Candidate Withdraws, but CUNY Chancellor Search 'Nearly Concluded'

January 10, 2019

The City University of New York system says it is nearing the end of a much-discussed chancellor search that has already passed initially floated deadlines, even after a Gates Foundation official who was a leading candidate withdrew last month.

Robert Hughes, director of K-12 education in the United States program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, dropped out of the race for the job last month, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, citing people familiar with the search. Inside Higher Ed confirmed with two independent sources speaking on background that Hughes had been approached in the search but that he ultimately withdrew. The Gates Foundation declined to comment or to make Hughes available for an interview.

Another candidate, Anthony Marx, withdrew from the chancellor search in August. Marx, who is president of the New York Public Library, said he wanted to stay in his position at the library.

CUNY declined to comment on specific candidates’ names. But the candidates who have come forward are of “extraordinary quality,” said a CUNY spokesman in an email. “The search has been thorough and is nearly concluded,” said the spokesman, Frank Sobrino. “It will yield an accomplished leader eager to embrace the university’s proud history of helping underrepresented students succeed and who is equipped to cement CUNY’s status as a standard bearer for quality and access in American public higher education.”

CUNY leaders have known for well over a year that they would need to hire a new chancellor after James B. Milliken said in November 2017 that he would step down at the end of that academic year. Milliken went on to be named chancellor of the University of Texas system.

The CUNY Board of Trustees officially launched the search for a new chancellor in February 2018. The search had an initial deadline of August, but the chairman of CUNY’s Board of Trustees said the board should name a new chancellor by the middle of December at the latest, according to Politico.

A union representing 30,000 faculty and staff members at CUNY, the Professional Staff Congress, noted that it has had no role in the search and would like some involvement -- perhaps meeting with finalists. The union is also concerned about the amount of time the search is taking.

CUNY faces several important issues as New York’s Legislature begins its session, said Barbara Bowen, president of the union. Issues include securing state funding, increasing pay for adjuncts and securing a new contract Bowen said is overdue by more than a year. “This is a point where CUNY very much needs a chancellor who can articulate a vision for the university,” Bowen said. “Right now, there is an urgent need for a chancellor to build the political support to ensure that CUNY is fully funded.”

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