Late this June, the City University of New York (CUNY) Board of Trustees gave the final vote of approval for Director of the Harvard Foundation S. Allen Counter, Jr. to become the next president of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York. From a field of more than 70 candidates, CUNY picked Counter to head the community college it oversees.
The only trouble was, Counter hadn't picked them.
Five weeks ago yesterday, CUNY Vice Chancellor for University Relations Jay Hershenson proudly announced Counter's selection as the next president of the school named for the slain civil rights leader.
"Following an extensive national search, Dr. [S. Allen] Counter of Harvard University was offered and accepted the position of president of Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York. On Monday June 27, the board of trustees of CUNY voted unanimously to appoint Dr. Counter president of Medgar Evers College. Dr. Counter is discussing with CUNY the terms and conditions of employment for the position."
But in statements made through a personalspokesman, Counter, who has not granted interviewssince his rejection of the post, maintained thathe had accepted only candidacy and not the jobitself.
Searches for college presidents are generallythe most discrete of undertakings, and formaloffers are traditionally not made until anacceptance has been assured. But such was not thecase for Medgar Evers. After having made theirchoice public, they were now in an embarrassingsituation.
To make matters worse, there was no tidyresolution to the confusion.
CUNY officials say that two weeks ago, during ameeting in which employment negotiations wereexpected to take place, Counter informed theadministrators that he was declining thepresidency and expressed doubt about Medgar Evers'future as a college.
Shortly after the meeting, Counter's personalspokesman, Edward L. Doyle, released thisstatement: "After long and hard consideration ofthe Medgar Evers offer, and after meeting withseveral personal advisers upon my return to theUnited States, the following conclusions havebecome apparent, first that there is considerabledoubt regarding the continued existence and viability ofMedgar Evers College as an independentinstitution."
Medgar Evers returned the volley with astatement criticizing its former would-bepresident. "It is unfortunate that Dr. Counter'sdecision as reflected in his press release,following meetings not with university trusteesand officials, but with `several personaladvisers,' gratuitously harms the college that hadsought his leadership by seeking to portray itsfuture in a highly unfavorable light."
To date, Medgar Evers maintains that Counteraccepted the post they offered him, and to datethe director of the Harvard Foundation calls theevent a misunderstanding.
In an interview yesterday, Doyle said that withthe statement accompanying his decline of theoffer, Counter was not trying to damage theschool's public image.
"Counter was not taking a whack at anybody--ifhe just said `no' he would be turning his back onthe opportunity to make a statement he thinksneeds to be made," Doyle said. "He is tremendouslydedicated to the students at Medgar Evers and hefeels that Medgar Evers College will never be ableto reach its potential until all efforts are madeto restore its four-year status."
But faculty members and administrators at bothMedgar Evers and CUNY are less than pleased withCounter's handling of the affair. A smallcommunity college named for the slain civil rightsleader, Medgar Evers was founded in 1969 as anexperimental project in higher education.
Ever since it has been battling for funding andprestige, and it has had by its own admission aless than successful record in achieving either.As a result, the unusual flap over the Counterappointment and the concomitant exchange ofcombative statements left people close to theschool with a bad aftertaste that threatens tolinger.