All Politics Are Local, Especially Departmental Politics

The negative reaction of the faculty to the renaming of the school after Bayard Rustin, a black the civil rights leader and union activist, might have been a reaction to other things going on in the city.  The Board of Ed was involved in a crash program to reorganize the administrative staff of the schools, which up to then had been mostly white and Jewish, and no longer reflective of the population of New York City.  This couldn’t be done without changing the promotion process, but that was also taken care of.  Up until this period the process had been a strictly lock step, civil service  sort of thing.  Aspiring administrators took a civil service examination, and the highest scores went to the top of a list of future hires.  In order to change that, the Board required only that a watered down test be passed, and neighborhood boards then decided who was to be hired.  Most of the boards in New York City being composed of minority group leaders, it was not difficult to figure out who was to be hired.  The professional staff of New York City being predominantly white, a certain resentment did build up.  On the other hand, as there were also many downtrodden middle class women in the system, particularly in the elementary schools, they also became beneficiaries of the new system.

Milton Silver, the school principal, had retired, and the Board decided to send us Mrs. Joan Jarvis, the double blessing of a Black woman.  Actually, she was quite good, very good indeed.  When Abe Chiavetti, the chairman of the English Department retired, the Board sent us another double blessing, a black woman who was firmly resisted by the members of the department, myself excepted.

Now-a-days, Lois is a professor of education in New Jersey

After Chiavetti retired, I expected to be named chairman of the department because I was the senior member and the only one with the necessary civil service qualifications.  To my surprise, however, a young woman, Lois Weiner (she insisted we pronounced it “Whiner”) who had taught about three years, decided the she wanted to be department chair and campaigned vigorously for the position.  I didn’t campaign at all, feeling that it was unnecessary and unseemly to do so.  I lost by one vote.  But that was not the end of the story.

Lois now felt she was entitled to the position (although she lacked accreditation), when the Board sent us Gertrude Karabas, a black woman with a Greek name, which trumped being an oppressed white woman.  Lois was outraged and organized a meeting of the department with the principal to register their complaint and reverse the appointment of Gertrude, whom they really didn’t know except by reputation.  I was the only department member who skipped that meeting.  The meeting achieved nothing.  Joan Jarvis asked me to help Gertrude get started in her new position, and of course I did.  Gertrude became an excellent department chair, which she would have been even without my help, but she also became a good friend.

About AlexLevy

Dr. Alex Levy is a retired English teacher who survived World War II and the “Final Solution” by hiding in a Catholic orphanage for girls in Belgium for several years.

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