September 4, 2018 | Speeches and Writings

Dear Members of the CUNY Community:

Welcome to a new academic year at CUNY! I am honored to lead our University as Interim Chancellor at a time when we are moving forward with great purpose in pursuit of the ideals that have defined CUNY for generations. As the Board of Trustees considers its selection of our next Chancellor, our critical work continues, and along with the Board and the chancellery, I am here to support you.

This year I celebrate my 40th anniversary at CUNY. I started in the classroom as an assistant professor of psychology at Hunter College, and I have had extraordinary opportunities to learn and grow here, evolving as an educator and administrator, surrounded by brilliant colleagues and inspiring students. My experiences have shaped my perspective as a servant leader, focused on enabling those around me to advance our mission. I find joy in identifying the outstanding achievements we should lift up and celebrate together, and I am intent on motivating us all when we can and must do better.

I see evidence of our success and progress in so many places. Applications and new freshman enrollments continue to rise. More students come to CUNY college-ready because of pioneering pre-matriculation programs like CUNY Start. Fewer students are starting CUNY needing remedial courses, and those who do are moving to credit-bearing courses more quickly. Because of the Excelsior Scholarship and academic momentum campaigns at every college, students across the University are making faster progress to graduation. For the first time with the fall 2016 cohort, more than 50% of bachelor’s students earned 30 credits in their first year, putting them on track to finish in four years. All signs point to a new record for the number of degrees granted across CUNY in the 2017-2018 school year. CUNY is taking new steps to improve career readiness and create pipelines to employment or graduate study. More colleges are designing meaningful career exploration opportunities, and more employer partners are engaged with CUNY students through internships and networking events. Results like these come only with smart planning, cross-campus collaboration and meaningful assessment across the University. We are on the cutting edge of implementing academic strategies, technologies and programs that help students better navigate the college process and achieve their dreams. What unites us is a focused commitment to our students’ success.

Strong college leaders drive this work, and it has been a singular honor to make key appointments at three of our community colleges. Over the summer, I named Claudia Schrader president of Kingsborough Community College. Dr. Schrader is an inspirational leader with a proven record as an innovator in advancing student success at community colleges. The Board also approved my appointment of two superb interim presidents: Dr. Karrin Wilks at Borough of Manhattan Community College and Dr. Timothy Lynch at Queensborough Community College.

Here are more signs of CUNY’s vibrancy:

  • CUNY answered Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s pledge to send almost 250 students and staff to Puerto Rico in eight two-week sessions this summer to help local nonprofits rebuild after Hurricane Maria. Our students made us proud with their hard work, forged meaningful relationships with the people of Puerto Rico and each other, and report that this service was a transformative experience for them.
  • This fall we will celebrate the opening of a gleaming new 356,000-square-foot academic complex for science and health programs at City Tech and the Tow Performing Arts Center at Brooklyn College.
  • The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism received a transformational $20 million gift recently from Craig Newmark, the founder of craigslist, to endow the school in perpetuity. In celebration, the school will now be named the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.
  • Finally, I urge you to visit SUM, a new CUNY website that showcases some of the best of the research, innovation and creativity from faculty and students across the University. Watch for a more formal launch of SUM soon.

Throughout my 40-year career at CUNY, I have always embraced what makes us great — and that is surely our exceptional diversity and inclusiveness. CUNY is arguably the most diverse university in the nation, if not the world, in all the ways that matter: race, ethnicity, country of origin and languages spoken at home, thought and opinion, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, disability status, and religious affiliation, among others.

We are rightfully proud of our diversity, but the challenges of genuine inclusiveness require constant vigilance. Diversity by itself does not inevitably yield inclusion and equity. As Interim Chancellor, I am mindful every day of the trying times in which we find ourselves. The hard work of CUNY faculty, students and staff does not take place in a vacuum. The political landscape is increasingly charged and polarized. At CUNY we all experience this polarization in various ways. I call on all of us to take responsibility for creating the conditions that support civility and mutual respect for diversity of thought and opinion, and that promote inclusion and equity. As educators, we believe that diversity enhances the learning experience. As members of this vibrant community, we must leverage our diversity to promote understanding and cultural competence. We do this not just to help us all get along better, but importantly also to build in each of us the capacity to thrive and lead in a pluralistic society. Our best future lies not in erasing or ignoring differences, but in engaging with and communicating across differences so that we can acknowledge and reduce tensions, find common ground where we can, and even deeply disagree in a context of mutual respect. This is who we are at our best, and who we aspire to be always. These are our values as well as our strengths, and during my tenure I will be their champion.

I realize that words are not enough. I will lay the groundwork for diversity, equity and inclusion efforts that will improve the social and educational climate for students, faculty and staff on all CUNY campuses. In classrooms, lecture halls and laboratories, this means freedom of ideas, inquiry and expression; in personal, social, and professional relationships, it means campuses where there is no tolerance for bullying, harassment, discrimination, or abuse. We will create the new position of Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion which will report to the new Chancellor and to the Board of Trustees. We will intensify our ongoing efforts to diversify our faculty, building on a record year in 2017-2018 in which 41% of all new full-time tenure line faculty hires were from underrepresented groups. I have established a working group to develop and implement a plan to educate and train stakeholders throughout CUNY about campus climate issues, including how to identify and remediate hostile environments and how to make and handle complaints. Also, this fall we will work closely with interfaith and other community leaders, who understand deeply how elements of identity intersect to affect opinions and beliefs, and can suggest ways of making our University more genuinely accommodating to diverse worldviews.

The beginning of a new academic year is always energizing as we rejoin our colleagues, welcome our students, set our priorities and make concrete plans. I hope that you share my excitement about what we can achieve together as fully engaged citizens of the great public University of the greatest city in the world.

Sincerely,

Vita C. Rabinowitz
Interim Chancellor