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Title Fight: Internal Conflicts Within English Department Result in Hierarchical Drama

Professor Anthony Mancini was reinstated as director of the Journalism program after internal conflicts within the English department. PHOTO/ Zainab Iqbal
Professor Anthony Mancini was reinstated as director of the Journalism program after internal conflicts within the English department. PHOTO/ Zainab Iqbal

By Adam Zaki and Zainab Iqbal

Published: October 4th, 2017

Internal problems within the English department at Brooklyn College resulted in Anthony Mancini, the director of the Journalism program, to be stripped of his 37-year title, only to later get it back.

“You’re not going to be director anymore,” Ellen Tremper, the chair of the English department, told Mancini about three weeks ago.

In a meeting in Boylan Hall last week, both Mancini and Tremper sat down to discuss their issues with the Journalism program’s relationship with the English department. The Journalism program is currently a subsidiary of the English department.

“I had some suspicions when she called me to this meeting that something was brewing,” Mancini said, not expecting his title was going to be revoked.

But why? The answer to that came a week later.

“I felt like he wasn’t fulfilling his obligations as director,” Tremper said. According to the chair, Mancini wasn’t attending meetings or participating with the English department. She believes that the Journalism program has branched too far off from the English department.

“I asked that he makes some changes in the way he fulfills his responsibilities as director,” Tremper said.

She noted that the Journalism program needs to function as an entity, and not independently, of the English department. “I need to make sure each program is being represented in the English department,” Tremper said.

“And I was saying, now that we know you’re back in the English department, I want you all to behave as if you were members of the English department,” Tremper said. “You have to come to meetings. If you make complaints, you have to make them on the basis of having participated; you can make complaints through participation. But if you haven’t shown up to the meetings, you really can’t have complaints.”

The complaint she is referring to was the final straw for Mancini.

Paul Moses, a former professor in the Journalism program, retired after last semester. According to Mancini, he was an integral part of the program.

“If I was the heart, he was the soul,” Mancini said. “And if one of us goes, it’s a bad thing. If I’m demoralized it’s a bad thing, too.”

In order to replace him, the Journalism program was hoping it would get a hiring line to hire a full-time professor. The City University of New York (CUNY) gives out a limited amount of hiring lines each year. After meeting with the various department chairs and deans, the provost makes the ultimate decision on which departments get the lines to go ahead and potentially hire full-time faculty.

In June, Dr. Kenneth Gould, who was the chair of the sociology department, took over as Acting Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences. At the beginning of this semester, Mancini went to introduce himself to Gould.

“Naturally, we would talk about journalism,” Mancini said. “I hadn’t asked him about it, he’s the one who told me that he had gotten us a line for journalism.”

Mancini then excitedly told his colleagues and Tremper. However, Tremper felt as if Mancini was going over her head in an attempt to improve the Journalism program without reconciling with the department to which it belongs.

“She objected to that obviously, because her opinion is that the administration has no right to dictate to the department how they use the line,” Mancini said. “They can give them the line, but they can’t dictate how they use it.”

Tremper wanted that line for the linguistics program.

In December of 2016, the Strategic Planning Committee voted to ask for a line in the linguistics program, as at the time they were aware that a linguist was retiring.

“We didn’t even consider journalism. We did not know that Paul Moses was going to be retiring,” Tremper said. “We have had five retirements and one death since June 2016, and there was never a talk about replacement of any of those other lines either.”

During the internal conflict, The Excelsior obtained an unofficial list of departments set to receive hiring lines from a Brooklyn College official. The English department is not on the list.

Tremper claims that no decisions about hiring lines have been made. “Nobody has [received a hiring line] actually,” she said. “So we have been told that the list has not been made final at this point.”

Gould explained that hiring lines are like “zen riddles.”

“It’s a multi-stage process and at any stage in the process it could essentially dissolve,” he said. “It’s not a dichotomous variable. When is a line a sure thing? When you get somebody to sign a contract, mostly. You can also have searches that failed. Maybe you don’t get any good candidates, or the candidate you want don’t accept the offer, and they close.”

But either way, Mancini claims that this conflict is not a one-time thing.

“There’s been friction between the Journalism program and the English department for at least four years, dating from the time when we decided it wouldn’t make sense to not merge,” Mancini said. “Ellen Tremper felt that she was being left out of the process, and she objected to the move to the other department, which fell through anyhow. I’ve been in journalism here under five different chair persons of the English department, and this is the only one the Journalism program has had trouble with. “

The merge that Mancini is referring to was supposed to be between the English department’s Journalism program and TV and Radio department’s Journalism and Media Studies program. After months of working to combine the two programs together, it didn’t work out due to multiple discrepancies between departments. 

When The Excelsior asked Tremper how she felt about the merge, she refused to comment.

On Sept. 26, Mancini, Tremper, and Gould sat together and discussed the future of the program. It was then that Mancini received his title back after agreeing to work alongside the English department and not outside it.

“I tried to encourage people not to re-litigate the past,” Gould said. “If you stay focused on what’s best for the students, what’s best for the program, how do we build this, move forward together, then everybody can be on a collaborative mission.”

Gould believes, “conflicts are best resolved by people sitting around and talking to each other and not via social media.” He went on to say that regardless of internal conflicts within departments, “Everybody at Brooklyn College is on the same team.”

“Frictions emerge, personality conflicts emerge, rumors emerge, and all of that is best worked out with people sitting down and talking to each other,” he said. “But the biggest takeaway, I think, at this point now is everything is good. Things are resolved and everybody is going to work together to continue to build on the excellence of the Journalism program, which is really important right now.”

He called it “internal departmental politics.” Though the issue is resolved now, it may have a chance of emerging if and when the English department does get a hiring line.

“Departments need to work out their priorities,” Gould said. “There will be internal debates over what is the best place to allocate lines to give us the best return to giving quality education to our students.”

After all, he believes journalism is an “institution that’s fundamental to a functioning democracy.”

“I think the future of the Journalism program is good,” he said. “It’s got a solid base; it’s got a terrific reputation, a history of excellence. But obviously we face some challenges in this time and place.” He spoke about adjusting to the series of digital platforms, the way journalism is conceptualized, and the attacks from President Donald Trump’s administration.

“I am interested in resourcing journalism to the greatest extent possible so that we can address those challenges and produce students that are ready to meet them,” Gould said.

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