Editorial: Keep CUNY on a rising trajectory

Matthew Goldstein

Matthew Goldstein (Credit: CUNY)

The imminent departure of Matthew Goldstein as chancellor of the City University of New York raises an urgent question: Who's going to push America's largest urban university -- and its 270,000 degree-seeking students -- on to the next level?

Who will make CUNY a world-class institution that can take the city's most promising young minds and mold them into tomorrow's best thinkers and innovators at an affordable price? In an age of break-the-bank tuitions, CUNY costs $5,730 a year for New Yorkers.

Whoever CUNY's search committee finds must be able to continue the broad reforms Goldstein started.

Job 1 for the new chancellor is to advance CUNY as a first-rank modern university that meets the needs of New York's diverse student body without tossing graduates into a life of penury. That has always been CUNY's mission -- and New York needs it now more than ever.

When Goldstein took over in 1999, the system was failing. Standards were crumbling and culture wars were raging on some of its 20-plus campuses. Backed by Board Chairman Herman Badillo and later Benno Schmidt, Goldstein ended the chaos and began to restore CUNY's luster.

He raised admission standards at the five top colleges -- Hunter, Baruch, City, Queens and Brooklyn. He added 2,000 instructors to the system, banished remedial courses to community colleges and started the Macaulay Honors College to attract the city's best and brightest. Today the top five schools are enrolling freshmen with higher SAT scores. Black and Hispanic students now have higher graduation rates. But much work remains to be done.

The new chancellor must be able to sweet-talk money out of Albany and work smoothly with the city's public schools to produce better-prepared students. And he or she will need a talent for raising hundreds of millions in private dollars. Goldstein was a phenomenon. It now falls to CUNY's leaders to find another one.

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