Key Milestones, United Goals

September 16, 2011 | Salute to Scholars, The University

Fifty years ago, a group of colleges in New York City — City College, Hunter College, Brooklyn College, Queens College, Staten Island Community College, Bronx Community College and Queensborough Community College — officially became a new system: The City University of New York. In 1961, with a stroke of his pen, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller established the CUNY system and added doctoral programs to its degree offerings, effectively creating the Graduate School and University Center.

Though the genesis of CUNY is traced back to the founding of The Free Academy (later City College) in 1847, the creation of an integrated public system in New York City, one that offers the highest academic degree, is an important milestone. CUNY epitomizes the fundamental purpose of public higher education, offering opportunities to access advanced education at every level through the 24 colleges and schools that now comprise the University.

Of course, developing an integrated system requires much more than signing a bill. Bringing together distinct colleges, each with its own traditions and character, requires the effort and determination of the entire University community to create something greater than the sum of its parts — namely, a richer experience for the system’s students.

Prior to my appointment as Chancellor in 1999, a mayoral task force on the University issued its report, “The City University of New York: An Institution Adrift.” Among its many recommendations — including the creation of clear standards, assessment methods and accountability policies — the task force pointedly advised: “CUNY must strive to become a unified, coherent, integrated public university system, for the first time in its history.”

Over the past decade, the CUNY community has comprehensively responded to the need to embrace clearly defined, nationally normed academic and operational standards. And today, we continue our work to become a “unified, coherent, integrated public university system.” The Pathways to Degree Completion initiative to improve general education and transfer across the University is a major step toward true integration, as it brings together the entire CUNY community to align curricula to rigorous learning objectives, encourage students’ intellectual exploration and clarify the transfer process. The more cohesively the University can operate, the more we can help students fully engage with the learning process and their academic goals.

Likewise, we continue to take steps to increase the University’s research capacity through an integrated approach. We are leveraging the strength of the entire University to encourage cutting-edge research throughout the colleges by increasing funding to Ph.D. students, upgrading laboratories across our campuses, intensifying our faculty recruiting efforts — particularly through the Chancellor’s Faculty Fund — and building or modernizing facilities, including the Advanced Science Research Center now under construction.

It is the talent and dedication of our faculty and students that will always drive the CUNY system “to encourage excellence and efficiency,” as the task force put it 12 years ago. The articles about online learning at CUNY in this issue of Salute to Scholars reflect one important manifestation of that enduring commitment. Every day, your work to place serious academic inquiry and intellectual reflection at the center of the CUNY experience advances the mission of the integrated University and the possibilities for the future. I thank you for that vital commitment.

— Matthew Goldstein, Chancellor