By Aspasia Celia Tsampas
The following article appeared in the October 2019 edition of The Campus.
With the 2019-2020 academic year in full swing, The Campus caught up with Vincent Boudreau, President of The City College of New York, to discuss his goals as he enters his third year as leader of our institution. Aware of the financial struggles City College continues to face, President Boudreau urges all faculty, staff, and students to go big. “Historically, when we are under economic pressure, we tend to go small,” he remarked, “We hunker down and hope that it will pass. And I think we actually have to go big.”
After a slow and tumultuous start, the previous semester ended with City College firmly on top. While the uphill battle presses on with much of the same economic fight still ahead, President Boudreau is confident that our institution is well on its way to redemption. He acknowledges that budgeting will always be an issue. However, rather than allow budget cuts to tear City College down, President Boudreau is seeking out ways to supplement money from New York state. He commented, “The truth of the matter is that, since the late 1970s, we have never had adequate funding and we have never actually set out to explore what we can do about that, instead of cutting our budget.” He suggested that one way to accomplish this is by revamping the Adult and Continuing Education Program. Another way is by further developing City College’s fundraising apparatus.
Over the course of the next ten years, President Boudreau hopes to put City College in such a position where, even if the government slashes our budget, it will not bear any major consequences. “Now, we are getting less and less money from the state,” he revealed. “If this trend continues, by 2034, we will get no money from the state at all. So, we have to start planning for 2034.”
All of the goals President Boudreau has set for City College this year revolve around improving our institution’s financial independence. On this topic, he expressed, “We don’t have the resources to spend our way into a new day, but what we do have is the capacity to mobilize people.”
President Boudreau believes that the first step in making this all happen is by uniting everyone in and around the school. Last year, his system of Objectives and Key Results (OKR) was introduced in order to motivate everyone at City College and push them to succeed. At its core, this system is focused on setting goals and following through on them exponentially. This year, President Boudreau wants to ensure that everyone at the institution is internalizing this OKR management system, while altogether creating a more united and strategic environment here for all faculty, staff, and students.
Fundamentally, this process begun with the people that keep our college’s infrastructure up and running—the faculty and staff. In a “Welcome Back Message” sent out to the entire City College community on August 26, President Boudreau addressed our faculty and staff members with a heartfelt thank-you. “I know that you come to work every day focused on making our institution better, on building a stronger and safer community for us all,” he observed. In this same message, he announced the formation of a working group, led by Professor Jorge Gonzales and Johanna Urena, to make recommendations on improving our anti-discrimination and respect-for-all policies.
While the student body at City College is ranked as one of the most diverse in the world, the same cannot be said for our faculty and staff. President Boudreau explained, “There is a pretty big racial and gender divide in faculty and staff. Faculty tend to be more male than female, more white than not. The further down you get into the staff hierarchy, the more likely you are to encounter women and people of color.” When asked about the reasons behind this disparity, President Boudreau cited a human resource issue. As such, his chief goals for our human resources department is knowing who to hire, learning how to search for talent, and ensuring that City College has the most diverse faculty and staff as possible.
President Boudreau acknowledges that City College must improve in these areas. He said, “One whole area deals with how we manage our labor force and how we give opportunities to people. We are still in a budget crisis so we are not going to be hiring a lot of new people, so we can’t bring in new people. The question remains how do we retain the faculty you do have?”
In response to this question, President Boudreau is taking initiatives to implement mentoring programs in each department for more experienced professors to help guide newer ones in their careers. He also encourages all staff and faculty to take advantage of Annual Performance Evaluations by using them to discuss career advancement. Furthermore, he wishes for City College to be more efficient at developing the talent we already have in lower, more diverse positions in order to allow room for promotion.
Next, President Boudreau aims to improve the lives of students and their experiences on campus. Today’s students are under much more stress than ever before. It is becoming increasingly harder for them to finish school when they have other obligations to attend to. President Boudreau is adamant about helping students achieve their degrees. “We did a project when I was the Dean of the Colin Powell School, and we looked at a little more than 700 records of students who had 110 credits or more but hadn’t registered in the last three semesters,” he noted. “And what happens when they are so close to graduating and then they don’t register? 50 percent of what happened was them not being able to manage their schedules, financial aid problems, or something else bureaucratic and not academic.”
His first solution in alleviating the added stress of navigating the daunting City College bureaucracy is to develop a ‘One Stop, which is where, as a student, “you come in and talk to one person to help you through financial aid, bursar, and registrar troubles.” President Boudreau also urges students to take full advantage of what City College does have to offer—namely its extracurricular activities. “The point of going to college is going to a basketball game, and our basketball games are empty. We have a theater program that puts on plays all the time, and people from the neighborhood should be coming to City College plays. Figuring out how to make campus life more robust is a big deal for us,” he expounded.
A significant portion of City College’s student population is currently in a state of vulnerability, whether that be economically, politically, or in terms of their immigration status. President Boudreau wants it to be clear that they are not to feel vulnerable here on campus. “This institution has to be a thing that grounds them, with a community that supports them,” he insisted. This thinking goes hand-in-hand with building programs for students to utilize, such as the counseling and advising centers. Additionally, for students who are rendered vulnerable due to their immigration status, our school pledges to help in any way possible. For example, if an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) officer enters campus, there will be no cooperation whatsoever—public safety will not accommodate them, absolutely no one is to provide them with any student records, and none of their questions will be answered.
In the past, City College has partnered with the Northern Manhattan Coalition on Immigration to assist with any questions about immigration status, as well as renewals for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA). President Boudreau proclaimed, “We are a place that demonstrates every day how important immigrants are to the building of America. I think the most important thing we can do is continue to make a connection between the wonderful markers we have on social mobility, the contributions we make to society, and never shy away from the fact that the majority of our students weren’t born in the United States.”
Lastly, President Boudreau wishes for all of these internal goals and objectives to transfer into public view. He stated, “I’ve been at City College my whole career and I’ve never been satisfied with the success in which we project out to the world.” President Boudreau wants people to ask, “Why are City College students so successful?” He also wants the answer to be apparent and obvious: “I think that what makes American democracy work is upward mobility, and what makes upward mobility work is available education. No one does it better than City College, that makes us a front-line democratic institution at a time when democracy is under attack.” Specifically, this refers to a 20 percent proliferation over the last year in the number of positive stories and local media coverage on City College, as well as an increase in public association between our institution and the term “social mobility” by 10 percent. City College already has gained national attention across various college ranking systems. Most notably, the school was ranked second in the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education list for “The Best Value.”
Under President Boudreau’s guidance, this year is about mobilizing pride in City College, amongst the faculty, staff, and students, as well as in the public eye. Moving forward, the question remains, “Whenever a student succeeds, a graduate does something great or writes something beautiful, our message to the world has to be, who else are you missing?”