Integrated City University
Responds to the WTC Crisis
By Matthew Goldstein
Chancellor of The City University of New York
When I arrived at the campus of Borough of
Manhattan Community College the morning after the September
11th terrorist attacks, the sun was shining strongly; the constant
sound of sirens, and the enormous presence of police, firefighters,
EMS and ambulance personnel seemed strangely incongruous.
Goldstein summarizing the post-9/11 state of the University
for the Center for Educational Innovation on October
3 at the Harvard Club.
I saw immediately that the main campus was essentially intact,
but that the collapse of 7 World Trade Center had severely damaged
Fiterman Hall, located at 30 West Broadway.
This 15-story structure, donated by Miles and Shirley Fiterman
in 1993, had housed 40 classrooms, computer labs, the New York
TeleMedia Accelerator, and the College's Business and
Computer Departments, among other facilities.
My thoughts instantly flew to the 17,000 students on the campus.
How many of them had been working there? Were they O.K.? How
many of their family members had been lost? Like all New Yorkers,
I held out great hope, but the force and speed of the implosion
led most of us to believe that there would be a horrific death
We are still struggling to fathom what Vice Chairman of the
CUNY Board of Trustees Benno C. Schmidt, Jr. called "the
greatest loss of life within its academic family from a single
cataclysm of any university in American history." Since
this disaster, stories of missing or lost CUNY students and
alumni have been featured prominently in New York's newspapers.
Across the University, students, faculty
and staff responded to the disaster with extraordinary generosity,
speed, compassion and resolve. Chancellor Goldstein
From the beginning of this crisis, I knew it was important to
keep this University open as a safe harbor. The close relationships
forged on our campuses make CUNY an integral part of the social
environment an extension of the homesof our faculty,
staff, and student body. The only campus that closed was BMCC,
which served as a command center and staging area for some 2,000
rescue workers from many city, state, and federal agencies assisting
in the recovery efforts. Thanks to a campaign coordinated by
President Antonio Perez, the College was able to reopen October
Nowhere was CUNY's integration in the life
of this city more evident than in the outpouring from our campuses.
Across the University, students, faculty and staff responded
to the disaster with extraordinary generosity, speed, compassion
and resolve. More than forty faculty and staff experts in psychology
and social work staffed the CUNY Helpline. People
all over the city were able to voice their grief and concerns,
and obtain counseling. John Jay College of Criminal Justice
worked with The New York Times "9/11 Neediest Fund"
as a clearinghouse for donations to our police, fire, emergency
and other services. CUNY's college presidents, administration,
faculty, staff, students and alumni provided opportunities for
on-campus panel discussions and "town meetings," blood
donation drives, and ongoing counseling and support services.
We continue to assist numerous city, state and federal agencies
with office space and with access to our tremendously talented
faculty and staff experts. Thanks to our efforts to make CUNY
a more integrated system, we were able to bring resources from
around the University to bear in the management of this crisis.
In relocating all the organizations and rescheduling all the
activities housed in Fiterman Hall, one of our greatest concerns
was the CUNY Research Foundation. We quickly relocated the CUNY
Research Foundation at our 57th Street location and, with the
use of CUNY computers and phone switches, had it up and running
the next day. CUNY colleges with surplus resources volunteered
equipment to restore operations at BMCC, as well as the labor
and trucks to move it.
College's ceremony of remembrance on September 24th
CUNY's integration with other educational institutions and organizations
also came to the fore, particularly our partnership with the
New York City Board of Education. The Board immediately made
five high schools, with more than 180 classrooms, available
if needed. In turn, when the Board of Education lost their Internet
service provider, our Computer Information Services staff provided
Internet service to the Board within 36 hours after the disaster,
for approximately two weeks. CUNY also assisted the Board in
relocating classes for Stuyvesant High School and others that
had to be vacated.
Many other organizations provided invaluable assistance and
extraordinary generosity, such as the Society of College and
University Planners (SCUP) and the Association of University
Architects (AUA), which helped obtain surplus furniture and
equipment from institutions such as Heartland Community College,
Western Michigan University, Carnegie Mellon University and
The integrated University has a clear mandate to contribute
to the rebuilding of New York. One direction was indicated at
a September 18 news conference I chaired, when Governor George
Pataki announced a comprehensive program to cover the full costs
of higher education for the victims and their immediate families.
CUNY's Board of Trustees established a World Trade Center Memorial
Scholarship Program, providing scholarships to victims, spouses
and children of those who died or were severely disabled as
a result of the attacks.
New York City residents by the thousands lost jobs as a result
of the attacks. The City University assisted the Consortium
for Worker Education, the New York City Partnership, and the
New York City Central Labor Council in establishing the Emergency
Employment Clearinghouse Program, which assists displaced workers
in finding temporary employment. Of course, CUNY provides an
ideal place for New Yorkers who have lost their jobs to obtain
long-term workforce training, certificates and degrees.
CUNY's wealth of faculty and staff with expertise in fields
like engineering, urban systems, public administration, and
terrorism can be put to work for New York's recovery (see story
below). Integration is also the keynote of the changes whose
necessity has been highlighted by this tragedy. We will, for
example, need to be highly sensitive to the experiences and
feelings of our students, many of whom come from countries involved
in international disputes. CUNY's students hail from 184 of
the 192 countries of origin around the world. Immigrants comprise
more than 46% percent of our Fall 2000 freshman class, with
almost 52% of that class speaking one of 162 native languages
other than English. Discrimination, threats or harassment of
any kind based on ethnic or religious difference represent nothing
less than an assault on our principles of academic and civil
freedom, and will not be tolerated.
While we were able to use the powerful medium of information
technology to our advantage in this emergency, we found that
our communications strategies need improvement. For instance,
we must be able to email the entire faculty across all our campuses,
which will require closer coordination with our colleges to
get complete and up-to-date email and phone lists. It would
also be beneficial to build greater diversity into our phone
communication systems, using not one but a number of service
providers (such as AT&T or Nextel).
In this "high alert" climate, every university clearly
must review, strengthen and refine its security procedures and
emergency planning; CUNY is no exception. Our emergency planning
has traditionally been focused on events such as snowstorms,
hurricanes, and other natural disasters. We will need to assess
how to make better use of available technology, and to conduct
ongoing training of our staff. The November 8-9 retreat of the
Council of Presidents included a thorough discussion of Emergency
and Security Management, with the help of outside experts like
former Police Commissioner William Bratton, Kroll Associates,
and our University Public Safety Coordinator William Barry.
This has been a time of deep pain, profound sadness and terrible
turmoil. E. B. White's observation in a compact little 50-year-old
volume titled "Here is New York," that "the city,
for the first time in its long history, is destructible,"has
taken on a chillingly prescient ring. However, White also states
unequivocally that this city, as a symbol of the united human
collective, represents humanity's best hope for preservation:
The city at last perfectly illustrates both the universal
dilemma and the general solution, this riddle in steel and stone
is at once the perfect target and the perfect demonstration
of nonviolence, of racial brotherhood, this lofty target scraping
the skies and meeting the destroying planes halfway, home of
all people and all nations, capital of everything, housing the
deliberations by which the planes are to be stayed and their
White's vision of New York City as an integrated capital
of the world has implications and lessons for our own
timeparticularly for The City University of New York.
Indeed, it was only as an integrated university, one that could
bring together resources from among a large number of colleges
and use the university system to full advantage, that we were
able to weather this crisis, responding quickly to the city's
immediate and long-term needs.
Clearly, nothing can be the same after September 11, but New
York's fundamental characterand CUNY's core missionremains
unchanged. The University's resolve to attract and retain the
best and most promising in this City, and to offer educational
opportunities of exceptional value, is stronger than ever. We
will continue to work towards these goals by making the City
University an educational institution ever more closely integrated
into the fabric of New York City.