Charles Watkins, a professor of engineering, sent a troubling email entitled “intimidation” to his colleagues. In it, Watkins, who is African American, took note of an incident he described as “racially offensive” during a faculty senate meeting. In the email, he resigned from his position on the senate’s executive committee.
To better understand exactly what was going on among professors, over the summer, Gray conducted dozens of interviews—in person and online—with faculty members. Gray said she insisted on a high level of anonymity to allow faculty to safely express any concerns regarding their work environment. “President Coico gave everyone an opportunity to speak,” said Gray, who also requested documentation to back up claims and complaints.
During the address to report her results, Gray criticized the lack of respect some professors showed toward their colleagues, the institution they work for and President Lisa. Many of the behaviors she cited were petty and immature, such as demeaning emails, attacks on a person’s character or accent and snickering while a colleague addressed an issue of concern. She stressed that this ill treatment has caused a decline in productivity and moral.
But according to Gray, these passive aggressive behaviors were only the tip of the iceberg. Some faculty described being hazed by senior co-workers and physically assaulted. “If this happened in a corporation, they would call the police,” Gray said.
She reserved some of her harshest critique for the executive committee of the faculty senate, which she described as not grounded, completely unprofessional and not adhering to its own bylaws. According to the City College website, the members of the executive committee at the time were: David Jeruzalmi, Marta Gutman , Ellen Handy , Renata Miller, Fred Moshary.
Further complicating matters is an apparent disdain of the entire process by executive committee members. Before she was scheduled to present her findings, Gray received an email from a faculty senate executive committee member saying “we don’t want you here.”
When reached by email, Dr. Jeruzalmi, professor of chemistry and chair of the faculty senate, said he was not able to comment on Gray’s criticism, because he had not been present when she shared the results of her interviews.
Gray remains optimistic and believes CCNY faculty colleagues can work out their differences. “The interpersonal dynamics among faculty can be resolved,” she said. “Part of the solution includes having an open mind, and a reset button.”
This story has been updated. Professors Karen Hubbard and Marta Bengoa were not part of the Faculty Senate executive committee at the time of the inquiry.