Article, "CUNY Mobilizes for Returning GIs"

May 18, 2007 | In the News


CUNY mobilizes for returning GIs
Public university adds services to ease soldiers’ transition; needs to do more

By: Samantha Marshall
Published: March 18, 2007 – 6:59 am

After his tour of duty in Vietnam, Baruch College anthropology professor Glenn Petersen struggled to readjust to civilian life. Today, when he sees the flood of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan pouring into his college, he relives those difficult times. But now, he can offer the guidance he never received.

“It’s painful for me to deal with this, but it would be a lot more painful not to,” says the academic, who was asked by City University of New York administrators to take a lead role in developing new and improved support services for this latest generation of war veterans.

With about 10,000 New York area residents expected to return from combat zones in the Middle East over the next 18 months, CUNY is bracing for an influx. The public university system, which already has 2,500 to 3,000 returning soldiers enrolled, expects at least 40% of this new crop of GIs to end up in its colleges because of its track record as the city’s go-to place for vets.

To help ease these soldiers’ transition to student life, the university system is taking decisive steps, despite limited resources. It hopes to be an exception in what has become a nationwide disaster for war veterans returning from battle. The problems at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., are just the latest example.

Mr. Petersen is one of dozens of CUNY faculty and staff who are taking part in a systemwide effort that includes beefing up manpower dedicated to veteran outreach services, building user-friendly Web sites with referral services, and creating free continuing education programs for veterans not covered by the GI Bill. CUNY has also established a steering committee to take recommendations on ways to help soldiers blend into the student population.

Garrie Moore, a new vice chancellor for student development and himself a Vietnam vet, was recruited eight months ago from East Carolina University in North Carolina, a military hub, in part because of his vast experience in dealing with government and military agencies. He has been aggressively lobbying the state Legislature for more funds since his arrival.

“As the largest urban system in the country, it’s our civic duty to provide for these students,” says Mr. Moore.

More funding

If CUNY gets its way, it will be able to supplement many of the services that should already be provided by local and federal agencies. The system is optimistic that the state Legislature will approve $750,000 in extra funding for veteran student services when it adopts its latest budget. That money, in addition to an existing $200,000, will pay for at least one dedicated full-time staff member at each of CUNY’s 17 colleges.

“We’re nervous, because these students will have a lot of needs, but we’re also excited,” says Christopher Rosa, director of programs for students with disabilities and veterans at CUNY.

Administrators admit to weaknesses in the system. Only a handful of CUNY schools currently provide services much beyond assigning an employee in the registrar’s office to help veterans collect on the GI Bill, and even that staff member doesn’t work full-time on veterans’ issues.

“We need to do a lot more than just certify students for their benefits,” says Claudette Guinn, veterans affairs coordinator at Brooklyn College, who recently expanded her office by hiring a part-time outreach coordinator.

For starters, says Baruch’s Mr. Petersen, CUNY should train faculty and civilian students on how to sensitively handle classroom discussions about the Iraqi conflict now that the tide of public opinion has turned against the war. CUNY should also push the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington to provide more funding for psychological counseling and programs.

“We have a moral and professional obligation not to repeat what happened to so many people after Vietnam,” he says.

With many soldiers returning injured, disabled and severely traumatized, CUNY’s task is daunting. These students will need plenty of help to get them through college life and help them graduate.

Tradition of service

Though other universities provide some services to veterans, CUNY’s history with soldier students dates back to the post-Vietnam war era, when about 25,000 veterans were enrolled throughout the system and the VA provided extra funding for services. Now, a handful of colleges, such as Brooklyn College, are squeezing money from their existing budgets to do what they can for the latest generation returning from war zones.

The efforts are paying off, according to one Brooklyn College student. Ariel Jacob Luna, 26, who served as a sergeant in the military police in Iraq between 2004 and 2005, found his second home when he stumbled on Ms. Guinn’s office. Now a part-time student studying television and radio, Mr. Luna also works as a veterans services and outreach coordinator, one of three veteran students who are paid to help mentor their approximately 160 peers.

“We’re successful here because our staff consists of veterans; it takes a vet to know a vet,” he says.

A sampling of extras at CUNY for vets.

Float in the Veterans Day Parade
Staten Island College Armed Forces Club
Brooklyn College Memorial Day trip to Washington

To post a comment, please send to: sonja.gomez@mail.cuny.edu