CUNY in East Harlem: New Home for Schools of Social Work and Public Health

Groundbreaking for the new Lois V. and Samuel J. Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in East Harlem was celebrated on Monday, November 16. The Hunter School of Social Work has been housed, rent-free, for 40 years on East 79th Street in a facility built on donated land once occupied by the Silbermans’ townhouse with help of a $5 million gift. The new building will be renamed in honor of their record $30 million gift toward construction of the building, which will also house the new CUNY School of Public Health and Hunter College’s Centro de Estudios Puertorriquenos.

“We should all be proud that one of the country’s top public social work schools is located right here in New York. Thanks to the generous gift of the Lois and Samuel Silberman Fund, we can be sure that the School of Social Work at Hunter College will remain strong for years to come,” Governor David Paterson said. “Moving the School of Social Work to East Harlem will give its students and faculty – as well as those at the new CUNY School for Public Health – the opportunity to engage with a vibrant, diverse and growing population in need of the vast array of services Hunter offers. Today’s groundbreaking showcases a public-private partnership at its best.”

“We are most grateful to Gov. David Paterson, the New York State Legislature, the Silberman family, and all our academic and community supporters who so generously provided the resources to allow this extraordinary public/private partnership project to move forward,” CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein said. “Life-changing careers for students and pioneering research will emanate from this enterprise, bringing multiple educational, economic, and societal benefits to the neighborhood, to the City and to our State.”

Said Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab, “This transformative project is a testament to the storied legacy of the Hunter School of Social Work and the confidence shared by the Governor, the Mayor, Chancellor, the CUNY Board of Trustees, and everyone at Hunter, that the School will play a vital and essential role in the city’s future.

“The Silberman family is a vital part of that ongoing legacy,” President Raab added. “With this tremendous gift, they have ensured that the School’s future will be even brighter than its past. By enabling us to work closely with the CUNY School of Public Health and with CENTRO, in the heart of one of New York City’s most rapidly changing neighborhoods, the new building will make possible a wide range of community engagement opportunities.”

The new, eight-story, 147,000-square foot green building, located on Third Ave. between E. 118th and 119th Streets, is being funded by a $101.3 million allocation from the State Legislature, along with the Silberman gift. In addition to classrooms and faculty offices, it will include an auditorium, library, and café, and state-of-the art technology. It will be an economic boost to a neighborhood that needs the investment, and is the result of a unique partnership among The City University of New York and Hunter College, the Lois V. and Samuel J. Silberman Fund in the New York Community Trust, and the Brodsky Organization, the developer that purchased the building that currently houses the school.

The school has outgrown the building on East 79th Street, which was owned by the Silberman Fund, a supporting organization of The New York Community Trust, the city’s community foundation. The $30 million gift came from the proceeds of the sale of the Upper East Side building to the Brodsky Organization for $48 million; the remainder of the sale proceeds will be used by The Trust to improve support social work practice in the city through the education and training of social work personnel.

The Silbermans have had a rich history with both Hunter and The Trust. Samuel Silberman, a businessman and philanthropist, believed strongly in the ability of trained social workers to change lives and just as strongly in a public institution to teach them. Since his death in 2000, Mrs. Silberman and The Trust have worked to ensure that his vision would continue.

The new building was designed by Cooper, Robertson & Partners along with SLCE Architects. Its design and location will allow the School of Social Work to expand its mission and be a force for change in East Harlem, where Hunter plans to establish partnerships with community-based social service providers. The ground floor is designed to engage the community with an art gallery and café. The building – targeting a LEED-Silver rating for environmentally sustainable design — is expected to open for the September 2011 semester.

The Hunter College School of Social Work is the oldest publicly sponsored graduate social work program in New York City and one of the finest in the nation. Established in 1958, the school’s focus is on excellence in education for social work practice, and its graduates are known for providing leadership in addressing major social problems in a changing society. The school offers several pathways leading to the master of social work degree and its primary goal is to prepare students for responsible, advanced and creative practice in social work. As a public graduate school of social work in New York City, the School recognizes a special responsibility toward serving the urban community under social agency auspices. Through educational programs and activities, it seeks to enhance the well-being of poor, vulnerable and stigmatized populations.

The new East Harlem complex will also be home to CUNY’s new School of Public Health, which is slated to open with master’s and doctoral programs in 2010-2011, and will be the only school of public health in the nation with an urban focus. This is especially important in a world where the population is increasingly urban, and predicted to be more than 75% urban by 2030.

The school will focus on new ways to prevent and control health problems in urban populations while training practitioners to implement these solutions in New York City and other urban centers. It will offer community-based doctoral and master’s degrees in disciplines including epidemiology, biostatistics, social and behavioral science, health care administration and policy, and environmental health, as well as selected undergraduate degrees. Attracting students who live and work in the communities it is designed to serve, the School of Public Health will produce graduates with the knowledge and skills to grapple with the serious health care disparities facing the poor, minorities and immigrants.

The founding dean of the CUNY School of Public Health is Dr. Kenneth Olden, a world-renowned cancer researcher who favored community health initiatives when he headed the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program from 1991 to 2005. He was the first African-American to direct one of the 13 institutes then at the National Institutes of Health, and previously taught at Harvard University. In planning the school’s future, Dr. Olden is weighing three global trends: the worldwide migration to cities; the aging of populations throughout the developed world; and the transformation of once-lethal diseases into chronic ones, ranging from diabetes to some cancers. CUNY’s vision is for the School to address these problems successfully in the urban community here and then apply the solutions around the world.

East Harlem has long been a center of Puerto Rican life and culture, making the new campus building an appropriate site for the library of Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños — the Center for Puerto Rican Studies. CENTRO has served New York’s Puerto Rican community and the students and faculty of CUNY and Hunter College since its inception in 1973 and its award-winning library is a vehicle for informing, educating and empowering the Puerto Rican community.

CENTRO’s researchers helped establish a foundation for the intellectual field of Puerto Rican studies and have provided unique insights for understanding the Puerto Rican diaspora and the incorporation of Puerto Ricans into communities across America. CENTRO has also promoted an examination of the Puerto Rican experience in the context of the broader Latino experience and in relation to other racial minorities in the U.S. This has included a major effort by the library to collect and preserve valuable archival and other resources documenting the history and culture of Puerto Ricans.

The Lois and Samuel Silberman Fund, in existence since the early 1960s, was the first private philanthropic foundation in the United States to specifically target the social welfare field for grantmaking puposes. The New York Community Trust is one of the nation’s largest community foundations, with assets of more than $1.5 billion and nearly 2,000 individual charitable funds.
Hunter College, located in the heart of Manhattan, is the largest CUNY college with 21,000 students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees in more than 170 programs of study. Founded in 1870 and one of the country’s oldest public colleges, Hunter comprises the School of Arts and Sciences; Schools of Education, Nursing, Social Work, and Health Professions; and world-renowned research centers including the Center for Study of Gene Structure and Function, Centro de Estudios Puertorriquenos and the Brookdale Center on Aging.

The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in New York City in 1847 as The Free Academy, the University’s 23 institutions include 11 senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the Graduate School and University Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Law, the CUNY School of Professional Studies and the CUNY School of Public Health. The University serves 260,000 credit students and 269,808 adult, continuing and professional education students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program for 32,500 high school students, is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 300 high schools throughout the five boroughs of New York City. The University offers online baccalaureate degrees through the School of Professional Studies and an individualized baccalaureate through the CUNY Baccalaureate Degree. More than 1 million visitors and 2 million page views are served each month by, the University’s website.