Instilling Values Via Access And 'Eggs'

New on Campus

Medgar Evers College

As former president of the University of the District of Columbia, the only public university in Washington, D.C., William L. Pollard has long been sensitive to the needs of urban students who often have to fit classes in around jobs and family commitments. In Washington, he developed a counseling center where students could get both academic and mental health help. His supporters say the center has enabled many more students to succeed and increased the college's retention rate.

PollardPollard became president of Medgar Evers in August of 2009. He was dean of Syracuse University's School of Social Work and founder of the university's College of Human Services Professions. He was president of the University of the District of Columbia from 2002 to 2007 and later served as vice president for the Office of Access and the Advancement of Public Black Colleges and Universities for the National Association for State Universities and Land Grant Colleges. Pollard was raised in Raleigh, N.C., and earned his bachelor's degree from Shaw University. He received his master's degree from the University of North Carolina School of Social Work and his doctorate in policy and planning from the University of Chicago School of Social Administration.

What changes have you implemented at the college?

The major changes have been in the area of personnel. The new team includes a new provost, chief operating officer, assistant vice president for facilities, assistant vice president for finance, chief information officer, and vice president of external relations.

You've said that you want to transform this college into the most student-centered campus within CUNY. Can you explain what that means?

More than half of our students come to class on the weekend and in the evenings, yet office hours are normally 9 to 5, so we weren't catering to student needs. We have extended some hours in admissions, registrar and student-affairs offices so that major operations are accessible to students. I've extended operational hours [in my office] on Tuesdays and Fridays until 7 p.m. during the academic year. Students don't need an appointment; they just show up.

Enrollment at CUNY is up but there are still concerns about retention. How are you going to boost retention and graduation rates here?

We have a significant population of part-time students so there's a culture of starting and stopping. And the stopping appears not to be related just to academic difficulty. It's income or family-related issues. These students require more nurturing and handholding from faculty to work through some of the challenges.

In your first address to students you offered them a dozen eggs -- a few words of wisdom. Which of those "eggs" is the most important one?

The egg for responsibility: reading, not sitting in the back of the class, going beyond what their teachers ask them to do, making sure the teacher knows who you are, getting to class on time. These are simple things, but they make a difference in student success.

Addressing 2010 graduates you urged them to leave their mark on the world. What would you like to see them do? I'm talking about giving back, supporting one's community, taking a leadership role. We're all going to find ways to support ourselves but ultimately the things that make a difference in our lives are the values we instill in others. In its 40-year history Medgar Evers has experienced tremendous growth. Where do you see this institution in the next few decades?

I expect Medgar to be one of the premier CUNY colleges offering several master's degrees in education, science education, mathematics, and additional bachelor's and master of arts degrees in music and drama. We have to look at what the community of central Brooklyn needs. I'd like Medgar to play a greater role in the delivery of human services and to that end we're developing an accredited program in social work. I'd like to see us develop a master's program in social work with a special focus on the services to children and youth.

What are some of the challenges that the college faces?

Medgar has to build better relationships with elementary and secondary schools in the community. We will always have resource challenges as long as we have an economy that is as sick as ours is right now. In the next 20 to 30 years, Medgar will have to find a way to support itself other than through the tax dollars. Hopefully we will grow alums who are wealthier, who will understand the need to give back to Medgar.

What do you do in your free time?

When I have spare time, I'm on a golf course. I love golf. ... And I read.

What's the one thing Medgar students would be surprised to learn about you?

Until about 15 years ago I regularly played the flute. I learned to play flute when I was 27. When I got to Syracuse there was not as much time, my two sons took up a lot of time. I pick it up every once in a while.