Let’s Help Educators at CUNY: Shame on Karen Steele and the Administration of Queensborough Community College!

Colleagues, friends, readers of this blog, and all people who care about education in this country!

I’m addressing you to ask you to stand in solidarity with the educators at Queensborough Community College who are being bullied by a vicious, unintelligent administrator.

Here is what is happening. Classes in English composition are absolutely crucial for the academic success and intellectual development of students. Here is an example of how students write when they first arrive at a university:

During the time of the Black Death, a plague that killed 30-60% of the population all throughout the European countries, the fear of mortal death being at its highest. Because the fear of not knowing how the plague was transmitted and intolerance for anyone who was different, it lead citizens to finding a scapegoat. This inflamed the already tedious tolerance of the Jews and the Jewish religion.

This is how English speakers write in the only language they know. The faculty members of all English departments in this country work extremely hard to make sure that students learn to write better. However, some administrators do not believe in the value of the Humanities and do not appreciate the hard work required to teach students to write well. This is what happened at one college as a result:

On Wednesday the English department at Queensborough Community College voted not to adopt a policy of the City University of New York to reduce composition course credits from four to three. In so doing, they rejected the CUNY Pathways initiative, a proposal for streamlining and centralizing CUNY curricula which many faculty regard as antithetical to students’ needs.

Just think about this, people! The administration of this school is trying to force the faculty members to change their English program and reduce the number of hours English composition is taught because some brainless bureaucrat believes that English is not important. When the scholars refused to participate in the attempts to dismantle their program, the administration retaliated:

In an email sent to the department chair yesterday QCC Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Karen Steele announced that because the English department insists on granting four credits for composition courses, those courses will no longer be offered by the college and QCC students will be sent to other CUNY campuses to fulfill their composition requirements. Since composition represents such a significant portion of the department’s offerings, moreover,

  • All searches to fill full-time positions in the department will be cancelled.
  • All English department adjuncts at Queensborough will be fired.
  • And the appointments of all current full-time faculty in the department will be “subject to ability to pay and Fall ’13 enrollment in department courses.

Ms. Karen Steele is shamelessly threatening to destroy the entire English department in her attempt to wage a war on the academics’ right to self-governance. This is unheard of.

175 of the English department’s 206 sections this semester are in composition, which means that the administration is planning to eliminate nearly 85% of the of the department’s current offerings. Given that English has a total of 26 full-time faculty listed on its departmental page, and given that the full-time CUNY community college courseload for three-credit courses is 4/5, the elimination of composition would mean the firing of nearly three-quarters of the department’s full-time faculty even after the termination of all part-timers.

This means that even tenured faculty are at risk of being fired for daring to have an opinion on how to run their own program. This is unconscionable!

Please consult the extortionate email sent by this irresponsible and anti-intellectual administrator at Queensborough Community College to the Chair of the English Department here.

And here is the most recent update on the situation so far.

We need to step in and tell Ms. Steele – and all other administrators who want to destroy learning and knowledge – that we will not stand for this.

My friends, we cannot just sit there passively and let this happen. Once a precedent is set, any administrator will be able to bully scholars into doing anything by threatening them with collective dismissal and the destruction of entire departments in case they dare to have an opinion on anything. Ms. Steele is forgetting her place and is getting dangerously close to turning herself in to a small-scale dictator at Queensborough Community College.

Here is what I propose we do:

1. Ms. Steele’s email address is: KSteele@qcc.cuny.edu. We need to inundate her with emails, telling her of our outrage. It is important that these emails come from many different places in the world and from people in different walks of life. Here is a tentative letter I came up with:

Dear Ms. Steele,

It is with great concern that I have heard of your plan to eliminate the composition program at Queensborough Community College, dismiss all Queensborough English department adjuncts, and immediately cancel all job searches in the department. Such measures will be extremely detrimental not only to the QCC but to the image of CUNY in the academic community. I sincerely hope that you will reconsider your decision to punish the faculty members of the English department at Queensborough Community College for exercising their academic freedom and professional judgment. It is still not too late for you to stop the destruction of the English program at QCC and avoid doing irreparable damage to CUNY’s reputation.

It is admittedly not brilliant but I’m too angry to write anything cogent, yet still at least marginally polite. If you can create a better text, please do so. I will be very grateful for any help with this.

2. Let’s make this story as widely known as possible. If Karen Steele’s superiors realize that she is causing great damage to QCC and CUNY, they will have to do something. Please re-blog and re-post this story on your own resources. The goal is to ensure that the story comes up in search engines any time people search Karen Steele, QCC, and CUNY. There is no blog or website that is too small to take part in this effort. Just copy, paste, and press “Publish.”

If you do decide to re-post this story, please let me know. I want to make a collection of links to all resources that choose to protect academic freedom in this country by making this egregious situation widely known. This is a strategy that worked before, and I’m confident that it will work now.

Thank you for standing in solidarity with educators!

43 thoughts on “Let’s Help Educators at CUNY: Shame on Karen Steele and the Administration of Queensborough Community College!”

      1. Wow, a few years later this blog post is even more laughable than before. Spastic, misaimed, meaningless drivel ; Pure garbage. I hope “Clarissa” enjoying the halfway house or whatever dive she lives in. Clarissa, you are equivalent to donkey fences.

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  1. This is wonderful Clarissa. You have inspired me to send a letter to CUNY also. Thanks for using your blog as a forum for exposing these horrible injustice.

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  2. OK, trying to vary a bit:

    Dear Ms. Steele,

    It is with great concern that I have heard of your plan to eliminate the composition program at Queensborough Community College. Such measures will be extremely detrimental not only to the QCC but to the image of CUNY in the academic community.

    Academic freedom is in large part the freedom to meet students’ academic needs. I am confident that the English department at Queensborough Community College is more than competent to design and run a composition program appropriate for their students.

    I hope you will reconsider your decision to punish the faculty members of the English department at Queensborough Community College for exercising their academic freedom and professional judgment. In doing so, you will avoid doing irreparable damage to CUNY’s reputation.

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  3. NB it is probably about some legislative decision to make all courses uniform, or make them appear uniform, in the first two years at all public institutions. This is happening in several states including here. There is no need for Steele to take these actions around it, though, that I know of.

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  4. The administration spin is that this was just a vivid description of a “worst case scenario” and not the actual plan on the table or even implemented. Ass covering of course but what do you expect?

    I think you’re being a little harsh on Dr. Steele, she is an English teacher by profession and has direct experience teaching low-skilled English students from her time in the peace corp in the Philippines. All that does make her actions all the more puzzling but maybe it’s just part of the grey matter they excise when you move into a management position.

    I think when she apologizes for her poor choice of words that you should accept it.

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    1. “I think you’re being a little harsh on Dr. Steele”

      – As my regular readers know, when I want to be harsh, I use a very different vocabulary. 🙂 In this post, I was as polite and kind to this creature as I possibly can be. 🙂

      “I think when she apologizes for her poor choice of words that you should accept it.”

      – The best case scenario for me would be to see this person fired and incapable of finding any job above that of a janitor ever. This would teach other administrators a good lesson.

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  5. Done. I deal with the unlettered for a living, so I wrote at the level of students denied the extra instruction. I live in the Southeast, and dumbing down Yankees is Not A Good Idea, unless she is cultivating future neocon radio hosts.

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  6. So I got this back, with my Dr honorific changed to Ms:

    Dear Ms. Armstrong,

    Thank you for sending your memo of support for Queensborough’s English Department. It is greatly appreciated.

    Sincerely,

    Karen Steele

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      1. I addressed her as Ms. On purpose. With her actions, she removed herself from the ranks of my colleagues. “Ms” is the nicest thing I could use to address her. Of course, “vile freakazoid” and “vicious stinky cockroach” would express my feelings a lot better.

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  7. How do you get e-mail addresses from that college’s website when you can’t log in as one of them??? Dept. chair of English is Dr. Linda Reesman and I think she should receive copies of all e-mails and letters in case Steele dumps them. If you have e-letterhead and an e-signature, that could be good too, and also paper letterhead. http://www.qcc.cuny.edu/english/index.html

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  8. “I addressed her as Ms. On purpose. With her actions, she removed herself from the ranks of my colleagues. “Ms” is the nicest thing I could use to address her.”

    You want to be effective, though, i.e. not look like someone who doesn’t know how the academic structure works. I think this is a good occasion to call her “Dean” as opposed to Professor, Dr., etc.

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  9. I bcc’d you on the version I sent her, didn’t want to post it here, at least not yet, because I think letters should be somewhat unique; liked that version best so far though and it could still use improvement.

    I rescind, perhaps, my suggestion on using letterhead: one should perhaps not appear to be using institutional resources for this. I wrote from gmail.

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