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Questions For... Joseph Viteritti, Chair, Urban Affairs and Planning

A Hunter graduate, Joseph P. Viteritti is the Blanche D. Blank Professor of Public Policy, chair of the Urban Affairs and Planning Department, and principal architect of the undergraduate Public Policy Program at Roosevelt House. Prior to coming to Hunter, he taught at Princeton, NYU, Harvard and SUNY/Albany. Last year he published his tenth book.

1. What is your fondest memory from your student days at Hunter?

Once we decided to put on a rock concert in the Hunter auditorium. A student in our crowd had a part-time job with Ron Delsner, the entertainment producer. So one Friday evening The Doors came to Hunter to give a live performance. John Sebastian and the Lovin' Spoonful were the warm-up act. Tiny Tim was there for comic relief, but he performed from his seat in the balcony.

2. What made you decide to pursue urban affairs?

I am the result of an urban affair. My parents met and married in Brooklyn. I grew up there. Over the years, I either lived in or had close ties to every borough of the city. Even after moving out, I kept coming back. I have lived and worked in other cities. Cities are the soul of civilization; they demand attention.

3. What is the greatest challenge in cities today?

The growing disparity in wealth between the rich and the poor. It has distorted everything - politics, neighborhood life, cultural activities, sports, you name it. I am also deeply concerned about education and our inability to close the learning gap defined by race and class. The two issues are intertwined.

4. Do you have a favorite book or movie?

Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York. As a rule I don't like violent films. Aside from some historical inaccuracies, Scorsese managed to reproduce the physical and social landscape of 19th-century New York as no one else has. It is haunting to watch. Daniel Day-Lewis played a frightening and mesmerizing character.

5. What is your favorite thing about Hunter?

Three things: The Students... The Students... and The Students. I spent most of my career away from Hunter, so that my only connection over the years was as a former student. I still identify with them. They are New York, in all its pain and glory. You cannot spend 14 weeks with a bunch of them without learning something about the city or yourself.

6. Tell us about a memorable moment in the classroom.

I am a strong believer in interdisciplinary study. The world, after all, is not divided into artificial fields. My "Governing the City" course includes material from history, law, sociology, political science, and economics. I have recently begun to add readings from literature. Social scientists aggregate data, but they often miss the human dimension of city life. Good writers can communicate the feelings of people and the struggles they face. So in addition to the usual menu of assignments, we spend time with writers like Joan Didion, John Steinbeck, E.B. White, Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin.

7. What is your greatest hope for the new undergraduate program at Roosevelt House, which is one of the few programs of its kind in the country?

My hope is that we equip students to develop informed opinions of their own about the big issues of the day. While such programs typically attract students from political science, economics, and sociology, the program would benefit from having students who major in the sciences, the humanities, and the arts - all of which can be tied to policy. Students should be exposed to a range of perspectives and viewpoints. They have a lot to gain by participating in the public programming, which will bring in scholars, writers, and newsmakers from around the world.

8. You convened the inaugural Roosevelt House Faculty Seminar. What did you hope to achieve?

Hunter has an extraordinary faculty that is doing fascinating work in many areas. The main point of the seminar was to introduce them to each other and allow them to exchange ideas. In this way we can develop a community of scholars who have a common interest in public policy and hopefully encourage future collaborations across departments. This can be done in different formats with different people.

9. Do you have a hobby?

I enjoy wine and travel. Wherever wine is produced, you usually find good food and a beautiful countryside. So for me a perfect day ends in an unpretentious open-air restaurant in the wine country someplace, where I can enjoy the local produce with local people at an affordable price.

10. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am pleased that some of the things I have written have had an influence on the national education debate. In 2009 Education Week identified 15 essays published over the past 25 years that can serve as intellectual markers on the road to school reform. I was very happy to see one of mine included.

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