Abolishment of the SEEK Department Pending CUNY Board of Trustees ApprovalSEEK to become a new program once departmental status is stripped
By Martha Ortiz
The CUNY board of trustees will vote Feb. 27 to approve the abolishment of the SEEK department at Hunter and the formation of the Ellis Sutton SEEK Program. The restructuring of Hunter's SEEK offerings comes after a thorough evaluation of the department which, according to an explanation of the policy attached with the meeting agenda, included the consultation of SEEK faculty and students.
SEEK, Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge, is a program offered by CUNY to provide financial and counseling services to “high potential, low income students who otherwise might not be able to pursue a college degree because they are not academically well prepared for college level,” according to the CUNY website.
“The evaluation and assessment of the Hunter SEEK program was driven in part by a CUNY-wide initiative, as reflected in the 2011-2012 goals and targets of the CUNY Office of Academic Affairs to evaluate SEEK programs CUNY-wide,” said Vita C. Rabinowitz, provost and vice president for academic affairs. The change into a SEEK program would mean the hiring of a director that would report directly to the Provost, “who could better assume responsibility for running the complex organization that is the department of SEEK” said Rabinowitz. The Department of SEEK has not had a permanent chair for a couple years, almost since 2003.
Professor Jorge Fuentes, a lecturer and counselor for 40 years at Hunter’s SEEK department, was appointed acting chair of the Department of SEEK by Hunter’s Department of Administrations. Although he supported the “Resolution to Maintain the Department of SEEK” (December 2011), he hoped that SEEK will become a program “this semester because [he doesn’t] look forward to being acting chair for another semester,” said Fuentes in his office. “We don’t have credit bearing courses – we have one course, freshmen orientation seminar, and it doesn’t carry any credit,” said Fuentes. “For us to insist that we are an academic department because we offer a two hour, no credit course, is silly!”
Dr. Maria A. Rodriguez, an associate professor and licensed psychologist, has served 30 years working as a SEEK faculty. “We are advocates for our SEEK students, and if you attack the structure and the faculty form, then you are attacking the voice of the students,” said Rodriguez. In the past, the department was given the opportunity to participate in a Self-Study – which happens periodically every seven years – and this allowed students, faculty, and staff of the Department of SEEK, as well as administration, “to determine what the strengths are and what areas need to be focused on,” said Rodriguez. “We have a unique mission, but that doesn’t justify their treating us any different from other departments,” she said. The faculty of the Department of SEEK has been adamant to defend their department against a public evaluation from the provost and the college president. “In this college, no other departments have been subjected to public evaluations by the administration of Hunter,” said Rodriguez.
The SEEK faculty have consistently rejected the departmental status change. “What the administration decided to do instead of the usual academic practice, is to focus on a evaluation that was not intended to be a construction evaluation process, it was intended to be destructive, demeaning and condescending,” said Rodriguez. Frederick G. Liggins, a lecturer and counselor at SEEK for 11 years, agreed to her colleague’s comment as to the singling out of the SEEK department. “What are their intentions besides disempowering a department, they are intentionally impugning our reputation,” said Liggins.
Reina Taveras, a lecturer and counselor, graduated Hunter College as a former SEEK student in 2007. A year later, she enrolled at the School of Social Work and graduated in 2010. “ Without SEEK, I wouldn’t be able to do half of what I did,” said Taveras. “It’s heart-wrenching because I have a unique attachment,” she said. “We need the college to work with us and value us because at the end of the day, if we have this mutual respect, this mutual care for the work that we do – the overall wellbeing of our students – then I think we can get to where we want to get to,” said Taveras. If SEEK were to change into a program this could influence Taveras' career, since she is substituting and her contract will be up at the end of the summer. “I won’t be here if it becomes a program, and to me that’s depressing because I’ve invested ten years of my life at Hunter, all this time at SEEK and for it to be done in a way like that, it’s heartbreaking and disappointing.”
Wankairys Decena, 22, from Queens, graduated in sociology at Hunter as a SEEK student. She has been working for four years as an Administrative Assistant an the Institutional Review Board Office, now called the Human Research Protection Program in the East Building, said Decena in an interview over the phone. “I decided to go to Hunter because I was accepted as a SEEK student, and it’s because I was given that opportunity to take the writing section for the placement exam again, that I am so thankful because I was given that second chance,” Decena said.
“SEEK is a family there to support you and be there through your academic career,” she said. “If I didn’t have that extra help from SEEK in college, I would have dropped out.” When Decena graduated, she was on the Dean’s list for three semesters, a member of SEEK Chi Alpha Epsilon and graduated cum laude. “People thought I got into SEEK because I did bad in high school – I was like no, I did great in high school,” said Decena. It was her financial status that allowed her to be qualified into the SEEK program. “This is not something to be taken for granted, its appreciated and it would be a disadvantage to a lot of students if they don’t get the same opportunities that I had.”