Last January, when the Board of Trustees announced it would appoint me as CUNY’s next Chancellor, the first of June seemed distant. Over the last few weeks of moving and transition, I’ve been reflecting on my good fortune to have the opportunity to return to New York City and help lead one of the most remarkable and important institutions in the country.
While I had expected congratulations and good wishes from friends and colleagues, I was unprepared for the enthusiasm and emotional reactions, especially from those within the academy. It’s clear that the University represents something special in the hearts of those who value the unique promise and potential of public higher education.
As I have begun my preparation over the last few months, I have become only more impressed with the University I join today. It is a remarkable institution with a role that could not be more important in 2014. Its mission is vital, its accomplishments are inspiring, and its future success is inextricably linked to the success of the city, state and country it serves.
It is especially gratifying to be arriving during the commencement season, when the work of our faculty, staff and students is so richly rewarded in the repeated scenes of student accomplishment and family pride that will play out across our campuses.
I am of course aware of the special promise CUNY has historically provided to immigrants and their children. In a small coincidence, my great-great-grandfather, escaping famine in Ireland, arrived in New York City at age 21 in 1847, the year of the founding of the Free Academy, in search of a better life for his family. And while he might have found it difficult to imagine the role I now assume, I suspect he would have no problem understanding the importance of the great opportunity CUNY has offered many generations of New Yorkers in circumstances not dissimilar to his.
As I continue my introduction and education this summer, I look forward to learning more about CUNY’s challenges and opportunities and to getting to know many of you. We are all united in our commitment to providing New York with the best public higher education has to offer.
James B. Milliken