April 26, 2017
The current discussion about the invitation to Linda Sarsour to speak at the commencement ceremony of the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy draws into sharp focus principles central to a free society and its academic institutions.
The decision to invite Ms. Sarsour was made by the School of Public Health. The commencement speakers are selected at the college level. The School of Public Health made a decision to focus on women leaders for its commencement this year and invited Ms. Sarsour because of her involvement in public health issues in New York City and her position as a leader on women’s issues, including her role as co-chair of the recent Women’s March in Washington. Ms. Sarsour has been recognized by President Obama at the White House as a “Champion of Change” and was recently named one of Time magazine’s 100 leaders and Fortune magazine’s 50 global leaders.
CUNY’s administration, its Board of Trustees and political leaders are being asked to overrule the college and cancel Ms. Sarsour’s speech because critics object to things she has reportedly said or written. While one might disagree with the School of Public Health’s decision to invite Ms. Sarsour to speak at commencement, that difference of opinion provides no basis for action now. Taking action because critics object to the content of speech would conflict with the First Amendment and the principles of academic freedom.
This is not to say that the critics are wrong to call out statements with which they disagree. That also is the essence of the freedom we enjoy in this country and this university. CUNY’s leadership and I personally have been strong and consistent opponents of BDS, a movement Ms. Sarsour reportedly supports. Obviously, it cannot be said that CUNY endorses her view on this matter; we continue to believe BDS is anathema to the values of higher education. But the fact that Ms. Sarsour might hold views that are controversial cannot be the basis for withdrawing an invitation to speak.
March 31, 2017
I am writing to let you know that I have recently been diagnosed with throat cancer. Fortunately, it is a fairly common and highly curable form of this disease. The cancer was discovered during a routine physical earlier this month and, since that time, I have undergone numerous tests and meetings with doctors to determine the best treatment plan. I am otherwise in excellent health, the cancer has not spread beyond the throat area, and my prognosis is very good.
I am being treated at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, one of the country’s leading cancer centers. The treatment program prescribed for me, which will include radiation and chemotherapy, will begin soon and continue for about seven weeks, and then there will be a recovery period. My doctors have advised me that I can continue a fairly routine work schedule during much of this period.
I will be meeting with my senior staff and the college presidents in the coming days to plan for what I expect will be minimal disruption in our operations during the period of my treatment and recovery. We have very capable leadership in place, and I am confident that CUNY will continue its remarkable progress. I have full confidence in the medical professionals who are treating me and look forward to making a complete recovery before the fall term begins. As always, thank you for your leadership and support.
James B. Milliken
The City University of New York
January 31, 2017
On Friday afternoon, the President issued an Executive Order that suspended entry of all refugees for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely, and for 90 days blocked entry for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, including holders of student visas. This action, which could affect approximately 120 students at The City University of New York, as well as some faculty and staff, has caused hardship and confusion for many across the country and beyond. While I understand it is the responsibility of the administration to keep our country safe, I believe that this Executive Order is inconsistent with the values of openness and inclusiveness that have made CUNY—and our country—great. Those of us who disagree with this policy should urge our elected leaders to change it. In the meantime, we will hold to the values that have been a source of strength at CUNY for 170 years, and we will offer legal assistance to affected members of the CUNY community who need it, through CUNY Citizenship Now, CUNY CLEAR, and other means.
There are few institutions that have done more to help this country benefit from immigration than The City University of New York. Today, almost 40 percent of our undergraduates were born in another country, and we are all the beneficiaries of their talent and ambition. Our commitment to protecting and supporting our students, regardless of their immigration status, is unwavering and includes the following:
CUNY will take no action to assist in the enforcement of the immigration laws except as required by law;
CUNY will protect student record information in compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act;
CUNY will not turn over student information to immigration enforcement authorities except pursuant to court order;
CUNY will not request or gather information about students’ citizenship or immigration status in the course of providing educational or other services or in connection with public safety activities except as required in connection with tuition or financial aid eligibility; and
CUNY will not permit immigration enforcement officials to enter its campuses except to the extent required by a warrant or court order.
One of the greatest benefits of being Chancellor of CUNY is the opportunity to meet outstanding students and hear not just of their successes, but also their struggles to overcome obstacles. One that comes to mind now is the address that Orubba Almansouri, of City College, delivered as Salutatorian at commencement last year. Orubba described how, as a Yemeni immigrant, many in her family and village did not believe in higher education for women. She explained how she discussed with her father, over several years, her dreams, her passion for knowledge and her desire to study at CUNY. She won the argument. But certainly we at CUNY also won, and so did our city and country. That is why we continue to fight for our values and for the free movement of scholars who gain great opportunities and contribute so much to the world.
January 20, 2017
For 170 years The City University of New York has had a unique mandate, providing a high quality, affordable education to all New Yorkers, but particularly those from underrepresented groups and immigrant populations, and giving them remarkable opportunities to achieve their dreams. A penetrating new study has quantified how effectively CUNY fulfills that mission by opening the door for extraordinary numbers of New Yorkers to move from lower income levels to the middle class and above. As a New York Times columnist writing about the study summed it up, “The new data shows, for example, that the City University of New York system propelled almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all eight Ivy League campuses, plus Duke, M.I.T., Stanford and Chicago, combined.”
January 18, 2017
Governor Cuomo’s FY 2018 Executive Budget proposes significant investment in The City University of New York and will advance its vital mission of providing a quality, affordable higher education to more than a quarter-million degree-seeking students.
CUNY students will benefit greatly from the farsighted Excelsior Scholarship initiative, which will make college more affordable and reduce debt for middle-class students, and from passage of the state Dream Act, which will extend financial aid and other benefits to CUNY’s many undocumented students.
We are grateful for the Governor’s commitment to the state’s predictable tuition plan, which will help ensure financial stability for the University, allow families to plan ahead, and provide important support for academic programs and student services.
We are deeply grateful for Governor Cuomo’s proposed funding to ensure that our facilities are upgraded and repaired. The budget calls for more than $284 million for infrastructure improvements and critical maintenance at our senior colleges, a significant increase over last year, $80 million for community college matching funds, and $55 million for the next important investment in the CUNY 2020 initiative.
We look forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature over the coming months on these important opportunities for investment in the University.
January 13, 2017
On a tragic day in April, 1968, our nation suffered a profound blow with the assassination of a great American, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Those who understood the immense power of his message of equality and opportunity promptly sought to ensure that his mission would endure, and just four days later legislation was introduced to make Dr. King’s birthday a holiday so that the nation would honor his leadership and keep his goals alive. It went nowhere.
Just as Dr. King fought against the roadblocks in his path, his followers persisted. In 1971, three million people signed a petition urging Congress to act. It did not. In 1979, another bill fell five votes short in Congress, but Dr. King’s followers, like the people of conscience who stood at his side on Civil Rights marches, refused to turn back and, in 1983, President Reagan finally signed the bill establishing the holiday. It was not until 1999 that the last of the 50 states recognized the day. It provides an occasion for all Americans to discuss and embrace the fundamental truth that nothing is more American, and more important to the strength of our country, than Dr. King’s vision of equality, inclusion and opportunity.
What we should also reflect on today is the harder message Dr. King taught us, that progress is often not just a challenge but a trial, even for something seemingly easy such as honoring the memory of a transformational leader. The battle against our country’s history of inequity continues and each of us is called upon, by the values we share and that were so well championed by Dr. King, to accept the challenge without becoming discouraged or defeated.
Dr. King famously told us, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” What his example teaches is that it may bend slowly, and it often bends only toward those dreams that we are willing to struggle to realize.
James B. Milliken
December 15, 2016
I am writing to announce the commencement of the search for a new General Counsel and Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs (“General Counsel”) at The City University of New York.
The General Counsel is the chief legal officer of the University, serving the Board of Trustees and the entire University on all legal matters. Pursuant to the Bylaws of the Board of Trustees, the General Counsel reports to the Chairperson of the Board and the Chancellor. He or she supervises a staff of attorneys responsible for representing the University’s interests in commercial matters, education issues and other areas. The General Counsel serves on the Chancellor’s leadership team and is an integral part of the University’s senior administration.
Trustee Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez will serve as the chair of the search committee. Other members of the committee include:
- Trustee Ken Sunshine
- President Jeremy Travis, John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY
- Dean Mary Lu Bilek, CUNY School of Law
- Professor Jay Weiser, faculty representative, Baruch College/ CUNY
- Mr. Fernando Araujo, student representative, Brooklyn College/CUNY
- Mr. G. Michael Bellinger, Esq.
We are confident that we will recruit an outstanding candidate for this important senior leadership role.
December 14, 2016
I am pleased to announce the appointment of Deputy General Counsel Jane Sovern as Interim General Counsel and Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs of The City University of New York, effective January 2, 2017. Ms. Sovern succeeds retiring General Counsel and Senior Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs Frederick P. Schaffer.
As Deputy General Counsel, Ms. Sovern has assisted the General Counsel in providing legal advice to the Board of Trustees, the Chancellor, and the University and its campuses, as well as in supervising the CUNY legal department. Most recently, she co-led the University’s Title IX Working Group coordinating University prevention and response to sexual misconduct. She served as staff in 2007-8 to the New York State Governor’s Commission on Higher Education.
Ms. Sovern has worked at CUNY for twenty-five years, and has practiced law for nearly thirty years. She joined the CUNY General Counsel’s Office in 1991, after practicing at the law firms of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and Meister Leventhal & Slade. Prior to law school, she served as Assistant Director of Career Counseling at Bates College. She received an A.B. in Classics (Honors) and History from Brown University and a J.D. from Columbia Law School.
A search will be launched soon for a permanent General Counsel and Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs.
James B. Milliken
December 05, 2016
Seventy years ago, the United States did something historically rare and remarkably farsighted. At enormous cost, we had fought and won a brutal World War, and after that victory, instead of retrenching our leaders launched another battle, this time to win the peace in a way that, they hoped, would make it permanent. They did this by supporting the rebuilding of our former enemies and creating innovative programs that tied the world together with bonds of knowledge, understanding, respect and friendship. Our leaders understood that when minds were well nourished and free to grow and create they were less inclined to see violence or conflict as viable paths to success. They were right, and one of the reasons we can say that today is the inspiration known as the Fulbright Program, one of the most powerful diplomatic undertakings ever initiated. Now that is a victory that perhaps we all should celebrate on the 70th anniversary.
The program was born, of course, when a young Senator from Arkansas, William Fulbright, recently elected for the first time, proposed that the United States take the funds from selling surplus war property and invest it in the future – into minds like yours. It was bold and we know what a remarkable return that investment has delivered. Seventy years later, more than 370,000 Americans and foreign scholars from more than 160 countries have been beneficiaries of this wonderful experiment. They became doctors, scientists, teachers, businessmen, elected leaders, historians, poets, dreamers and, importantly, peacemakers. I think if Senator Fulbright were here today, if we offered to thank him he would turn that around and thank all of you for making his dream real, for making it endure, and for proving his novel vision right.
I’m delighted to be welcoming all of you and pleased that we are holding this event at CUNY’s John Jay College, but it is also particularly apt. CUNY is not just another university. We have a special mission that we have pursued for 170 years. It is built on the premise that there is no better way to push open the doors of opportunity, fulfillment and achievement, than higher education. On that foundation, we operate a university that is one of the most accessible in the country, offering a high quality education particularly to immigrants and underrepresented groups. Our students come from more than 200 countries and they speak 190 languages or more, but what brings them together and guides them are the bonds of respect, a love of knowledge and friendship they find at CUNY. It’s a formula that has proven its worth to this city and this country for generations.
Congratulations to all of you Fulbrighters and I offer my best wishes for a fruitful celebration.
November 23, 2016
To the CUNY Community,
All of us at The City University of New York are immensely proud of our tradition, dating back almost 170 years, of providing the broadest access and a high quality education to New Yorkers, especially those from underrepresented groups and low income families and the many people who come to our city and country for opportunity. We have just gone through a difficult and contentious election season, and I heard from many of our students about the understandable concerns and anxieties this has created. I wrote to the CUNY community two weeks ago to reaffirm in the strongest terms our commitment to CUNY’s historic mission. Last week, I issued a statement specifically addressing the concerns of our immigrant students, assuring them that we will do everything legally possible to ensure their security and their place at the university. For CUNY, this is not just a pledge, it is a commitment demonstrated by our history as the clear leader among universities in this country in the support and services provided to immigrants.
Forty percent of CUNY’s undergraduates are immigrants, which is one of the primary reasons this university is so full of energy and ambition, and is such a vital contributor to New York’s success. We educate thousands of undocumented students and we lead the nation in the number of students supported with private Dreamer scholarships. CUNY’s Citizenship Now! is a nationally recognized program with offices in all five boroughs, providing a wide range of free one-to-one legal services, referrals to social services, reviews off legal status and assistance with applications. In addition, our campuses are providing counselling to students and staff, forums for discussion, and referrals to services. We have hosted widely popular Facebook live sessions for the CUNY community, with immigration advice from lawyers, student affairs advisors and other specialists. As part of our ImmigrantsMatter@CUNY campaign, we will continue our longstanding services and find more ways to serve our valuable community.
We are deeply gratified that Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have taken such strong stands on behalf of the immigrant community in New York, offering visible pledges of support, and we forwarded a special message earlier this week from Governor Cuomo to all CUNY students with important information about services the state of New York is providing. I have joined with a group of leading university presidents across the country in a letter to President-elect Trump urging that he retain the important, humane and beneficial DACA program initiated by President Obama, which helps thousands of undocumented residents and benefits our country by encouraging their contributions to our prosperity.
As we reflect on our families and communities on this Thanksgiving, as well as on our values, achievements and aspirations, I want to offer my thanks to the remarkable people, especially our immigrant students, faculty and staff, who work so hard to make CUNY special and to fulfill our mission and our promise to all New Yorkers.
James B. Milliken