CUNY Matters Column: Back to the Future

September 3, 2013 | News

It may no longer come with the smell of sharpened pencils and freshly copied syllabi, but the start of a new academic year still brings with it a stir of anticipation and possibility, especially at CUNY.

I welcome you to the 2013-14 year with gratitude for the encouragement and warm wishes I’ve received from across the University.  I am delighted to have the opportunity to serve an institution I’ve loved since I first arrived at Queens College.

I assume the position of interim chancellor during a time of great strength for the University, evident in so many ways —in our robust enrollment and diverse student body, in our new programs and record number of degrees conferred, in our fiscal footing.  CUNY has made remarkable progress across the last decade, and we are positioned to make even greater strides in the months and years ahead.

I thank all of you—students, faculty, staff, alumni—for enabling that progress.  Your day-in, day-out commitment to teaching and learning has made all the difference. As joyful and inspiring as our recent commencement ceremonies were, they didn’t capture the marvelous, often unobserved moments when learning happens: the long subway ride when an instructor’s patient explanation of a complicated theory suddenly becomes clear to a student; the random aside by a professor that sparks a new direction for a thesis.  And it is the CUNY community—diligent, talented, inventive—that creates those moments of discovery.

They come through the persistent work of researchers who solve longtime puzzles, such as Baruch chemistry professor Keith Ramig and chemistry student Olga Lavinda, highlighted in this issue, whose breakthrough work to crystallize an indigo pigment was made possible by the findings of their Nobel prize-winning predecessor, the late Jerome Karle—a wonderful example of CUNY’s scholarly legacy.

They come through the benevolence of hundreds of students committed to building a stronger future for all New Yorkers by becoming part of CUNY’s Service Corps, joining city agencies to take on New York’s civic, economic, and environmental challenges.

And they come from determined teams of staff, administrators, and alumni across our campuses who build new classrooms, residence halls, and child-care centers, offer critical financial aid guidance, and create and fund new scholarship programs that help CUNY students—including those profiled in these pages—to achieve an outstanding and affordable education.

The Economist once referred to CUNY as “the American dream machine,” using alumnus and former Intel chairman Andrew Grove’s apt phrase.  It falls to us realize that promise. That we will do so, I have no doubt.  What spurs our anticipation are the countless moments of discovery yet to happen, moments that epitomize CUNY’s singular mission of true access, high standards, and realized dreams.