Black and Latino studies to remain open despite faculty concerns, Romero confirms
Dean Aldemaro Romero Jr. of the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences confirmed in an interview with The Ticker that the black and Latino studies department at Baruch College will not be shutting down, contrary to the concerns raised by members of faculty and students.
Professor Arthur Lewin, a member of the department, circulated to his classes via email a document that he referred to as a “fact sheet.” The document, stating that “Baruch is not inclusive” at the top in bold lettering, listed various claims about the college’s faculty diversity percentages. Lewin himself wrote up the document, he said in an interview with The Ticker, and focused specifically on the hiring of black and Latino faculty members.
In the document, Lewin claimed that Baruch’s administration “hires few blacks and Latinos,” “is not retaining the few Latinos and blacks it does hire” and “will not allow [the department] to hire replacements for staff that leave,” among other claims.
“We’ve been raising each of these issues individually for years. … The president doesn’t take any action, the faculty senate doesn’t take any action, so therefore what we have to do is let the students know about it and we’re going to let the community know about it and the press and bring them in here,” Lewin said. “Basically, from what I can tell, the main thing is that the president and administration always talk about Baruch rankings.” The faculty senate is an administrative group that comes together monthly to discuss strategies for the college.
Lewin brought up his concerns in several email exchanges and during in-person meetings with administrative members like Baruch College President Mitchel Wallerstein, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David Christy and Romero. Lewin said that he reads through major reports released by the college every year to account for shifting demographics, especially in the addition or subtraction of black and Latino faculty.
The document Lewin released indicated that Baruch hired 119 full-time faculty members between the fall 2010 and fall 2016, three of whom were black, which accounted for 2.5 percent of the hired pool of people.
On the document, this statistic is described as “the lowest number of Black [sic] hires of all CUNY colleges,” which matches up with the results displayed in the CUNYfirst New Hire Report. The only discrepancy is that the report indicated that the hiring period was from fall 2015 to fall 2016, but Lewin told The Ticker that this is a mistake on the report and it should read fall 2010 to fall 2016.
Christy affirmed the statistic. “That data is true. [I] wish it wasn’t, but it is. I’m not going to deny it. I wince when I read it but I do know that if you were to split that out year by year, you would see it getting better in 2014, 15, 16 and 2017 is even better yet,” he said in an interview with The Ticker.
In March 2016, the Office of Human Resources Management released its Three-Year Comparison of CUNY Workforce Demographics, which spanned from 2013 to 2015. One of the charts in the report detailed the number and percentage of full-time faculty at Baruch during 2013, 2014 and 2015. In 2013, there were 29 black full-time faculty members. In 2014 and 2015, there were 28 in each year. Overall, the number of black faculty at the college increased by 3.4 percent in relation to the total number of faculty over the three-year span.
The number of Hispanic faculty also followed an upward trend, accounting for 25 Hispanic faculty members in 2013 and 2014, and 26 in 2015. This amounted to a 4 percent increase in the number of Hispanic faculty, again in comparison with the total number of faculty at Baruch during that period of time.
Romero refuted Lewin’s claim that Baruch hires few black and Latino faculty, saying that he personally hired eight people of color during the 2016 to 2017 academic year. He highlighted that he contacted each candidate personally and encouraged them to apply. “These kinds of personal touch things do play a role,” Romero said. “I’m very proud of what I’m doing in that regard.”
Christy backed Romero in this, saying that out of the three deans, he would commend Romero the most because “he’s had greater success [in finding and hiring more diverse pools of people]. His pools tend to be more diverse particularly with black and Latino candidates than we’ve had with [the School of Public and International Affairs] or [the Zicklin School of Business].”
Lewin is specifically pushing to add more faculty into the black and Latino studies department. The department currently comprises three full-time professors. He claimed that the administration refused to hire more people to his department until the department came up with a full major and revamped its curriculum.
In an email exchange between Lewin and Romero, Lewin made his thoughts about the insufficient faculty in the department clear. He wrote, “So, the department, now down to just three professors, cannot hire until it has: (1) created a major, (2) revamped its curriculum, (3) stopped staff turnover, and (4) developed a plan for the future (whatever that means), all this while they teach a full load of classes, conduct meaningful research, serve on department and college wide committees and mentor a host of Latino and Black [sic] students, and others, who look to them for guidance. Three people are somehow to do all this before they will be permitted to try to hire anyone else?”
Romero, however, remained adamant about this process. “This request was made to them over a year ago, so this has been going on for some time. And this is the thing: you don’t hire new faculty who have no experience in academia and expect them to do these things because that is an unfair burden on them,” he said.
“First of all, they don’t have the experience. Second of all, you’re throwing them into this task that will be distracting them from setting off their course for the first year, delaying their research and all sorts of things. In fact, members of this department agree with me [on that].”
Romero also said that every department was required to get on board with this plan and every department currently offers a major except for the black and Latino studies department, which only offers a minor.
Christy agreed, emphasizing that student interest must be considered when trying to hire new faculty. He said that student interest at Baruch is unexpectedly booming in fields such as communications studies and journalism, so when a faculty member leaves their position in a less-coveted department, the administration thinks about adding a new faculty member to a department that generates greater student interest instead of the department from which the faculty member departed.
“So, we have to make tradeoffs. But every department has expectations set as to what our particular needs are from that department and it often comes from the faculty and their programs and their vision for distinctiveness,” Christy said. Additionally, the administration cannot determine the curriculum for any department and each department must take the initiative itself to ensure maximum success because they are the “experts,” according to Romero.
Christy also explained that it can be difficult to find black or Latino faculty to fill certain positions, like some in Zicklin. He said the pool of candidates in accounting, for example, tends to comprise “foreign nationals from Eastern Europe, Russia, China, India and other countries,” because the career may provide a path to obtain a green card and U.S. citizenship. “We’ve had searches where we just have not gotten diverse pools of candidates and we’ve canceled the search,” he admitted.
Additionally, positions that comprise of more fieldwork and may not require higher training tend to be difficult fields to build large applicant pools for. “If you’re a practicing journalist, only a small number of people want to go back and get their Ph.D. And the same thing happens in the accounting profession. If you’re working for KPMG or Ernst & Young, and you’re successful, you may not want to go back to school,” Christy said.
In his document, Lewin also claimed that retention rates for faculty have been low since the release of the college’s 2013 Strategic Plan. Romero directly combated this notion, claiming that the department has lacked “stable leadership for many years” and “there’s no sense of where [it’s] going now.” He also described how some faculty members choose to leave Baruch due to more compelling job offers at other institutions, which was the case with former professors Ana Ramos-Zayas — who accepted an offer at Yale University — and Vilna Bashi Treitler — who is now a department head at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Ramos-Zayas and Treitler were two senior faculty members at Baruch.
Christy, however, indicated that some departments may not face retention issues because they are better at being more open and engaging than others. “In some departments … whether you’re gay or lesbian, black or Asian, you feel fully welcome to engage in everything. In other departments, the culture is not as good,” he said. “I believe we have to transform the culture in our academic departments.”
Lewin also claimed that the administration was not following through with the “periodic formal and informal meetings with black and Latino staff,” as promised in the 2013 Faculty Diversity Strategic Plan.
Romero, however, stressed that he has a “keen interest” in getting to know each Weissman faculty member through meetings. Romero said that he does not think Lewin’s concern is valid because he has met with every department “on a number of occasions on a biweekly basis.”
Lewin distributed his document to his classes via email, and some students have testified that he also passed it out in person.
Since then, the document has been found on bulletin boards in the club suite area of the Newman Vertical Campus. Students who are enrolled in black and Latino studies classes or have declared a minor in the field have expressed concern over rumors that the department will face shutdown due to insufficient faculty and lack of hiring efforts.
Several faculty members have also sent out emails of concern to various administrative members. These faculty members come from different departments, such as English, sociology and computer information systems, to name a few.
On Dec. 4, a diversity meeting took place on the 14th floor of the NVC with administrative staff members. The Ticker sent a reporter and a photographer to the meeting, but they were barred from entering, along with other students who showed up with Lewin to hear the conversation and ideas. When the students were denied entrance, Lewin walked out of the meeting with them.
Sequentially, the students and Lewin held an informal gathering in the black and Latino studies department. One student who was present at the meeting, Lucien Baskin, a sophomore who is pursuing a minor in black and Latino studies, described it as an “opportunity to vent about their frustrations regarding the meeting.”
Another student, Lidia Kokaya, a junior who is in pursuit of a major in sociopolitics in the ad hoc program and a minor in black and Latino studies, said that she can only take the classes for her major at other CUNY colleges because Baruch does not offer black and Latino studies as a major.
“I want to stay here because I feel like Baruch is the best school for networking and communication and all that and I just don't want to go to other schools but the lack of courses is what’s my barrier at this point,” she said.
To continue increasing diversity in hiring pools, both Christy and Romero plan to play around with “cluster hiring,” which refers to encouraging candidates with similar backgrounds to apply simultaneously to open positions in an effort to bring in a pre-existing community to Baruch so there is more incentive to stay and more opportunity for an open department culture to manifest.
As of press time, Lewin received an email from Wallerstein that said that new resources and incentives would be allocated toward new hires. Part of his email read, “CUNY is also acknowledging that attracting URM (underrepresented minority) and/or female candidates may require that an offer be made to a trailing spouse or partner.” Lewin thanked Wallerstein for recognizing his concern but continued to push the claims he expressed in the original document.
Wallerstein did not respond to multiple requests for comment.