Dear Friends and Colleagues:
I write to share with you the news that I plan to step down as Chancellor of The City University of New York at the end of this academic year, after four years at the helm of this most remarkable institution.
CUNY is an extraordinary university, and my time here has been rewarding beyond measure. The world now knows, from groundbreaking research on an unprecedented scale, that CUNY is the greatest engine of social and economic mobility in the country. I have been enormously fortunate to be part of expanding opportunity and success to students on a scale no other university can match, and I will always be grateful for that. Our students, over 500,000 of them, are smart, ambitious, hard-working and wonderfully diverse. Our 45,000 outstanding faculty and staff work very hard under sometimes difficult conditions, with inspiring results. I love our students and I have tremendous respect for our faculty and staff. I have been inspired by them every day.
We have accomplished much over the last few years. Our community colleges are on track to double their graduation rates, making them national leaders. We have launched a new school of medicine, almost certainly the most diverse in the country, and a successful independent school of public health. We put in place exciting new initiatives to diversify the arts institutions in New York, provide groundbreaking comprehensive support for foster youth, increase women and minorities in tech, and much more. I had the opportunity to select 12 talented, new campus heads – one half of the total CUNY campus leadership – eight of whom are women and people of color. We have launched a comprehensive administrative excellence initiative and multiyear budgeting to improve performance and invest more resources in our classrooms. Most important was the development of our strategic plan, “Connected CUNY,” which will continue to chart the essential course for CUNY because its logic, conceptual pillars and specific strategies are key to advancing CUNY’s mission in this century, although of course it will no doubt be improved upon.
So why leave now?
On a personal level, the last year has been extraordinarily challenging. Days after my 60th birthday I was diagnosed with throat cancer and I underwent months of radiation and chemotherapy. Some additional health challenges have followed and will require my attention in the months ahead, but thankfully my prognosis remains very good. My health problems – the first serious ones of my life – have been sobering, but today I feel healthy and much relieved because of the quality of the care I am receiving at Memorial Sloan Kettering. I expect to be active and working for many more years, but there is no denying that the last nine months have been draining physically and emotionally. The business about learning more about yourself and gaining new perspective when faced with such challenges has certainly proved to be the case with me. The experience has given me an even deeper commitment to enjoying fully my work, my family and friends, and my life.
The head of a major university like CUNY works closely with a board of trustees in developing and implementing a vision. Of the 17 trustees on the board that recruited and appointed me in January 2014, two remain today. The governor has appointed nine new members and the mayor four. These new trustees will have their own ideas about CUNY, and they should have the opportunity to help shape the leadership and agenda for the future. I have very much enjoyed working with the talented people who have served and who currently serve as CUNY trustees and I will always be grateful for the opportunity and support they have given me. During the last nine months, the trustees have been incredibly supportive of me personally, always demanding that I put my health and family first. They could not have been more gracious, and I could not be more thankful.
I am announcing my plans now so the board will have time to conduct a thorough search and have a new chancellor in place before the next academic year begins. In the meantime, I plan to spend the months ahead continuing to work closely with the board and campus leaders to implement the University’s strategic plans and complete the work we’ve had underway to reform many of CUNY’s long-standing policies and practices to improve financial oversight, internal controls, transparency and best practices.
I look forward to finishing my term with a few commencements, and I will leave the chancellorship with fresh memories of so many first-generation college-goers, immigrants, low-income and underrepresented students receiving their degrees in the presence of euphoric friends and family.
I have been given one of life’s great gifts – the chance to do something I love that has a positive impact on many. I will always be grateful for that opportunity and for the relationships I have had with the students, faculty and staff of The City University of New York.
James B. Milliken