The Stylus: by CASEY CAMPBEL
Students Rally Around Professor Okoye: Administration trying to force resignation
Brockport Student Government’s Unity Fest featured several light-hearted games and free entertainment in the campus mall Friday afternoon, but when the fun and games ended around 4:30 p.m., the mood turned serious. As the jousting ring was deflated and an angry gray sky threatened to burst open, SUNY Brockport students dressed all in black began to gather around the flagpole. Their purpose: to support Dr. Felix Okoye, founder and professor in the African and Afro-American Studies department.
Okoye spoke to a crowd of approximately 50 students about how the current administration is trying to force his resignation.
“Since I have been here (the administration) has consistently tried to close out the department which I have founded (AAS),” Okoye said. “But each time they have made a move, I have always raised enough stink that they were forced to pull in their horns.”
He said the administration had placed an observer in his classroom and was having students take home and fill out a professor evaluation sheet in addition to ones filled out in class at the end of the semester. In addition, when the time came for the Discretionary Salary Increases to be awarded, his work was ignored and he was not given an increase.
“At the time I am close to retirement, that is the time I’m being treated as if I’ve just come aboard,” Okoye said. “The name of the game today is discredit the founding father of the AAS department and then you will be in a better position to phase out the department.”
“I find it real disrespectful that he’s the only professor, to my knowledge, that has had this happen,” said Juanita Burns, a student who attended the rally.
The AAS major was founded by Okoye in 1970 and the department Web site describes the program courses as one that “articulates, in intellectual terms, the actual life experiences of Africans and people of African descent in North and South America and the Caribbean.” Okoye said that despite what the administration says, they are trying to get rid of this department.
“They may lie until their tongues get dry. They may deny the truth of what it is I am saying. But I have been here long enough to know they do not really care for us,” Okoye said.
Administration officials declined to comment on the issue.
Okoye said that part of the problem is that the current administration does not understand the conditions under which he joined this campus 34 years ago. He also said that the administration’s claims about campus diversity are inaccurate.
“The number of so-called minority students is going down. Yet, they have the impertinence to be talking about diversity … If they actually believed in diversity, if there are 8,000 students, then we should have at least 1,000 so-called minority students. That is not the reality here. So who are they kidding? They are obviously kidding themselves,” Okoye said.
Suzanna Wesh, president of the Caribbean Student Association and one of the students who helped organize the rally, questioned the administration’s intentions and expressed a desire that students be made aware of the situation.
“Dr. Okoye has a unique teaching style that is fair, passionate and intriguing,” said Wesh. “I don’t understand why they need to send a separate evaluation home with his students.” She said the main point of the rally was to give Okoye a chance to let people know what is going on. Plans for another rally this Friday are in the works, but Wesh encouraged students to wear all black as a way to show support for Okoye.
Okoye’s passionate and sometimes-angry speech ended with a final message to the encouraging crowd, consisting mostly of minority students and three or four Caucasians.
“What I want you to know is that things will not change on this campus if they think we’ve all gone to sleep. If you have to agitate, agitate. If you have to march, march. If you have to protest, protest, because these are things within your constitutional rights and the time has come for us to serve notice that this type of foolishness must end.”