By Katie Herchenroeder
On Wednesday, February 13, The City University of New York Board of Trustees voted to appoint Queens College President Félix Matos Rodríguez as the Chancellor of the esteemed institution. Matos Rodríguez, who has been the president of Queens College since 2014, will make history as the first Latino and minority educator to head the University.
Born in Puerto Rico, Matos Rodríguez is an educator, fundraiser, author, and advocate. Additionally, only a select few U.S. educators have served as president of both a baccalaureate and community college, Matos Rodríguez included.
CUNY’s official release, speaking to his qualifications, explains “He enhanced Queens College’s reputation for excellence and propelled the school to the highest echelon in college social-mobility rankings. As president of CUNY’s Eugenio María de Hostos Community College, the post he held immediately prior to his appointment at Queens College, he gained acclaim for engineering a double-digit increase in the school’s retention rate.”
Matos Rodríguez went to Yale University for his undergraduate B.A., then achieved a doctorate in history from Columbia University. Focusing a large amount of his scholarship on women in the Caribeean, he is a multi-book author with titles ranging from “Women and urban change in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1820–1868” to “Pioneros: Puerto Ricans in New York City, 1896-1948.”
The BOT’s decision comes after Former Chancellor of CUNY James B. Milliken announced his resignation in November 2017. In the October 2018 issue of The Campus, Staff Writer Victor Anosike shared some background on the situation: “Mr. Milliken stated that the throat cancer diagnosis he received shortly after his 60th birthday was the catalyst for his early departure.” After departing, several sources including the New York Times reported that Milliken expressed interest in staying in the city, and even thought of becoming a professor for CUNY, after his treatment.
Contrary to these sentiments, as Anosike wrote, “In August 2018, the Texas Tribune reported that Mr. Milliken received a new job as the new Chancellor of the University of Texas. Interestingly enough, the Texas Tribune also noted that Milliken was given a ‘clean bill of health’ at the time of his application and acceptance of his new position, according to a spokesperson for the University of Texas.”
Following Milliken’s resignation, Vita C. Rabinowitz took the helm as Interim Chancellor. Rabinowitz, who has worked at Hunter College for her entire academic career, held the position during the BOT’s extensive search process. When Matos Rodríguez assumes the post on May 1, Rabinowitz will likely fall back into her position as Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost.
As CUNY and the BOT wrestles with the difficulties and opportunities that come with running 25 institutions – including 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, and several more – one thing is sure: Matos Rodríguez is invested in this diverse population across the boroughs. In a world where the portion of Hispanic college presidents barely changed between 2011 and 2016, inching up to 3.9 percent from 3.8 percent, according to the American Council on Education, Matos Rodríguez offers a fresh face.
When thinking about his new position, he gave “For me, this appointment is particularly special because CUNY is home. I am immensely proud to have risen through the University’s ranks and am deeply honored to now have the opportunity to lead an institution I love and treasure. I will strive every day that I am Chancellor to fulfill the promise of our noble mission to afford academic excellence and economic opportunity to all. And I will endeavor to elevate to new heights CUNY’s legacy as the paradigm of a people’s University.”