Machiavelli: Well, be sure you remember. What these people lack is proper direction
from the top, proper government, real political leadership, laws that will·
|CUNY's Anne Paolucci
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
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
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.
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."
|Conservative Candace deRussy would like to
be City University chancellor
"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
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
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.
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
|Former Congressman Herman Badillo is a Paolucci
ally on the CUNY board.
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
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
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.