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My Love/Hate Relationship with CUNY!

I am a CUNY Baby! This is not because I’m a third-generation college student, or because my mother is a graduate of City College (1974), or because my grandmother has ties to City College’s Marshak Science Building. And, it’s certainly not because I’m a baby! I’m not! I was born in the 1980s! I’m old! I don’t look like a relic, but I definitely feel like one. I’ve digressed; sorry.

In case you don’t feel like reading this long post. Here’s the short version of what I love about CUNY: most of the faculty I encountered have been excellent, most students graduate with no debt, the pathway programs for community college students are inspiring, and the history of Black and Puerto Rican students protesting in the 1970s. More recently, I have also grown to respect the countless variety of academic offerings available within CUNY and the level of scholarship that comes out of CUNY. For example, did you know CUNY produced 13 Noble Prize winners and 18 Rhodes Scholars, or that 8 CUNY schools ranked in the country’s top 50? How about the fact that CUNY has a law school, a medical school, a school of journalism, and a school of public health and policy? How about the fact that my home school, The CUNY Graduate Center, is a top tier R1 Research University? That’s merely a list of some of CUNY’s honors. I haven’t even discussed the merits of CUNY’s faculty. The variety and quality of CUNY is remarkable! That said, there are some things I hate about CUNY! Well, really it’s just one big thing that I really hate. I’m disappointed by the lack of racial/ethnic diversity among faculty and students, especially at the doctoral level.

Like others who have completed all of their degrees at CUNY, I refer to myself as a CUNY Baby (some also use the terms CUNY Brat or CUNY Vet). Regardless, I’ve been around CUNY for a very long time. The best way for me to describe how I feel about CUNY is to admit that I have a bit of a Love/Hate Relationship with CUNY. If you’re not familiar with CUNY, here is a little bit of context. City University of New York (CUNY) is the third largest public university system in the USA. CUNY is the largest urban university system in the world. Each semester, I’m surprised to learn that some of my undergraduate students at Brooklyn College don’t realize CUNY is made up of 26 schools in NYC. I’m even more surprised when some of my doctoral classmates at The CUNY Graduate Center don’t fully comprehend how large and complex CUNY is (I know, I shouldn’t end a sentence with “is” but I really don’t care right now). I think this is a problem with CUNY’s branding, really. You see, other large university systems make it clear that their schools are all connected. For example, there is University of California, Berkley (aka UC, Berkley); or University of California, Los Angeles (aka UCLA); and countless others.

But within and outside of CUNY, some people don’t realize that Hunter College, Brooklyn College, Baruch College, City College, Lehman College and all the rest of the public colleges across NYC’s five boroughs fall under the CUNY umbrella or that when you attend one CUNY college you have access to all of the CUNY colleges. That’s one of the things I love about CUNY. I also love the fact that CUNY provides quality and affordable education to a HUGE NUMBER of low-income students, first generation college students, and Black and Latino students. But, please don’t get it twisted! Not all CUNY schools are equal in their resources and the quality of education that is provided. Further, not all students who attend CUNY (particularly the more competitive CUNY schools) are low-income or from families without strong social networks (I’m not talking about Twitter and Facebook). I also recognize CUNY has an ugly history regarding how it treated Black and Puerto Rican students between 1969 and 1976. But, I love that those same student activists orchestrated system-wide changes in CUNY by organizing, protesting and demanding that their voices be heard!

I think many of the student-led efforts in the 1960s and 1970s are responsible for CUNY being able to blow its own horn about having a significant number of racial and ethnic minority students on its campuses. However, there is great variance across CUNY’s 26 campuses regarding the racial/ethnic demographics of enrolled students. According to the CUNY Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, 2016 enrollment data by race/ethnicity reveals the most selective CUNY schools are predominately attended by White and Asian students: City College (56.9%), Brooklyn College (69.8%), Hunter College (71%), Baruch College (74.5%) and Queens College (75.6%) all enroll majority White and Asian students. I could be wrong, but I suspect CUNY’s “diversity numbers” mostly come from students enrolled in its community colleges (BMCC, LaGuardia Community College, Hostos Community College, Bronx Community College, etc.) and the two HBCUs (Medgar Evers College and York College). The diversity certainly isn’t at the CUNY college I attend. Students enrolled in The Graduate Center do not remotely reflect the racial/ethnic diversity of NYC. Perhaps, that’s to be expected since The Graduate Center predominately grants doctoral degrees. Still, the small presence of Black and Latino students at The Graduate Center is appalling. 2016 data reveals that nearly 80% of students enrolled at The Graduate Center identify as White (67.7%) or Asian (11.9%), which includes students participating in the M.A. in Liberal Studies (MALS) program. If we’re only talking about doctoral-level students enrolled in The Graduate Center, I wonder how much worse those lack of “diversity” numbers look. There is no published data on the racial/ethnic demographics of students who enrolled in doctoral-only programs at The Graduate Center. I think CUNY has a lot to offer. CUNY and many other colleges and universities have already made great strides in increasing access for women, but it’s time to make similar strides to increase racial/ethnic diversity among CUNY’s students, faculty and executive-level leadership.

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