Amidst the ongoing budget cuts, the adjunct layoffs and the uncertainty of whether or not the Queens College campus will be reopened, President Frank H. Wu held a series of town halls to address the concerns of the QC community.
Wu was appointed by CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez this past Spring to serve as Queens College President following a national search after Chancellor Matos left the position vacant.
Wu took to Zoom, a video conferencing platform, to interact with students, faculty and other members of the QC community. Town halls were held from July 6 to July 8, each day dedicated to a different audience, including students, faculty and others.
The town halls kicked off with President Wu interacting with the students. It should be noted that less than 1% of the student population was in attendance. Out of 75 RSVPs, approximately 25 students were in attendance for the town hall. Nonetheless, President Wu explained his priorities for Queens. “Addressing the pandemic thoughtfully, ensuring we [Queens College] advocate in light of recent budget consequences, and ensuring that I [Frank Wu] get to know the community.”
Whereas the town hall held for students was a small gathering, approximately 40-plus faculty were in attendance the following evening to meet with President Wu. Alongside him was Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Elizabeth Hendrey and the rest of the Queens College administration.
The faculty town hall placed major emphasis on the “budget consequences” that President Wu mentioned while discussing his priorities at QC. One of the major budget consequences was the recent closing of the English Language Institute, an academic program for learning English as a second language. Faculty within the department were told that they were soon to be out of a job, yet Wu claimed publicly during the town hall that “The English Language Institute is on a hiatus.”
This remark caused major confusion amongst the several faculty members from the English Language Institute who were present on the call. Ann Larios, former English Second Language Instructor, published a statement in the Zoom call: “The English Language Institute (ELI) classes were geared towards academic success and success in chosen careers. The immigration policies of the past few years were instrumental in [the] downturn of students. The ELI classes were completely different from library classes. They were essential for the success of the diverse student body.”
Larios then directed a question to President Wu via the Zoom chat, “If it [ELI] is on hiatus, who will work to bring it back?” Similarly, Monica Courtney, a faculty member from the English Language Institute, voiced her confusion about the President’s remark claiming that the ELI was on hiatus. “Our dedicated ELI students were told quite abruptly that the program at QC was closing – as were the faculty. This is the first mention of the program being ‘on a hiatus.’ How will you involve the experienced ELI faculty in the process of redesigning the ELI?”
Sadly, both Larios & Courtney’s questions went unanswered, as President Wu, alongside Provost Hendrey, acted in unison to dodge these concerns.
Apart from the concerns about the English Language Institute, there was significant unrest regarding the lack of action from Queens College regarding the budget cuts. David Gerwin, Professor for Secondary Education and Chair of the QC Chapter, PSC-CUNY, was not afraid to call out Wu publicly. “President Wu, will you speak out publicly, or only behind the scenes?” asked Gerwin via the chat function in the Zoom call.
Gerwin spoke to The Knight News, expressing his concerns that Queens College is acting similarly to private institutions. He explained that summer sessions have a much wider range of course offerings compared to the coming Fall semester. As a result, students who need to graduate or take the necessary courses for their major/minor are forced to pay the excessive amount of fees and tuition for summer sessions. Gerwin says that this marginalizes the students who cannot afford the summer session, forcing them to be subjected to taking a minimal amount of courses in the fall or waiting around for the desired course for another semester. Though these series of meetings were termed “town halls,” it should be noted that no faculty spoke up, as President Wu retained control of the conversation for the entire meeting. Rather than terming the meetings as town halls, a more appropriate label for the meetings would have been “live announcements from the QC administration.”