Let the experts decide Peña-Mora’s fate
The race card has been played over and over during SEAS Dean Peña-Mora’s battle to keep his position, but New York City Council member Ydanis Rodriguiez just initiated a game of 52 Pickup.
Rodriguez, a Dominican-American who represents Inwood, Washington Heights, and Marble Hill (all predominantly Dominican neighborhoods), has led the charge in rallying his residents to steadfastly defend Peña-Mora, who happens to be…you guessed it, a Dominican-American.
However, this sudden rally by Rodriguez is similar to the kind of opportunistic Sharpton-esque behavior that others have used to blackmail communities in defending individuals who merely happen to share a genetic trait. The three-year City Council member recently went as far as as saying, “the community is on alert” for any attempt to remove Peña-Mora. What is this, a hockey team ready to scrap if their star player gets checked into the boards too hard? Have the two even met?
Rodriguez even made a threat in saying, “I hope Columbia understands that their decision will have an impact, positive or negative, on the relationship between Northern Manhattan and Columbia.” This guy sounds more like Tony Soprano than a politician. And if that’s actually the case, the citizens of Northern Manhattan seriously need to readjust their priorities.
Where was Rodriguez when Moodygate was in full swing? Why didn’t he rally the troops to start a letter-writing campaign when provost Claude Steele and GS Dean of Students Scott Halvorson recently left? His surely lifelong passion in higher education employment decisions probably could have been of great help in holding onto our elite faculty.
I’ll admit that I don’t know much about the inner details of the SEAS kerfuffle. (And it seems neither does the rest of campus.) It appears nearly all the faculty wants him gone, and that many alums are dissatisfied as well. It also seems like he’s well liked among students and had a decent track record of success, including significantly raising SEAS’s ranking.
But Rodriguez seems to think his opinions belong among those of students and faculty who have had close personal relationships with Peña-Mora, know his workplace protocol, and have worked with him for years, simply because the councilman shares the dean’s ethnicity and former zip code.
Some of the quotes from Rodriguez’s rally are entirely ethnocentric. “He is one of our own. He’s from our own backyard,” said one Washington Heights resident and Columbia student. “The most important thing about Dean Peña-Mora is that he’s given all minority youth someone to look up to.” While it’s great that Peña-Mora gives minority youth someone to look up to, that role model doesn’t have to be restricted to someone of a particular ethnicity, and just because Feni may no longer hold his current job doesn’t mean he has to go door to door and tell every little kid in Washington Heights that he’s no longer suitable to be their hero.
Look, as much as I love people who also happen to be from my home neighborhood or coincidentally share my ethnicity, I’d argue that the ability to maintain dozens of departments at one of the world’s top universities, look out for the financial and intellectual health of the college, and lead the school into the 21st century all rank a little higher up on the importance scale when evaluating Peña-Mora’s job performance.
As a fellow Hispanic, I suppose Peña-Mora and I share the same ethnicity. But unlike Councilman Rodriguez and the residents he’s trying to rally behind him, I couldn’t care less that Peña-Mora and I happen to share a similar heritage. By Rodriguez’s standards, I should go on a hunger strike the next time a right-handed six-foot-two brown-eyed male professor is on the hot seat. I care a hell of a lot more that our engineering school is led by a fully competent dean who can direct the school into the murky Cornell-NYC future, maintain a cutting-edge curriculum, and have the full respect of students and faculty. If that guy happens to be Peña-Mora, then great. If not, so be it.
Whatever decision you make, PrezBo, make it solely based on your, the Board of Trustees’, and SEAS faculty’s opinion of Peña-Mora’s ability to perform his job. But don’t let this bully from a few blocks north influence your vote.
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