York Welcomes New President As The Community Calls For Changes

Interim President Eanes at a meet-and-greet with the campus community on her first day. Photo Credit: Marcia Comrie

By Rachel Dalloo

On her first day as the Interim President of York College, Berenecea Johnson Eanes hit the ground running by attending a meeting with all student leaders and a meet-and-greet with the entire campus community. 

Eanes was appointed as the interim president of York by CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez after her predecessor, Marcia V. Keizs announced her resignation in June. 

Settling into her new role, Eanes has already struck a liking with the campus and its community. She showed that by attending the annual club fair and interacting with the multitudes of students.

“I am absolutely thrilled and excited to be here at York,” Eanes said in an interview. “I started after Labor Day, and I have been very busy and that’s the way I like it. That’s the reason why I’ve always enjoyed higher education because it’s never boring. Every campus has its own energy and vibrant rhythms. So, I’m busy trying to learn the York way, and it has been wonderful.” 

Eanes was previously the Vice President for the Division of Student Affairs at the California State University, Fullerton. She worked in her earlier career as Associate Director of the School of Social Work Doctoral program at Columbia University, and recently served as the Vice President for Student Affairs at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York. 

“I have absolutely no position that I’ve ever had that doesn’t have anything to do with who I am now,” Eanes said. “Every experience gives you some lessons that help you go to the next experience. So, I’m going to have a little bit of every place I’ve been with me, but of course, with the understanding that York is unique. I don’t have a cookie-cutter approach to leadership because the campus culture and history are extremely important to pay attention to.”

Having worked closely in the Students Affairs realm to support student engagement, retention and transition efforts, Eanes has high hopes to help the college community to continue to grow as an institution. She also has confidence that she will be able to make York stand out for what the college truly is with the help of the community.

“York is in the process of strategic planning which is a community conversation and it is  intentional in that it includes students, faculty, and staff, and it will be the guiding light for the work we have ahead,” Eanes said. “So, it would not be my change, it would be the change dictated by the plan that we’re putting in place.”

“Every institution in the CUNY system has to develop goals, on a yearly basis, so we always have our eye on something,” she added. “I think that we are going to be really focusing on making sure that we finish that conversation and that it’s really inclusive so we have a living strategic plan.”

Some of Eanes’ cabinet advisors seem to agree with her plan.

Vincent Banrey, the vice president for Student Development at York, said that her first meetings with students, faculty and staff showed that she is going to have an inclusive style of working and will be cooperative working with the various constituencies at the campus. 

“I think given her background in student affairs, both at CUNY and at Fullerton, plus the other experiences that she’s had, I think that she’s going to bring that as she’s taking over the leadership here,” Banrey said. “I think that she will enhance the services that students receive across the board to support student success.”

Donna Chirico, the Dean of Arts and Sciences, like many others,  also hopes that the new change in leadership will bring good things for the college and the many departments that the college has. Especially, the Arts and Sciences which supports most of the academic programs, all general education as well as most of the faculty. 

“Because of fiscal constraints over the past few years, the Arts and Sciences have not been invigorated with faculty as they should be to support all of that,” Chirico said. “I would like to see an insertion of a type of dynamic, newer faculty groups to address the concerns, especially of general education for incoming students.”

The 2018 Fiscal Year saw York enter into a $1.5 Million budget deficit that led to York administrators enacting a hard hiring freeze and budget cuts to various departments in an effort to reduce spending. Despite these efforts, the budget deficit is still projected to rise to $2.7 million by the end of the 2019 Fiscal Year.

“First, I need an education on the details,” Eanes said when Pandora’s Box asked her for ideas on how to deal with the deficit. “Then, I need to have the context, because now we have a new chancellor, so that conversation is not the same conversation as it was last year, because someone else is in charge. That’s the person that I and the rest of the presidents have to work with to get help.”

“So, I think there are two big factors,” she added. “One is to get a clear understanding of where we are and then understand where we stand in the context of the CUNY conversation.”

Eanes said in the interview that engagement and belonging to a community are the most powerful things that are really important about a student’s experience. 

“I am really hopeful that in my first semester I can facilitate a series of conversations that will get us to a shared expectation of what I will do during my interim period,” Eanes said. “I know a lot of people ask a lot of questions on ‘what is she going to do?’, but I want us to all agree on what WE are going to do, and for us to do it together.”

“I think we will make people feel much more stable, it will confirm that we are all in it together and that we’re agreeing on some things that need to be done. It will also confirm that we’re not going to do it all, and I am not going to do it all.”

She is hopeful that she will be able to expand on York’s community and get a lot done for the students, faculty and staff members.

“We are one York and we are going to be one York together. we’re going towards academic excellence, student success, increasing retention and graduation rates, and the overall community experience for all of us,” she said.

Eanes also introduced an open-door policy with the York community while adjusting to her new position at the college.

“I would ask students to do me a favor, to remember what it is like to be new, and if there is something that I need to know about, then they need to tell me,” she said. “My door is open, my email is open, and there are tons of people here to listen, drop by, don’t be shy, let me know. If there is something that you wish, someone told you about York, then you need to tell me.”

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