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Ms. Machiavelli
City University of New York's controversial chairwoman


CUNY's Anne Paolucci
Machiavelli: Well, be sure you remember. What these people lack is proper direction from the top, proper government, real political leadership, laws that will·

Actor: Wait, wait, wait! What's all this political stuff! Let's keep politics out of it!

Machiavelli: "But you can't! That's my whole point. Like I said, it's a kind of siege! We're in a political universe from beginning to end!"

÷From "The Actor in Search of His Mask," a play by Anne Paolucci, chairwoman of City University of New York's Board of Trustees.

By Joe Mathews

New York
ANNE PAOLUCCI fills her plays with bold, historical characters: Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey, Confucius and Sophocles. She quotes Dante to reporters. And when not writing drama, she translates Machiavelli. Paolucci has the Prince's affection for politics, particularly the broad strokes.

In February, this state's Republican governor, George E. Pataki, appointed Paolucci to the chair of the City University of New York Board of Trustees. Immediately, this 71-year-old retired English professor from St. John's laid personal siege to the country's largest urban university, criticizing it from all angles and working full-time to bring the central administration under her control. In nine short months, she has made herself de facto chancellor of CUNY's 18 colleges and 200,000 students.

She has not hesitated to wield her power. Paolucci unilaterally ended two presidential searches at CUNY campuses with a three-sentence fax. She ran CUNY Chancellor Ann Reynolds out of town with a series of calculated public diatribes that convinced Reynolds to take a job in Alabama before she could be fired. Some of Paolucci's bromides were so fierce ("The chancellor is virtually lying," she said once) that they made tabloid headlines.

In July, Paolucci ordered the university's 11 lawyers out of its third floor offices at CUNY's Upper East Side headquarters. In their place, using $1 million she and other board members carved out of CUNY's administrative budget, Paolucci installed an attorney, researchers and auditors with specific instructions: to do the bidding of Paolucci and her board, not CUNY. To keep an eye on everything, the chairwoman gave herself the corner office.

"We had to move to the first floor because of the shake-up she caused on the third floor," said Sandi Cooper, president of the faculty senate. "If she needs more space, we've been told our offices will be moved across the street," Cooper said, pointing to the East River.

"The chairwoman is imperious," said CUNY Trustee Edith Everett, a Paolucci critic. "And I think she's mixed up. The board is supposed to offer advice and guidance, not run the university day-to-day."

But in the Empire State, a CUNY board that has been swiftly reshaped by two suddenly ascendant Republican leaders-Pataki and New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani-is charting a new activist course. The new board members see themselves not as part-time advisers for the institution, but as full-time house critics and internal auditors who must raise academic standards and save taxpayers money.

"I'm a workhorse," said Paolucci. "I'm putting in full weeks, and many board members are working two or three days a week for CUNY. If I appear to be the chancellor, it's only because, in a way, we've been without a chancellor or a direction for some time now."

CUNY certainly has no shortage of problems. The system's four-year graduation rate is less than ten percent. Serious questions have been raised about the effectiveness of its remedial programs, which are required by more than half of all entering students. Graduates of CUNY's education schools, which produce the majority of New York City public school teachers, are consistently the worst performers on state certification exams.

But in its early stages, the board's fierce activism seems to have paralyzed the institution. Afraid to offend Paolucci, administrators and faculty have put new initiatives on hold. "I've been telling my faculty colleagues not to propose a new course or curriculum change for at least the next year," said Sandi Cooper.

The board's critics say, with considerable evidence, that the new Republican trustees are too close to New York politics to have any credibility as reformers. And Paolucci, who was named to the National Council on the Humanities by President Reagan, is a political animal. Her husband is a leader in New York's powerful Conservative Party, which supports Pataki, and the governor's aides say her appointment was a favor to Serphin Maltese, a Queens state senator who represents the Republican, Conservative and Right-to-Life parties.

Even Father Michael Crimmins, a Catholic priest who was appointed to the board by Pataki last year, conceded: "Few of my fellow board members are educators. I have the feeling that they are representing the political interests of the governor and the mayor, not the interests of the institution."

But Paolucci, like the Machiavelli character in her play, insists that politics is inescapable. What is more important, she says, is the new board's efforts, grounded more in ideology than politics, to transform the university. Republican appointees to CUNY, and to the board of trustees of the even larger State University of New York system, say they want to save taxpayers' money while providing a more traditional education in Western thought.

At CUNY, some board members even want to reconsider the 30-year-old policy of open admissions, the university's most sacred cow. "Is it realistic for everyone to be able to go to college?" Paolucci asked. "I'm for access, but within the bounds of what is financially reasonable."

Such talk is relatively unfamiliar in this liberal city. But it has long been standard fare at two conservative groups-the Manhattan Institute (the think tank from which Pataki drew his lieutenant governor) and the upstate anti-tax lobby Change-NY-that suddenly find themselves at the forefront of higher education policymaking here.

Candace de Russy, a friend of Paolucci's and a founder of Change-NY, has emerged as the leading conservative light on the SUNY board. Peter Salins, a Manhattan Institute fellow, was appointed provost of SUNY without a search this summer. Salins and Frank Macchiarola, another institute trustee, are expected to be leading contenders when Paolucci and the CUNY board pick a new chancellor next year.

The colleges that make up CUNY have a proud history of educating New York City's poor. For more than a century, City College, CUNY's 150-year-old flagship school, offered a free, first-class education to anyone who performed well in high school. Thousands of immigrants, many of them Jewish, accepted the offer, with startling results. According to a recent Standard and Poor's survey, more top corporate executives received their degrees from CUNY than from another university. (Yale ranks second).

In the late 1960s, after a series of violent student protests over racial diversity, CUNY colleges dropped their admissions standards and declared themselves open to any New York resident with a high school diploma. The resulting flood of students overran unprepared campuses; enrollments only subsided after 1976, when the New York City fiscal crisis forced CUNY to begin charging tuition.

The fiscal crisis also required the state to help the city fund CUNY, a fateful change that transferred the balance of power over the university to the governor's office in Albany.

Today's student body is a snapshot of New York's young, desperate strivers. Sixty-two percent are female; 29 percent support children; 42 percent come from households with income of less than $20,000; 60 percent work part or full time; 70 percent are racial minorities. Back in 1994, with New York's immigrant population surging, CUNY officials projected that half the student body would be overseas-born by the year 2000. The university reached that landmark this fall, three years ahead of schedule.

Such figures underline why it is so difficult to judge CUNY's effectiveness. Its graduation rates may be low, 90 percent of freshmen at its two-year community colleges may require remedial work, but no university tries to educate so many poorly prepared students. "CUNY is like beauty," said Sandi Cooper. "Whether it's good or not is in the eye of the beholder."

When W. Ann Reynolds left the California State University system to become CUNY's chancellor in fall 1990, she says she was as inspired by her new university's historic mission as she was frustrated by the poor preparation of its students. A no-nonsense administrator who likes one-page memos, Reynolds moved quickly to improve academic standards and cut costs-with little deference to students or faculty.

She launched the College Preparatory Initiative, which requires students to take certain academic classes in high school to be able to enroll in one of CUNY's four-year senior colleges. (All high school graduates are still entitled to attend the university's two-year community colleges). And she limited remediation for senior college students to two semesters; anyone who needed more would be kicked back to the two-year schools. These reforms were heavily criticized for limiting access to CUNY's best senior colleges, though they also seem to be producing better prepared freshmen. To this day, however, many CUNY students consider Reynolds unacceptably conservative.

At first, faculty members were excited by Reynolds' efforts to boost research. She pulled strings to create new cooperative research programs funded by CUNY and private companies. And she won $75 million in government grants for research in math and science. To those who criticized her for serving on four corporate boards (work that reportedly pays her more than $100,000 a year), she explained that she exploited her board service for CUNY's benefit.

But the faculty eventually rebelled against Reynolds over her academic planning effort, which led to the consolidation of dozens of programs and the laying off of tenured professors. In 1995, the union and the faculty senate brought a lawsuit in an attempt to stop the cutbacks, but Reynolds prevailed. The chancellor takes credit for closing 150 programs while creating 60 new ones.

The cuts saved money at a time of cutbacks in state aid to CUNY, but Reynolds acknowledges that the institution suffered. Class sizes are 20 percent higher than in 1989, full-time faculty shrunk by 16 percent in her tenure, and nearly half of all credits are from courses taught by adjuncts. Although the chancellor's strong lobbying in Albany forestalled some cuts, even her Democratic allies in the state capital agreed to hike tuition, which doubled during her tenure to $3,200 a year.

Conservative Candace deRussy would like to be City University chancellor
All this retrenchment, combined with Reynolds' management style, earned her the lasting enmity of the students, faculty and some college presidents. Stories spread of her problems retaining secretaries. Students who tried to approach her found her stand-offish. In the faculty senate, said Queens College sociology professor Dean Savage, "her conduct could be outrageous. She would become very rude and humiliate professors who asked questions she didn't like."

"I believe she was a good chancellor," said Silvio Torres-Saillant, a friend of Reynolds who directs the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute. "But by 1996, she had managed to alienate the whole institution."

Except the board. Even when under attack by everyone else, the Democratic appointees who led the board backed the College Preparatory Initiative, and later academic planning. Reynolds carefully cultivated trustees, particularly the chairman James Murphy and vice chairwoman Edith Everett, and stage-managed the monthly meetings.

So when the political sands shifted in February, and the board's leadership turned Republican, Reynolds had no constituency to fall back on. Between 1995 and 1997, she went from being criticized by faculty and students for cutting costs and imposing higher standards, to being lambasted by new board members who believed she had not done enough of either. Said Torres-Saillant: "She was accused by CUNY faculty of doing what the new board of trustees accused her of not doing."

During Governor Pataki's successful campaign to unseat Mario Cuomo in 1994, it was SUNY, but not CUNY, that drew his ire. As a state senator from Peekskill, Pataki had long complained that SUNY schools spent too much to provide an education inferior to that offered by New York's private colleges.

Pataki, who declined to be interviewed for this story, can appoint only ten of CUNY's 16 voting board members (Giuliani appoints five, and one is a student). But SUNY appointments are all his. And Cuomo, overconfident about re-election, had left several SUNY seats open. The Republican governor quickly filled those, and has replaced every single Democratic holdover whose seven-year term has come up. His appointments have consisted almost entirely of non-academic professionals with private college backgrounds.

Candace de Russy, a writer, radio commentator and former professor, has emerged as the board's most outspoken figure. She works from her big house in the New York suburb of Bronxville, where she founded the Westchester County chapter of the anti-tax group Change-NY, a key supporter of Pataki's. She calls herself an "educational soul mate of Anne Paolucci's" and a "proud trustee activist."

On the SUNY board, she has found like-minded trustees, notably chairman Tom Egan, a Westchester County investment banker; Edward Cox, son-in-law of the late President Nixon; and Harvey Wachsman, a Long Island neurosurgeon and lawyer. Several trustees recall how Wachsman refused to vote on a budget request to the legislature last year because, he said, "there aren't enough cuts in it." Ed Hines, an Illinois State professor who tracks higher education spending, said: "SUNY's board was the only one in the country to ask for a flat budget this year."

The new board members have been sharply criticized by faculty, SUNY college presidents, and Democratic politicians for refusing to fight severe cuts in state aid and hikes in tuition proposed by Pataki. The governor has said higher education is not a priority and should be treated like any other state agency in the budget, and "it's not the board's job to contradict him," de Russy said.

State aid to CUNY declined from $732.8 million for the 1994-95 academic year to $608.1 million for 1996-97, while city aid for CUNY has stayed stagnant. At SUNY, state aid has declined from $1.2 billion in 1988, or 90 percent of the operating budget, to less than $700 million this year, or about 45 percent. "SUNY used to be state funded," goes a bitter joke circulating at SUNY. "Then, it was state supported. Now, we are state located."

The trustees shrug off such criticism. They say SUNY's 64 campuses need to become more self-sufficient and competitive, with different tuition for each college (For now, tuition is the same -$3400-at each SUNY four-year school). And the trustees have hired Pataki allies, including members of his administration, to carry out this vision.

Last year, the board forced the resignation of SUNY Chancellor Tom Bartlett, who could not countenance the trustees' vision. A search committee, which included former Indiana University president John Ryan, interviewed several candidates (including three veterans of the Reagan and Bush Administrations). But the board ended up picking Ryan, 67, for the post.

This May, the trustees hired Donald G. Dunn, the first deputy secretary in Pataki's office, to be executive vice chancellor, running SUNY day-to-day. Michael Clemente, Pataki's deputy director of operations, is now general manager of the State University Construction Fund. Dave Farren, the husband of Pataki's health commissioner, Dr. Barbara DeBuono, serves as associate vice chancellor for marketing and enrollment management. At a July board meeting, Salins, the Manhattan Institute fellow whose previous administrative experience was as chair of the Hunter College department of urban planning, was appointed provost without a search.

"The governor is packing SUNY with his cronies," said State Comptroller Carl McCall, a Democrat. "I wonder if CUNY won't be next."

SUNY trustees object to the cronyism charge, but they don't disagree that CUNY is beginning to follow the SUNY script. Salins is a leading contender to be CUNY's next chancellor. De Russy says she applied for the CUNY interim chancellorship, and would not mind being considered for the permanent job.

Her agenda is plain. Remedial classes should be phased out, admissions standards tightened, and general education curricula installed.

"I'm in close touch with Anne Paolucci. She is a wonderful person and scholar," said de Russy. "What we've embarked upon at SUNY is the same thing that is about to happen at CUNY: a serious mission review. Our intention here, my goal, is to raise academic standards, number one, and, number two, to utilize the hardworking taxpayer's resources more efficiently."

While not averse to cuts and academic standards, CUNY's Ann Reynolds thought de Russy and SUNY trustees had gone too far. She went to Albany to criticize the governor's budgets. And despite entreaties and heavy political pressure, she publicly opposed Mayor Giuliani's plans to require CUNY students on welfare to work 20 hours a week for their benefits.

Former Congressman Herman Badillo is a Paolucci ally on the CUNY board.
Giuliani, who fired a popular and effective police commissioner for less, considered her refusal an act of war. Reynolds couldn't understand why the mayor would impose a work burden that might force many of CUNY's 27,000 welfare-receiving students to drop out. The mayor went ahead with his plan, leading to what Reynolds views as disastrous consequences. About 11,000 welfare recipients have left the CUNY student rolls. "Ann stood up to the mayor and the governor," said Edith Everett, a CUNY board member who supports Reynolds. "For her trouble, Pataki's and Giuliani's trustees punished her."

Both elected officials have made their CUNY appointments with the utmost political consideration. For the most part, Pataki bowed to the wishes of his political supporters in the city. Trustee John Calandra was the candidate of Republican Bronx State Senator Guy Velella. Trustee Robert Price was suggested by Manhattan State Senator Roy Goodman. And Trustee Nilda Soto Ruiz is the wife of Democratic City Councilman Israel Ruiz, a longtime Pataki friend who crossed party lines to endorse him in 1994.

Giuliani kept his five CUNY appointments even closer to the vest. He set up a screening committee, consisting of the mayor's cousin, an important fundraiser, Staten Island and Brooklyn Republican leaders, and Manhattan Institute Fellow Colman Genn. Some appointees say they were interviewed by Randy Mastro, the powerful deputy mayor for operations.

The mayor also appointed two members of his administration to the board: architect Satish Babbar and George Rios, commissioner of the City's Department of Records and Information Services. Babbar and Rios (whose wife works in the mayor's press office) were interviewed by CUNY board vice chairman Herman Badillo, a former Congressman who ran unsuccessfully for city comptroller on the Giuliani ticket in 1993.

Asked about CUNY over the summer, Giuliani said Badillo, now a lawyer-lobbyist, is "my spokesman on educational issues."

Badillo, Paolucci and many other new trustees, have laid out an agenda very similar to Candace de Russy's. They want a more decentralized CUNY, less remediation, and higher graduation rates. "The board really believes the open admissions policy needs to be looked at," said Babbar, the Giuliani appointee. "CUNY used to be the Harvard of the poor. I wonder why we can't go back in time and have the same standards."

While publicly pledging to do the conservative board's bidding, Reynolds began to argue privately that the new trustees were wrong. She believes that with the number of high school graduates soaring, CUNY needs to add full-time professors and build a new community college in northern Manhattan. And she defends the university's low four-year graduation rate; given the nature of the student body, the eight-year graduation rate-over 40 percent-is a more accurate and reassuring measure, according to Reynolds. "We should not downsize the university," she said.

Reynolds' views hardened the resolve of board members who wanted to get rid of her. Paolucci took control of the board meetings away from the chancellor, asked the once-silent college presidents to make presentations, and imposed strict time limits on discussions and committee gatherings. The chairwoman sometimes went too far, drawing criticism from other Republican appointees for unilaterally canceling presidential searches at two campuses. Edith Everett was so angry that she threatened to sue her fellow trustees.

The fight came to a head at the May 27 board meeting, when Badillo introduced a resolution requiring community college students to pass CUNY's Writing Assessment Test before graduating. Reynolds assured the board that the writing test was already required at CUNY's 2-year community colleges. But at least one school, Hostos Community College, had dropped the test as a requirement. So, one week before graduation, the board voted to require Hostos students to take the test. Only 13 of 104 students passed; many of those who failed filed a lawsuit to get their diplomas.

In the aftermath, Paolucci and Badillo stepped up their campaign against Reynolds. They said publicly that the chancellor was denying them information. On June 23, they visited the editorial board of the New York Times (bringing along the board's newly hired attorney) and suggested Reynolds resign.

A week later, the chancellor was attacked from the other side. Irwin Polishook, president of the faculty and staff union, wrote a letter to members suggesting that Reynolds quit because she had not defended CUNY from the conservative attacks of the trustees. "Throughout this media blitz, the chancellor's silence and lack of support for our students and faculty have been deafening," he wrote.

Reynolds, trapped, quickly plotted her escape. In mid-July, she accepted the presidency of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Four days later, Reynolds blasted Paolucci in a letter to the Times. It concluded, pointedly: "New York deserves the highest standard of leadership on the board that governs public higher education."

Paolucci and Badillo both say that they were surprised by Reynolds' departure. "I had expected her to stay and fight," Badillo said. But they did not hesitate to start looking for an interim chancellor. Paolucci says she wants to complete a national search for a permanent chancellor by next fall.

It is not clear how smoothly such a search will go, particularly if Paolucci takes a leading role. Some of the Pataki and Giuliani appointees are chafing under her heavy-handedness, particularly in meetings. "She's always ruling people's comments out of order," says Father Crimmins, a Pataki appointee. "She needs a lesson in Roberts Rules."

Paolucci dismisses such talk. "I'm very open, and the search will be, too," she said. "We've just been burned, and we want to get the right chancellor this time. It will have to be someone with a track record of success, and someone who has personal chemistry with me."

Joe Mathews is a contributing writer in New York City for the Baltimore Sun.

Photos by Mitsu Yasukawa for CrossTalk

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