CUNY Matters, Winter 2001 0
Winter 2001

A Picture Worth Almost 1,000 Credits

 

 

he "CUNY story" has become an almost commonplace part of metropolitan life over the decades since the City University was established. You know the genre. These are the only-at-a-public-institution-like-CUNY tales of how multiple University campuses have nurtured multiple members of multiple generations of education-thirsty but financially straitened New York City families.

The Editor of CUNY Matters, who has been in the happy line of fire for such stories for several years now, was getting almost jaded about such tentacular success stories. Then, over his transom came, thanks to Elliot Axelrod, chair of Baruch College's Department of Law, the "CUNY story" of the Mullings family. It goes to the head of the class. Prepare to doff whatever headgear you have on to Hubert Mullings, who is seen here with his family in a photo that appeared with a story in the New York's Herald Tribune on July 28, 1951.

Mullings family
The Mullings family in 1951: at rear from left, Lillieth, Sandra, Hubert; front, Pansy, Pauline, Paul, and Leith. Hubert Mullings had just graduated magna cum laude from City College.

The story was occasioned by the 34-year-old's graduation magna cum laude in accounting from City College, a feat achieved while working fulltime as an accountant and raising five children. At the time, the Mullings family lived in the Al Smith project on Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan. The family consisted of his wife Lillieth, two-year-old triplets Pansy, Pauline, and Paul, three-year-old Sandra, and six-year-old Leith. And thereby hangs a CUNY story in several volumes.

The patriarch was born in Connecticut but raised from the age of three in Jamaica (when it was B.W.I.), where he eventually became headmaster of an elementary school. At 30 he arrived in New York City, where he was to become one of the state's first licensed African-American CPAs. In time he began teaching accounting at Baruch, then, after work for the Macy Foundation, taught full-time at Bronx Community College. In 1975 he earned a Baruch MBA.

Lillieth returned to college six years after the photo was taken and came away from Queens College with a degree in nursing. Her nursing career was spent at Queens Hospital, where she rose to head nurse in the Intensive Care Unit. Lillieth died in 1987.

At Queens College Leith satisfied the two-year liberal arts component of a five-year Bachelor's in nursing from Cornell-New York Hospital. Subsequently, she went on to the University of Chicago, where she earned a Master's and a Ph.D. in anthropology, then taught at Yale and Columbia. Leith justified her CUNY fate admirably in the end, however, by moving to City College in 1981. In 1988 she moved full-time to the Graduate Center, where she recently received her appointment as a Presidential professor in the anthropology program.

Mulling sisters
Baruch College professor of law Sandra Mullings, right, and Graduate Center Presidential professor of anthropology Leith Mullings today.

The triplets proved a triple CUNY threat. Pauline followed in her father's path, taking a Bachelor's in accounting from Baruch, then a Columbia law degree. Now a judge of the Criminal Court of New York, she has been an adjunct professor of criminal law at Lehman College. Paul started at Baruch but finally earned a Bachelor's from Queens College, and with a Master's in health administration from Michigan, is currently a vice president for operations at the University of Florida's teaching hospital. After earning her bachelor's (and nearly a Master's in sociology) at Hunter College, Pansy took an NYU law degree. Formerly a Deputy Commissioner in the Department of Sanitation, she is now Assistant Commissioner in the City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Finally, Sandra Mullings obtained both her Bachelor's and Master's in education at Queens College. After teaching in a Yonkers elementary school for six years, she entered Yale Law School. With a J.D. in hand she joined a New York firm, where she eventually became a partner. Then, with something like perfect symmetry, she left her practice, returned to her father's alma mater, and is now an associate professor in the Law Department at Baruch College.
Lest there be any doubt that a fondness for the academic life and public service is a Mullings family trait, it should be added that, after retiring in 1979 to Orlando,lorida, Hubert continued to teach accounting at a local junior college and also volunteered for Literacy Volunteers of America.

Undeterred by heart bypass surgery, he continues to do volunteer work at a nursing home and pro bono investment and tax preparation work. Speaking by phone from Orlando after Thanksgiving, father Mullings explained the educational unanimity of his children: "We made it clear it was what we expected. I remember when my son Paul graduated from high school. He pointed out that a friend of his had gotten a new car, and I told him, 'You haven't finished yet!'" Hubert also remembers his teaching days fondly: "I can't say too much about Baruch. Those evening students, all with full-time jobs, impressed me because they knew so clearly what they wanted." Hubert still runs into his former students, even in Florida and Europe. If, as he emphasizes, the secret of his success in life has been his faith in God, clearly his success in the classroom lay in his conviction that "the ability to impart has been the greatest joy in my life."

Which means he must be especially proud of the one of his five grandchildren who is adding a chapter to this CUNY story. Alia Tyner, daughter of Leith, went off to Oberlin for a Bachelor's, then returned to teach math for two years in a Manhattan high school. This experience gave her a keen interest in improving education in the city, and she is now pursuing that goal as a graduate student in sociology at the Graduate Center.

To be continued, obviously.