Longtime CUNY Chancellor to Step Down After Pushing Higher Standards


Matthew Goldstein, who oversaw an expansion of the city’s public college system and set out to raise its prestige with a new honors college and other measures, announced on Friday that he would step down after 14 years as chancellor of the City University of New York.

In an interview on Friday, he said that having been the longest-serving chancellor by far, he felt the time was right to leave. “I had an agenda that was in my mind when I first accepted the invitation to do the job, and we have succeeded beyond that agenda, things I never envisaged we would be able to do,” he said.

When Dr. Goldstein, 71, came into office in 1999, a mayoral task force had just labeled CUNY “an institution adrift.” The task force called for the university’s total restructuring, to transform it from a confederation of loosely affiliated institutions into a coherent entity with more consistent standards and effective practices. Benno Schmidt, a former Yale president and an author of the report, later said of CUNY, “The word chaotic doesn’t even begin to describe it; it’s moribund.”

Dr. Goldstein had administrative experience, having previously led CUNY’s Baruch College, and, briefly, Adelphi University. But reforming CUNY posed enormous logistical and political challenges. The university now has 490,000 students at 24 colleges and professional schools. It is jointly funded by the city and the state, in addition to tuition, which is now $5,730 at the four-year schools. And with the overwhelming majority of its students coming from New York City public schools, the university’s success is somewhat dependent on the quality of education those institutions offer.

In an important initiative, Dr. Goldstein raised the admissions standards at CUNY’s top five four-year colleges — Baruch, Brooklyn, City, Hunter and Queens — and carried out a policy, which was proposed before his arrival, that required applicants who needed remedial classes to begin their studies at one of CUNY’s community colleges. The average SAT scores of freshmen entering the top colleges rose to 1147 last year from 998 in 1999, according to CUNY. But the changes had the additional effect of altering the colleges’ racial and ethnic profiles. As these colleges began accepting more Asian and fewer black and Hispanic students, critics denounced the new policy as discriminatory.

Dr. Goldstein added more than 2,000 full-time faculty positions. He also opened new schools and initiated new degree programs, including: the Macaulay Honors College, which began luring some of the city’s top public school graduates, including one winner of the nationwide Intel Science Talent Search; a school of public health; a graduate program in journalism; and a new community college meant to keep students on track toward a degree.

To help pay for these innovations, he sought out private donors in a way that CUNY never had before. During his tenure, CUNY’s annual fund-raising rose to almost $250 million from about $50 million. He assiduously cultivated allies in City Hall and Albany, was chairman of the city’s 2010 Charter Revision Commission and was appointed chairman of the New York City Regional Economic Development Council by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

In a prepared statement on Friday, Mr. Schmidt, who is now the chairman of CUNY’s board, said: “Chancellor Goldstein has led the unprecedented transformation of CUNY into the premier integrated urban university in America. By all indications, CUNY’s outstanding reputation, rising enrollments, increased standards and enhanced resources should be attributed in large measure to his exemplary and courageous leadership.”

The CUNY board will conduct a national search to replace Dr. Goldstein, who earns $490,000 a year, and receives a $90,000-a-year housing allowance. He will step down this summer.

A recent push by Dr. Goldstein called the Pathways Initiative, a program to establish common “learning outcomes” across the entire system, has met with defiance from large swaths of the faculty. The program sought to make it easier to transfer credits from one CUNY college to another, and to lessen what Dr. Goldstein considered a burdensome number of core courses that some colleges required.

Critics described it as a way to centralize control and stint on instruction. The union representing CUNY faculty and the university faculty senate have brought two lawsuits to try to block the initiative.

“I think he has done a number of really wonderful things. I think he has had a number of really good ideas,” said Sandi Cooper, a history professor at the College of Staten Island and a former chairwoman of the university faculty senate. But, she added, “I think the worst idea he had was Pathways, and even worse than the idea was the way he stuffed it down the faculty’s throat,” resulting in what she said was the worst morale since the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. “Otherwise his achievement is terrific.”