Matthew Goldstein, chancellor of the City University of New York since 1999, has announced that he will retire in June. His is a tenure that shouldn’t end quietly. It holds lessons not only for public colleges and universities but for every K-12 public school in America.
Long ago, the CUNY colleges were seen as great academic institutions. With their low cost of tuition, they were the only meaningful postsecondary option for many of New York’s poor and working-class families, including children from immigrant families. The list of remarkable alumni from the early and mid-20th century–Felix Frankfurter, Jonas Salk (one of 12 Nobel laureates), Colin Powell, Frank McCourt, Andy Grove and many more–compares favorably to that of virtually any other university, including the Ivy League schools.
That golden era came to a screeching halt after 1970, when the CUNY schools adopted an open-admission policy, allowing anyone who had graduated high school to attend. Anyone could now go to what were becoming increasingly inferior academic institutions.
In 1999, as the system continued to decay, Mayor Rudy Giuliani appointed a task force chaired by former Yale President Benno Schmidt. It called for a major overhaul. Soon after, CUNY selected Matthew Goldstein, a graduate of City College who was then president of Adelphi University, to lead the effort.