Spring 2012 Open Line

It is hard to believe that it has been nearly a month since the semester began.  Now that you have settled in to your classes, it is my pleasure to update you on some of the exciting news and events happening at Hunter College – which The Princeton Review just named one of the nation’s “Best Value” public colleges for the fourth year in a row. 

The Knicks may have Jeremy Lin, but New York’s greatest champions were at Hunter’s Assembly Hall on January 19, when 1500 undergraduate and graduate students received their diplomas at Hunter’s 204th commencement ceremony. Ashley Ortiz, Sara Kappraff, and Tiffany Geigel, members of the Class of 2012 who have made careers as dancers and dance teachers, were thrilled to share the stage with ballet legend Heather Watts, who received an honorary doctorate. Geigel was singled out as extraordinary, since she has become a dancer – and competed on the television show So You Think You Can Dance?  – despite having been born with a severe, irreversible spinal disorder.  We were pleased to announce at the ceremony our new Heather Watts Scholarship for students in our BA/MA program in dance education.  The scholarship and program, both supported with gifts from the Arnhold Foundation, are examples of Hunter’s ongoing success as one of New York’s premier schools for the study of the arts.  We look forward to enhancing the arts at Hunter even further when we move our studio art programs to three floors of 205 Hudson Street , which will house studios, work and exhibition spaces, and classrooms for our MFA and BFA students. A five thousand square foot gallery on the ground floor will be programmed by our faculty and graduate students in art history and studio art, fully integrating them into the vibrant arts community of Tribeca. We are currently working with our art faculty to plan the move and design the new space for our 21st-century art school and the country’s top destination for young artists, curators, and art historians.

The move to Tribeca is scheduled for January, 2013. Until then, we will continue to present outstanding work at our Times Square Gallery, where an exhibit on John Cage and his effect on contemporary art and artists is currently on view. But you don’t have to leave the 68th Street campus to see great art. A major exhibit on Italian photography, curated by Hunter Professor of Art History Maria Antonella Pelizzari, is now on display in our Leubsdorf Art Gallery in the main building’s West Lobby. Graduate students of art, art history, and film participated in the development and curatorial processes at every level. And don’t leave the West Lobby without taking time to admire the marvelous hanging sculpture by famed Venezuelan artist Jesús Soto. The sculpture, on loan from the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, is the first public installation of a Soto work in New York City and will remain on display at Hunter for at least a year. Click here to see a high-speed video of the installation process.

We are dedicated to making the arts an integral part of the Hunter experience, across every discipline and campus. This past fall, with the support of a $100,000 planning grant from the Mellon Foundation, we launched Arts Across the Curriculum (AAC), an interdisciplinary initiative that has already proved an enormous success. The AAC faculty planning committee, chaired by Professor of English Rebecca Connor in conjunction with Project Director Dara Meyers-Kingsley, has sponsored artist lectures, multidisciplinary presentations and performances, and faculty forums. This semester, Hunter is offering nine Arts Across the Curriculum pilot courses that incorporate a study of the arts into subjects from astronomy and chemistry to religion and European history. The AAC course “Distinguished Living Writers,’’ developed in collaboration with Hunter’s MFA program in Creative Writing, gives students the rare opportunity to not only study the works of extraordinary living writers, but also meet and interact with them.  We have partnered with several cultural institutions and organizations throughout New York City, including the Rubin Museum, the Society of Illustrators, and the Creative Coalition. The AAC website will go live in March; in the meantime, please look for email announcements about upcoming AAC-sponsored events, including presentations by filmmaker Chantal Akerman and neuroscientist David Eagleman, a faculty summit, and a performance of short operas written, composed, and performed by Hunter students and faculty from across the disciplines. Our planning year culminates with a proposal for a much larger grant and a multi-year initiative. The success of this ambitious proposal hinges upon broad participation by faculty from all of Hunter’s disciplines and schools. We thank those faculty members who have generously shared feedback, ideas, proposals, and syllabi with Project Director Meyers-Kingsley and Professor Connor. We hope more of you will do so in the coming months by emailing us at aatc@hunter.cuny.edu.

Our MFA program in Creative Writing has also continued its streak of successes, most recently with the publication of From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant, a novel by 2009 graduate Alex Gilvarry, who was profiled last month in The New York Times. We encourage you to join us on April 23 for our MFA Faculty Reading with Distinguished Professor and Executive Director Peter Carey, Professor and Director Tom Sleigh, and Visiting Lecturers Kathryn Harrison and Nathan Englander. To learn more about this and our upcoming Distinguished Writers Series events with Téa Obreht, Michael Ondaatje, and Robert Pinsky, please visit http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/creativewriting/calendar.shtml.

Finally, last fall’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, our outstanding new building in East Harlem, included a celebration of the building’s art gallery and the opening of its first exhibit, Labor. Labor was co-curated by renowned Puerto Rican artist Antonio Martorell and includes works by Martorell, Hunter Professor of Art Juan Sánchez, and other important Puerto Rican artists. It is a visual celebration of the great legacy and archives of Hunter’s Centro, one of the building’s new residents.

The Silberman School of Social Work is enjoying its new home and is rapidly growing its partnerships with a variety of service organizations and schools in East Harlem, and has become already a vital resource for the entire community. We are pleased that Hunter’s School of Education has also expanded its ties to the East Harlem community through professional development workshops and student-teaching programs with nearby public schools. The CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College, which shares the building with the School of Social Work, is also flourishing in East Harlem. We are grateful to the leadership of the School of Public Health’s founding dean, Dr. Ken Olden, for his essential role in helping us reach important early milestones: full accreditation, the graduating of the School’s first PhD student, and the enrollment of over 100 students in our four doctoral programs. The search for our next dean is actively underway. By the end of February, four top candidates will have visited Hunter. We encourage your feedback and look forward to making an announcement in the next few months. Thank you to Dr. Neal Cohen for leading the search committee.

The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College is also celebrating an important milestone. Montserrat Macuer, who was born in Chile during the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, just became the first student to graduate from Roosevelt House’s certificate program in human rights. The program is thriving, thanks to a $750,000 gift from Hunter alumna, lawyer, and human rights activist Rita Hauser.

Public events at or sponsored by Roosevelt House continue to draw hundreds of students, faculty, and community members. Last semester we welcomed, among others, Anita Hill, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman, and Leonel Fernández, president of the Dominican Republic. Earlier this month, we welcomed Jodi Kantor, author of The Obamas, and Richard Cordray, director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And on March 14, Roosevelt House will begin a two-day Presidential Leadership Symposium entitled “Revisiting the Great Society.” Speakers will include famed LBJ biographer Robert Caro, CBS News correspondent Bob Schieffer, former presidential candidates George McGovern and Walter Mondale, journalist and former LBJ press secretary Bill Moyers, and other prominent leaders and scholars. Presidential historian Michael Beschloss will open the second day of panels with top historians, economists, policymakers, presidential advisers, educators, and public health experts.  Please visit http://roosevelthouse.hunter.cuny.edu for more information on these and other upcoming events.

Under the direction of interim director Jonathan Fanton, Roosevelt House has grown rapidly as an important academic community at Hunter, and we encourage both students and faculty to contact Roosevelt House to learn about special programs and events. We particularly urge faculty members interested in human rights, public policy, and related fields to apply to be a Roosevelt House Faculty Associate. Associates are eligible for grants to support travel, research, and other professional endeavors. 

Professors and students of science and nursing are also continuing to develop exciting projects through our partnership with the NIH-funded Clinical and Translational Science Center (CTSC) at Weill Cornell Medical College. The collaboration between Weill Cornell and Hunter has been so mutually beneficial that it has become a national model for public-private partnerships within the NIH. It has also led Hunter to purchase a full floor in a new complex currently under construction at Weill Cornell, just a few blocks from the 68th Street campus. Soon, Hunter scientists will be conducting cutting-edge research and training the next generation of scientists in facilities that are the equal of any in the world. Meanwhile, we continue to make progress in our efforts to secure a science and health building on the Upper East Side.

You may have noticed a few of the campus improvement projects recently completed or underway this semester. We are especially indebted to everyone who has contributed to the library renovation fund. We have already raised more than $7 million of our $35 million goal, and the donations keep coming in. Work on the third floor has begun, and construction on the new entrance -- followed by the 6th and 7th floors, a new faculty space, and a science learning center -- is set to start soon. The library will remain open throughout construction; we will send you periodic updates on any logistical or scheduling changes.

We are grateful as well to the members of the Hunter Sustainability Project, who were instrumental in raising funds for the new solar panels on the roof of the North Building, which were unveiled in November. We have been pleased by the positive reactions to the redesign of our main cafeteria, which includes a sleek glass façade and extra seating space. And we are happy to announce that the renovation of Thomas Hunter Hall is approaching completion and that the scaffolding surrounding it will soon be removed. 

We want to remind students about the block of dorm rooms now set aside for Hunter students on East 97th Street. They provide a convenient community experience, and financial aid may be available for qualified applicants. Please contact Associate Dean of Students Madlyn Stokely at madlyn.stokely@hunter.cuny.edu for details.

Finally, we want to thank all of you who contributed to Hunter’s new strategic plan. We are in the process of forming an implementation committee, and Provost Rabinowitz has charged each of Hunter’s five schools to begin their own planning processes.

One major goal outlined in the plan is to support and enhance Hunter’s research infrastructure. To that end, we have established the President’s Fund for Faculty Advancement, which provides early grants to help faculty members jumpstart research projects; the pilot test of Hunter College Undergraduate Research Fellowships, designed to help undergraduates engage with faculty and conduct research outside the classroom; and, thanks to a $500,000 gift from Eugene Lang, the Presidential Fellows Program, which provides exceptional undergraduates with support for internships, research, study abroad, and other educational opportunities. In addition, we will soon launch a search committee for an associate provost for research, who will help us advance further as a science and research powerhouse.

We have also made significant progress on a second major goal of our strategic plan: to invest in new ways to improve student success. New recruitment strategies and freshman cohort programs in science and the arts – with a new public service and engagement cohort on the way – are aimed at increasing retention and enabling students to focus earlier and more extensively on their intended fields of study. Recruitment, retention, and overall student satisfaction are also the goals of a personalized, state-of-the-art communication management system we have implemented over the course of the last year. By tailoring communication to the interests and needs of each student, the new system lets students know about pertinent campus news, events, scholarships, and academic opportunities, and helps them make the most of their college experience. It is a way for Hunter to keep students engaged and focused on their academic and personal goals -- a particularly vital resource at a non-residential college like Hunter.

We look forward to keeping you informed on these and other developments as we continue to set the strategic plan in motion, and on sharing other great Hunter news to come this semester. As always, please do not hesitate to contact me at president@hunter.cuny.edu with any questions or concerns.

Jennifer J. Raab

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