Hostos College 1

Carnival in the Classroom

Patterns of Nepotism and Corruption
in the Mathematics Department
at Hostos Community College

December 1982

(revised April 1994)

Roy Lisker

I. Bureaucracy

Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College , a branch of the City University of New York ( CUNY) system, is located at the intersection of 149th St and Grand Concourse Avenue in the Bronx. Although its doors did not open until 1970, it was designed on paper in 1963 to meet the special needs of Hispanic students with substandard secondary school backgrounds. Its' two year program permits students to take courses in either English or Spanish, combined with sufficient ancillary study in its English as a Second Language program, to allow them to proceed from there to universities such as CCNY ( City College of New York), offering the full 4-year program.

The science curriculum at Hostos was thoroughly re-organized in 1980. It had been proposed that the Physical Sciences department merge with Biology . Dr. Julio Gallardo, chairman of the Physics department a graduate of universities in both Argentina and the United States, and one of the small number of PhD's on the faculty of Hostos, made a counter-proposal: why not rather merge Physics with the Mathematics department?

Gallardo had long been an outspoken critic of the way mathematics was being taught at Hostos. He realized that it was next to impossible to teach Physics ,or any of the other natural sciences, to students whose command of mathematics was so minimal that they could not even do the simplest word problems, handle decimals, percentages, or, for that matter, long division.

Gallardo had frequently communicated his criticisms to the faculty and the administration of the Math department at Hostos, without effect. The most he was able to get out of its chairman, Thomas Joyce, or former chairman and elder statesman, Dr. Arthur A. Clarke, SJ, were comments such as "You expect too much of the kind of student we have at Hostos", or "We use special methods in this department."

This, then, was the background against which Gallardo made the suggestion that Physics and Mathematics might merge to the benefit of both. The amazing reply that finally came down to him deserves to be quoted. It was paraphrased for me by Dr. Gallardo as follows:

" Our students are afraid of science. If they discover that we have a scientist in the mathematics department, they will also be afraid of mathematics."

Sorting out the manifold implications of this dictum - whether or not Mathematic(s) ( singular or plural? ) ought to be consider a science, or if "math anxiety" exists apart from "science anxiety" , or if it may be that the combination of mathematician with scientist is particularly fearsome - would take up a considerable amount of time and it is not certain that it would be well spent. One thing however is certain: That the fear of including a scientist in the Hostos Mathematics department was real enough, but that it is localized not in the students of Hostos, but in the hearts and minds of Thomas Joyce himself and his band of grossly overpaid personal friends , barely competent to teach high school, that he has brought into the department over the past decade.

I was drafted into this investigation by a quartet of Latin American mathematics teachers that I met one afternoon in August, 1981 while I was vagabonding around the precincts of CCNY, looking up friends and acquaintances and engaged in the perennial search for new subscribers to my newsletters and other ventures:

Ramiro Angulo, a citizen of Columbia and friend since the 70's, had been systematically harassed out of the Hostos Mathematics department. Before leaving to take up a position at Mercy College in White Plains, he sent off a 7 page letter to Commissioner Ambach on the State Department of Education in Albany. By every account, Thomas Joyce regarded Angulo was an implacable hatred: Long before he left, Joyce was spreading rumors to the effect that Angulo was insane. ( A charge which, to those who know him, may have some merit, but which is totally irrelevant to the case! )

John Vargas, a rather good mathematician and a conscientious teacher, began his teaching career at Hostos soon after it opened in 1970. At that time the department chairman was Dr. Arthur Clarke. Clarke is a PhD and an SJ , brought over from Fordham University to set things going in mathematics. He had earned a certain standing in the academic world as the translator of a famous treatise, the "Disquisitiones Arithmaticae" of C.F. Gauss, from 'Ciceronian Latin' ( quoting Clarke's own phrase in the introduction) , into English.

This accomplishment would not, perhaps, qualify him to do high level research on Number Theory at the Institute for Advanced Study, but it does appear to be quite satisfactory as a credential for setting up a mathematics program for disadvantaged students having a difficult time translating what they know of mathematics and science from Spanish to English.

Clarke's interest in Hostos appears to have been limited to its possibilities as a kind of early retirement package combined with prestige . To actually run the department he called in his protege, Thomas Joyce, also from Fordham. Following a deft sleight of hand which upgraded his status to Assistant Professor he was , via a Parkinsonian shaft, made chairman of Mathematics without benefit of PhD. He has been at this post for a decade or more.

Since neither Clarke nor Joyce felt comfortable with qualified people like John Vargas working in the same department as themselves, it was only natural that they would neglect to inform him that 2 permanent full-time positions were opening up in Mathematics at the same time that his own short term contract was due to expire. And, in the normal course of events, Vargas might simply have left Hostos, which might have been better for all parties concerned.... except of course those incorrigible students. Over the decade that Vargas was to work at Hostos it was his students alone who did not fail the entrance examinations for math, physics and engineering at CCNY.

As fate would have it, Vargas happened to be talking to someone from the city government one afternoon, who took the intiative of telephoning the president of Hostos. It was in this way that these two positions, which had never been publicly advertized, became known. Although the math department made a show of not wanting him back, Vargas was re-appointed there by a direct order from the President's office. ( One makes the observation that, since everything is done through politics at Hostos, anyone else would have had to proceed in a similar manner: Vargas' competence or incompetence as a teacher may have beenn irrevelant.) Nine years later, still at Hostos, Vargas finally reached the status of Assistant Professor ; the same title assumed by Thomas Joyce on the very day that he walked into the squat Hostos plantation in 1971.

Two more mathematics teachers, Juan Blake of the Dominican Republic and Justo Soriano from Puerto Rico, were hired for the Spring term of 1982. Both John Vargas and Ramiro Angulo had left, Vargas through disgust and Ramiro, perhaps, as Joyce would claim, "insanity". It turned out however, that Ramiro's 7 page letter to the NY State Department of Education had hit the bull's eye. It was turned over to Leon Goldstein, acting Deputy Chancellor for CUNY. The letter that Ramiro received from him said, in part:

".... Your letter made several allegations about the teaching faculty of the Mathematics department, including a claim that they are not qualified to teach in that subject area and an assertion that some of them do not speak English.... We have made note of your comments about the preparation of the faculty at Hostos Community College. This general area will be reviewed as part of the Departments next regular evaluation of the institution....."

Stated in other terms, an investigation was imminent. Given that there was now a state of emergency, Joyce brought in two young MA's , Blake and Soriano. The department could now produce, upon request, at least two persons in its Math department whose credentials would bear scrutiny by the Albany officialdom. Blake's degree was from the Polytechnic Institute of New York, Soriano's from U.C. Berkeley. Both were enrolled in programs at CCNY leading to a PhD: Blake's research interests were in Complex Variable; Soriano was investigating the Liouville Theory of Integral Equations.

One year later, both of them seemed to be heading into that psychosis which overtook Ramiro. Their levels of indignation were of the same order of magnitude as that of him and of Vargas at the time that they left. So similar are the charges laid by all four of them against the department that one might cautiously advance the hypothesis that to any mathematics teacher with a minimal sense of professional responsibility, a contract to teach in the Hostos department was akin to being locked up in a tiger cage.

From the early days of their tenure at Hostos, Blake and Soriano were subjected to innumerable petty harassment's by the administration, notably in the person of Thomas Joyce. Joyce has stood up in faculty meetings and shouted at them, calling them a disgrace to the department. He engineered at least one false accusation of the theft of a letter; doctored memos; threatened them weekly with non-renewal of their contracts; and has tried repeatedly to implicate them in dubious bureaucratic maneuvers designed to hide the simple fact that the department is completely dysfunctional.

A typical example is the following: In all the CUNY colleges there is a standard procedure whereby the faculty periodically evaluate one another's performance. One professor will spend a full period in the classroom of a colleague. Then he writes up a report which goes into some kind of file. On October 15th, 1980, Justo Soriano sat in on a calculus class given by math faculty member , Ricardo Lopez. He stayed the full hour, then wrote a report which, by and large, with several criticisms, was favorable. Lopez went to the administration to protest. Justo's report , he said, would be misunderstood by the College Wide Personnel and Budget Committee. He also insisted that any rating inferior to "Excellent" would be unacceptable to him.

The matter was brought to Joyce's attention. He in turn gave Soriano specific instructions for amending his report: half of the criticisms were to be toned down, the other half removed. Joyce explained to Justo that in an evaluation, it was standard procedure to write down only the good points and discard the others. He demanded in particular that the major criticism that Justo had made, that Lopez has chosen a poor example to illustrate a continuous function lacking a derivative at a single point, be removed.

He also instructed Justo to change his rating to 'excellent'. Indeed, Justo learned for the first time that it was an established policy of the math department that everyone always be rated 'excellent'! Juan Blake's experience however, shows that this was not always so, but depended very much on who was being evaluated by whom. I quote from two memos:

Justo Soriano, November, 1980: " I was asked to serve as a witness to the conference following the observation of Professor Blake by Professor Clarke. Professor Blake maintains that Professor Clarke did not remain in the classroom more than half an hour, although Clarke stated categorically that he had been there for over 50 minutes. Professor Clarke also stated emphatically that 'excellence in teaching does not exist', which is why his rating of Blake had only been 'satisfactory'. Informally, Professor Blake has told me that Clarke had threatened to change his rating to 'Unsatisfactory' if he didn't stop complaining.

After a long conversation in which Professor Clarke shared his impressions from a visit to the Dominican Republic, he told Professor Blake : " I could change the rating to 'excellent' , but the observation report has already been sent to Personnel."

The story continues in a memo by Juan Blake himself:

" On Friday, October 29th, 1980 , Professor Joyce approached me to acknowledge that a problem existed with Professor Clarke's evaluation of my teaching performance. Therefore, Professor Joyce requested permission to make a personal evaluation of my class the following Monday.

No written notification of his intention to evaluate my classes was given to me, as is required by law, nor did he in fact show up that Monday. The following Wednesday however, he entered one of my classes without prior notice. No indication was made that this was for the purpose of an evaluation.

I met with Professor Joyce the next morning, and was very surprised to learn that he had written up an evaluation on me, with several serious criticisms. For example, Joyce strongly insisted that a variable can never be negative. I objected to this, since in the course of my studies I had frequently come across variables with negative domains.

Joyce also instructed me that the word 'cancellation' should never be used in the solution of equations of the type ax + b = c . 'Cancellation' he explained, is only used in division, in the elimination of a common factor from the numerator and the denominator.

I later examined the 3rd edition of the Mathematics Dictionary published by D Van Nostrand ,Inc. On page 38 one can read the following :

" Two quantities of opposite sign , but numerically equal, are said to cancel when added: 2x + 3y - 2x reduces to 3y, the terms 2x and -2x having canceled out. "

In the course of our meeting, Professor Joyce made some pedagogical suggestions such as saying "nine-tenths" instead of "point nine". He also explained that in factoring any algebraic expression one should write the steps down in a vertical rather than horizontal fashion. This, he claimed would prevent students from becoming confused when solving equations of the form ax + b = cx + d. "

Any one of Joyce's largely irrelevant criticisms might be acceptable within some theory of pedagogy; yet when taken all together they add up to a sad picture of confusion and ignorance in mathematics.

Clearly the strategy of the escalating memo war has been pursued by all sides of this conflict. Ever since October of 1980 , Juan and Justo have been grinding out memos at the rate of about 1 every 3 days. And although Ramiro is no longer a member of the faculty, he continues to send letters to the Hostos administration.

The memos, sent to faculty, administrators and public officials, go largely ignored. There was however an incident with a memo of Juan Blake sent on November 18th, which suggests that they are not totally ineffective. The quality of the response, also, shows us something about the administration mentality.

It was on this date that Juan Blake dictated a memorandum to the departmental secretary, Connie Burgess, raising questions about the distribution of salaries in the department: why persons with little or no qualifications drew large salaries, while others ( like himself , of course, or Soriano or Vargas ), who had authentic credentials, made very little. He gave instructions that copies of this memo were to be sent to 3 persons: Veronica Glover in Personnel; Anita Cunningham, Dean of the Faculty; and Thomas Joyce.

Connie Burgess did type up the memo, but only sent it to Veronica Glover. At the faculty meeting the next morning, Joyce made a big issue out of the fact that the memo had been sent out over his head without being given a copy.

After speaking with Connie Burgess, Blake came to the conclusion that she had not made a mistake, but had acted in accordance with instructions from Joyce himself. He then asked her to type up a memo, addressed to herself, demanding to know why she had not sent his previous one to Joyce and Cunningham! Ah, paranoia! We who have scaled your heights know what delights there are to be found on them!


Lorette Porte de Perez a Chilean , hired in 1977, climbed to the status of Assistant Professor in the Hostos math department in 3 short years . She lays claim to a B.A. and an M.S from the Universidad Tecnica del Estado in Santiago, Chile. However it isn't possible to verify this, short of writing to the university itself in Chile, because the math department keeps no records of transcripts or diplomas. There is a degree that can be more easily verified, a doctorate in education from Columbia Teacher's College. Such a document, unaccompanied by other independent work in mathematics, is generally thought to be sufficient for high school teachers. The bureaucratic issue is that this , by CUNY regulations, is not sufficient for its Assistant Professors.

To me then, the issue comes down to one of competence. I myself see nothing wrong with her credential , as it appears to be that Hostos could use a few really good high school teachers. In 1979, Lorette Porte offered a course in Linear Algebra. The course may also be found listed in the current Hostos catalogue although it is no longer being offered. Indeed, almost half the courses listed in this year's ( 1982 ) Hostos catalogue are not actually being presented.

I spoke with students who testified that Lorette Porte, totally ignorant of matrix theory, "taught" the course with a Schaum's outline in one hand and a piece of chalk in the other. Mumbling along in an incomprehensible pastiche of Spanish and English, she stood at the blackboard with her back to her audience, blocking out the section's of the Schaum's Outline that she was writing down verbatim.

At the end of the first semester the class voted unanimously to refuse to take the final exam. The mini-revolution was handled in the most expeditious manner: everybody got an A !

John Vargas was so outraged that he made a visit to Columbia Teacher's College to satisfy himself that she had even written a thesis. This much was apparently true: he uncovered a biographical sketch, the life of Bernhard Riemann. What is interesting is that, despite her fairly evidence inadequacies, she has more real political power in the Hostos math department than anyone else on the faculty. I was told that the one credential of any real importance for employment there, is to be a long term friend of Lorette Porte de Perez who is not on her current shit list.

In the 5 years that she has been working at Hostos, she has brought in another half dozen fellow Chilean immigrants : the couple Ricardo and Leontina Lopez, Hilda Genni, Estelle Rojas , and Juan Perez. The fact that the entire departmental payroll was delayed for 2 days until he got his Social Security card strongly suggests that he had never previously held any jobs in the United States.

All of this persons have similar backgrounds: they are Chilean immigrants, former students, friends and colleagues from reactionary Catholic small colleges. They have a poor command of English, very little knowledge of mathematics, and are all old friends of Lorette Porte.

To take an example : Leontina Diaz Lopez , after only a year at Hostos, pulls in a salary of $21,000 a year as Instructor. Yet Justo Soriano, with a Master's from Berkeley, completely bi-lingual and actively enrolled in a PhD program, make $18,000. He is not , however, a friend of 20 years standing of Lorette Porte de Perez, which ought to be worth a good $3,000 a year anywhere in the world.

One might characterize Nepotism as the Fundamental Algorithm of Hostos Mathematics hiring practice . After Clarke slapped an Assistant Professorship on Joyce, he immediately set in gear the machinery to make him an Associate. This would be strictly against CUNY regulations of course: an Associate Professor must have a PhD and as demonstrable publication record: Joyce has neither. Clarke , who over the years had built up a substantial network of old-boy connections, nearly succeeded. He had already gotten around both Hostos and CUNY administrations and was on his way to make the canonization of his protégé official, when it was squelched at the last minute by an official with the State Board of Higher Education in Albany.

This precedent, established by Clarke in the advancement of his friend Thomas Joyce, has been continued by Joyce himself in advancing the careers of his personal friends in the department. Either persons are hired for jobs that are nowhere advertized ( Ricardo Lopez in 1980); or positions are advertized that are already filled. ( However all universities do this; its a way of cheating the government, ( which is itself only a way of cheating the public ) ) . The internal politics are all that matter: witness the dramatic assent of Leontina Diaz Lopez from Lab Technician to Math Instructor in less than a year.

In addition to the "Chilean Mafia", as they are referred to at Hostos, Joyce has brought in others who resemble them: Anibal Galiana, with a Master's in education. He speaks almost no English and never received any degree in the subject of mathematics. His master's thesis was about the educational system of Nicaragua and has been translated into English by Dr. Arthur Clarke: one more testimony to Clarke's exceptional ability as a translator.

Mariano Garcia and Isaias deJesus are of particular interest as counter-examples. Both are past retirement age. Mariano Garcia has a PhD in Number Theory. The possession of this credential is in itself enough to set him apart from everyone else in the Hostos math faculty except deJesus and Clarke himself. He came to teach at Hostos after taking his retirement from the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan, and has been there 13 years ( 1982)

As a full professor of mathematics at Hostos he draws in $43,000 each year. Another $20,000 comes to him from his two retirement pensions. With the royalties from his books he probably grosses $100,000 or more. On top of which he does no teaching: for some unfathomable reason, his course on advanced Number Theory which is listed each year in the catalogue, is never given as its enrollment, when there is any, is never sufficient.

It has recently come to light that Isaias De Jesus , an elderly mild-mannered Assistant Professor with a PhD but otherwise unexceptional credentials, may soon find himself thickly embroiled in a 'Meta-nepotism' gambit. Last month the P&B Committee ( Personnel and Budget), voted to install De Jesus as chairman of the mathematics department at the beginning of the next semester. This shift frees up Joyce to pursue his legitimate aspirations, and it is generally understood that he will be rising to a still greater level of incompetence, the Associate Dean of Faculty for Hostos, just as soon as its present occupant, Robert Matthews, resigns. This is expected to occur in a month or so. The substitution of Joyce by the genial Isaias De Jesus can only be interpreted as a blessing for the math department. Unfortunately, the installation of Joyce as the Associate Dean of Faculty can only be deemed yet another plague on the wounded body of the institution of Eugenio Maria de Hostos Community College, founded in 1968 for the rip-off of the destitute, for the destitute and by the destitute.