By Sam Bojarski
Eight months after threatening to resign in the wake of a misunderstanding with Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, Dr. Jean Eddy Saint Paul has stepped down from his role as founding director of the Haitian Studies Institute at Brooklyn College.
Saint Paul had served in the role since August of 2016, the same month he was hired by Brooklyn College as a tenured sociology professor. He had previously taught sociology for years as a professor at Universidad de Guanajuato, in Mexico. The search for a new director of the institute should begin within months.
According to Yolette Williams, president of the Haitian American Alliance, the Haitian Studies Institute has been a source of pride in the Haitian community over the past four years.
“It was a place where our culture could be celebrated, (where) the community could come together, where our history could be researched,” she said.
The Institute is committed to promoting scholarship on Haiti and advancing an understanding of policies that impact Haiti and its diaspora. It has sponsored numerous events, including an annual symposium on Haitian Creole and a lecture on the Battle of Vertieres that occurred this past November. More recently, the Institute sponsored a virtual conference, “COVID-19 and the Health of the Haitian Community in New York City,” in May.
Dr. Carole Berotte Joseph first initiated the process of starting the Haitian Studies Institute when she was president of Bronx Community College, in 2012. She helped build faculty support within the CUNY system that houses Bronx Community College and Brooklyn College, while also building support among New York’s Haitian community. The process of founding the institute took about four years, noted Joseph, who is now retired.
Once Saint Paul took over, Joseph met with him to provide files and background information on the Institute. She also tried to offer support when needed. Joseph told the Haitian Times that Saint Paul was often less than forthcoming with information, particularly about plans to establish an advisory committee.
While Saint Paul certainly faced obstacles, including minimal budget support and the challenge of being new to CUNY, she said communication could have been better.
“I think it didn’t get off the ground the way it should have,” Joseph said.
Although she had heard rumors, Joseph said she was surprised to hear of Saint Paul’s resignation.
Saint Paul declined to comment on his resignation from the Haitian Studies Institute and directed questions to Brooklyn College staff.
Saint Paul announced he would resign back in October of 2019, in a bewildering flurry of emails sent to influential Haitians in New York. In the emails, Saint Paul accused District 42 Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte of making false claims about his sexual conduct ‒ accusations Saint Paul later acknowledged as a misunderstanding.
Bichotte said in a prepared statement that she had no direct knowledge of the reason for Saint Paul’s departure.
“The Haitian Studies Institute continues to be a source of pride for the immigrant community in Flatbush, the entire Haitian-American community here in Brooklyn, and beyond. I continue to support the institute in its endeavor to educate the community on the importance of our history and culture,” Bichotte also told the Haitian Times.
In the emails he sent, Saint Paul gave a number of reasons for wanting to step down as director of the Institute, including that the position “has been an obstacle for me to advance my scholarship and teaching of quality.”
He also said the position did not allow him to spend enough time with family.
The provost of Brooklyn College formally accepted Saint Paul’s resignation from the Haitian Studies Institute on June 11, said Anne Lopes, Brooklyn College provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, in an email. He remains a professor of sociology at the school.
A Brooklyn College spokesperson did not share Saint Paul’s resignation letter upon request. Board members of the Haitian Studies Institute did not respond to requests for comment, despite repeated attempts.
“Professor Jean Eddy Saint Paul had been previously tenured by another university. He was tenured by the Universidad de Guanajuato in 2011 and promoted to full professor there in 2015. In order to recruit a tenured member of the faculty at another institution, it is customary in higher education to include tenure at the new institution as part of the offer,” Lopes also told the Haitian Times, in response to a question about his tenured position with the university.
Giving a faculty member tenure upon hire is relatively common in the academic community, according to Hans-Joerg Tiede, senior program officer and researcher with the American Association of University Professors.
“Some institutions don’t do that, and it can make it hard to recruit faculty members who have tenure elsewhere if this is not practiced,” Tiede added, in an email.
Despite Saint Paul’s departure after less than four years, Lopes expressed optimism about the future of the Haitian Studies Institute.
“The Dean and I will be reviewing the history and work of the Institute this summer and bringing together our faculty to plan the search for a director at the very start of the fall semester,” she said.
While she did not offer specifics, Lopes said the search committee will hone the vision for the Haitian Studies Institute and its development.
“The new director, based on their expertise and experience, will shape programming and activities as the director works with multiple constituencies ‒ faculty, staff, students, the larger Haitian community, researchers, its advisory board ‒ to meet the needs of the various and overlapping communities the Institute serves. We are committed to the strong success of the Haitian Studies Institute, and we believe its future is bright,” she added.