By Aspasia Celia Tsampas
The following piece was published in the September 2019 issue of The Campus.
Two months after his appointment, former Queens College President Félix Matos Rodríguez took office as Chancellor of the City University of New York on May 1, 2019. While students were winding down for summer vacation, the new Chancellor wasted no time and hit the ground running during his first few months in office, using his professional background to improve the CUNY system’s accessibility and inclusivity for all.
After over a yearlong search for a new leader, the City University of New York Board of Trustees appointed Matos Rodríguez as the first Latino leader of New York City’s public higher education system. Born in Puerto Rico, the educator first took leadership of Hostos Community College before assuming the role of President of Queens College in 2014. In CUNY’s official release of his appointment, they boasted his excellent reputation for propelling “the school to the highest echelon in college social-mobility rankings.”
Prior to Matos Rodríguez’s relationship with CUNY, he attended Yale University as an undergraduate and later achieved a doctorate in history at Columbia University. His doctoral work primarily focused on women in the Caribbean. This led to multiple publications of his research on the topic, such as “Women and Urban Change in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1820-1868” and “Pioneros: Puerto Ricans in New York City, 1896-1948.” The new Chancellor’s notable career has not only included academia, but also the public sector, as he formerly served as Cabinet Secretary for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
These factors have all contributed to Matos Rodríguez’s success as CUNY Chancellor, in addition to the values of accessibility, inclusion, and excellence in higher education the institution was established upon. In the wake of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) most recent attacks on undocumented immigrants, Matos Rodríguez has shown his unwavering support for CUNY students and families facing these threats. He released a statement on July 13, urging students to stay informed of the enforcement action taken by the federal government. The Chancellor iterated, “CUNY has a longstanding record of supporting its students who are immigrants, regardless of their immigration status. This university stands with you.” Also listed in his statement is a list of rights and precautions to take in the event of an ICE raid, along with the number of the Legal Aid Society immigration hotline. This report came just days after the Chancellor’s announcement of the opening application for the José Peralta New York State Dream Act, which grants undocumented students access to TAP, the Excelsior Scholarship, and other financial aid.
Additionally, Matos Rodríguez unveiled plans this summer to bolster business opportunities for firms owned by women, minorities, and service-disabled veterans). This plan would increase CUNY’s engagement with these businesses at the City University Construction Fund’s annual Conference on Contract Opportunities for companies owned by minorities, women, and service-disabled veterans. In a statement released by CUNY, the Chancellor affirmed, “These efforts will help inspire more people of color, women, and service-disabled veterans to directly participate in our vibrant university community and help make CUNY an even more inclusive institution.” This is just one step in his plan of policies that the Chancellor revealed during his inaugural keynote address.
summer filled with action, students will enter the 2019–2020 academic year with
new standards set for the future of CUNY by Matos Rodríguez. As the first
Latino and minority educator leader of the university, as well as with the firm
support of students who face marginalization today, the legacy of the City
University of New York’s open-door opportunity for all students independent of
their race, ethnicity, color, and class is set to continue to grow under this