July 22, 2009

Reassignment of Ujamaa Director Causes Outcry

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Controversy erupted at the end of last month when the residential housing director of Ujamaa Residential College was abruptly reassigned to another position. This comes as the University starts its review of program houses on campus, leaving many students feeling that such housing is in a particularly vulnerable state.

Bowing to pressure from across the University as well as several alumni, the administration has since reinstated Kenneth Glover, residential housing director of Ujamaa, as the temporary head of Ujamaa for the upcoming academic year, but the situation is still alarming to a vocal group of students.

On Monday, June 29, Director of Residential Programs Joseph Burke informed Glover, residential housing director of Ujamaa Residential College, that he was to be reassigned to High Rise 5 after serving as head of Ujamaa for more than 20 years.

What followed was a storm of protest from students, staff, faculty and alumni against the abrupt decision and the perceived lack of transparency in how administrators handled the situation.

Within days, there was a Facebook group created by alumni, a Google Group created by students, and messages flying through various listservs about the situation. Ebony Ray ’10 said that she created the Google Group, entitled “Students for Ken Glover” because “she saw that people wanted to do something and she wanted to make sure that what everyone was doing was going to be heard in an organized fashion.”

Alex Muir ’10, a two year resident of Ujamaa and one of the student leaders of the movement, said, “Ken Glover is the sort of patriarchal figure for the Cornell administration to the Black/African American community. At Cornell, he’s constantly pushing for students who live in his building be they minority or not to strive to excel academically and broaden their horizons, and he’s just always there for students to the utmost.”

In a statement, Glover wrote that he made clear to Burke that he wanted to continue on as Ujamaa’s RHD, but Burke did not appear willing to change his mind. “There is no doubt in my mind that events like this do not accidently happen,” wrote Glover.

According to Ray, the issue at hand is not only that of Glover’s removal from Ujamaa, but also the fate of Ujamaa in the long run. With the program house review coming up this academic year, many are worried that Glover’s removal is an indication of the removal of Ujamaa as a program house on campus.

“I think the general sentiment is that the ‘ethnic’ program houses provide somewhat of a space for people of those respective backgrounds – a home of some familiarity,” Muir said. “My personal view is that the program houses should be viewed as a place of living and learning, and if the University endorses or promotes them correctly they can be viewed as an opportunity for people to learn about different cultures.”

“Students for Ken Glover” sent a letter to the administration demanding Glover’s job be reinstated, greater, institutionalized student input in future decisions of the same type and greater student and alumni representation on the program house review board. The group also encouraged people to personally send letters and e-mails and call relevant members of the administration to ensure that their voices be heard.

Burke then responded with a letter stating that due to the economic crisis and the fact that 423 employees accepted the early retirement package, Residential Programs was working to redistribute its resources. He said that they felt that Glover’s 20 years of experience would benefit the larger community in High Rise 5.

In the letter, Burke also stated that he had selected an outsider, Angela Ibrahim, to fill Glover’s position in Ujamaa. Ibrahim served as an interim residence director and a resident advisor as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and as an assistant residence director as a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Fil Eden ’10, a student leader of the movement, said, “This issue is about students not having a voice, which even in times of economic hardship, they should.”

As members of the Ujamaa community continued to push the administration, Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73 released a statement on July 10 saying that Glover will be able to stay at Ujamaa for the coming school year. He will have the added responsibility of some work in one of the High Rise dorms. During this year, Glover will also assist Ibrahim with Jameson Hall and introduce her to the Ujamaa community.

“In January 2010, we will launch a search for a Residence Hall Director for Ujamaa. We will invite faculty and students to participate in the search process. By the end of the 2009-2010 academic year we expect to announce the new Residence Hall Director of Ujamaa to begin July 2010,” Murphy stated.

Olamide Williams ’10, student assembly vice-president and a student leader of the movement, said “I think Vice President Murphy realized how important Mr. Glover is to the community, but I think having him stay a year and then [deciding] what’s going to happen should be the choice of the community.”

Students are still pushing for greater control – they still want to know why Glover needs to be moved at all; they are demanding more power to govern Ujamaa as well as student and alumni representation on the program house review board.

“Ken’s reinstatement is a positive step, and a direct result of letters and e-mails. However, there is still a larger issue about program houses and the inclusion of student voices – that victory has yet to be won,” Ray said. “We need to lay a groundwork for the convention of these kinds of abrupt and rash decisions; personally I’m not done and I don’t think anyone else is either.”

Glover issued a statement on July 14 urging members of the community to continue fighting.

“…[O]nce again important decisions are made that will have a major impact on Ujamaa’s future without first formally consulting with Ujamaa’s faculty fellows, resident advisors, Ujamaa’s residents, Black students at Cornell, Black alumni, Ujamaa’s former and current residents and me,” wrote Glover. “I now understand why Ujamaa has struggled and patiently waited for more than five years to try to get new Ujamaa exterior building signs. When you consider that Cornell has built new residence halls on West Campus, one can legitimately ask when will Cornell renovate Ujamaa.”

According to Williams, people, especially those in the Ujamaa community, are now going to be much more active, and the administration will hear more from them.

“We are now demanding things that we felt we were not getting, such as painting in Ujamaa, more housing for students, a better facility, a better heating and cooling system, and just various other work orders,” said Williams. “The general thing is that Cornell is a community. It’s for everyone, and something is being taken away from a part of the community and to be frank people don’t know why, there’s not really a great reason for the administration to take it away.”