Fall 2023 Closing Sessions

Good afternoon!

Welcome to my Closing Sessions report for Fall 23.  Special thanks to those of you who are here with us live in the Little Theatre.

Thanks, as always to Evelyn Lowmark, Interim Executive Director of Administrative Support Services, Facilities Rentals, and the LaGuardia Performing Art Center, and to Carmen Griffin, Theater Operations Manager/Technical Director of the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center.

Big thanks to Gina Taraskewich, executive producer.

My thanks, also, to American Sign Language interpreters Mary Jo Hennessy and Susan Weinstein, who are signing for us today.  This semester we have 28 LaGuardia students who are deaf or hard of hearing; Mary Jo, Susan, and their colleagues make these students’ LaGuardia educations possible.

I am going to cover several administrative matters, and then I’ll present – as I did last year at this time — my highly subjective version of 2023 – The Year in Review.

The Budget

To our amazing LaGuardia staff – I know some of you feel that personnel shortages in your departments are making it hard for you to do your jobs… that you’ve had to pick up additional work that used to be done by someone who resigned or retired, and hasn’t been replaced… that, in some cases, you’re worried that you and your colleagues who are left are not able to provide the same level of service to our students as you did before…  I am quite aware of your frustrations, and I regret that you have to endure them.

In many parts of the college — it’s true — we are stretched thin.  I am afraid I don’t have a solution right now to give you relief.  For the moment, we just don’t have the money.

LaGuardia, like all of the CUNY colleges, has a structural deficit.  Our enrollment increased this fall for the first time in nine years, and that is definitely good news.  More students means more tuition revenue and more FTEs, which equals – in theory — more government funding.  Yes, our revenue is increasing, fortunately, but it is still not enough to cover our expenses.

Last month the CUNY central office estimated that when this fiscal year ends, on June 30, our deficit will be about $5 ¼ million.  That is down significantly compared to last year, but it’s still a serious problem.

I hope you understand the need to manage our expenses carefully, and reduce them as much as we can.  Clearly, we need to lower our deficit, not increase it.

Now, unfortunately, things got worse last week when the University Budget Office factored in the budget cuts that Mayor Adams has announced for city agencies, including CUNY community colleges.

These are called PEGs (Programs to Eliminate the Gap).  The first two PEGs of FY 24 – each at 5% — have reduced our city funding this year by over $8 million.  These cuts have therefore driven our deficit up to more than $13 million.

That’s a scary number, but, fortunately, SVP Shahir Erfan and Budget Director Anthony Garafola have been prudent with LaGuardia’s allocation of federal stimulus money: they saved a lot of it for a rainy day.  Well, it’s raining.

We will use our remaining federal stimulus funds to close our budget gap on June 30.  LaGuardia should be okay.  (I say “should” because the mayor has threatened a third PEG for April.  Let’s hope he doesn’t act on that threat.)

Now, I am not going to name names, but there are five CUNY colleges that have structural deficits and little or no stimulus money left.  Unless they win Power Ball those sister schools have no way to close their budget gaps.  Those five CUNY colleges are on a watch list.  They must manage their expenses under a set of controls imposed by the central office, which, given their precarious financial conditions, is understandable.  But it is not fun.

Trust me: We don’t want to be on that list.

Remember that in CUNY “financial exigency” (which some people call bankruptcy) can be declared for the system, or for one or more of its individual colleges.  “Retrenchment” plans (which some people call layoffs) can be required for individual colleges under the duress of “financial exigency”.  Indeed, they are highly customized at the college level – for those colleges that require them.

Now, I don’t know what’s going to happen to those five colleges.  I really don’t.  But I do know — we don’t want to be on that list.

All this is to say that, even with the mayor’s budget cuts to date, LaGuardia should be okay – as long as we continue to increase enrollment and revenue, reduce our expenses, and eliminate our deficit.

Thanks to everyone’s hard work – your commitment to LaGuardia and our students – and to the experience and expertise of our business office, who manage our college finances so carefully, we are definitely moving in the right direction.

Human Resources

Let me take a moment to talk about HR.  As many of you know, the leadership of LaGuardia Chapter of the PSC, on behalf of a number of faculty and staff, has expressed concerns about our Human Resources Department.

The Chapter conducted a survey in the spring and more recently gathered signatures on a petition that they delivered to me a few weeks ago.  (If you want to learn more about their concerns there is an article about them in the most recent issue of The Clarion.)  I am fully aware of the Chapter’s concerns.  I appreciate their input and suggestions.

The current Executive Director of HR, Marta Clark, has been in an interim role, so SVP Erfan, to whom she reports, was planning to run a search at the conclusion of her interim appointment.  That time has arrived, so he is running a search now.  In fact, the position was posted just last week.  There was an item about it in the Weekly Update.

We obviously want a competitive search, and a strong pool of candidates, including Ms. Clark.  Please take a look at the posting (it’s on our website) and share it with people you know that might be interested in applying for the position.  If you have questions or suggestions regarding the search, please reach out to Shahir.  Thank you.

Gender Inclusivity Training

I am pleased to announce new training for students, faculty, and staff developed under the auspices of Lavender LaGuardia.  The LGBTQIA+ Gender Identity, Inclusivity, and Pronoun Training will address gender identity inclusivity in accordance with the laws of New York City and State.

The training will cover an explanation of these laws, and the risks and dangers our students face when these laws are violated.  It will focus on pronouns and their use, gender markers and gender identity, as well as mis-gendering and deadnaming.  This is a more specific training than the Safe Zone Training, which many of us have taken.

Training videos and other materials will highlight LaGuardia-specific resources as well as external resources. To better serve the diversity of our students, the training will center the experiences of our Black, Indigenous, Hispanic, Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander students, and other students of color.  Videos will include captions for accessibility.

I want to extend special thanks to Professors Chelsea del Rio and Sarada Rauch, who developed the training, which we will begin to offer in the New Year.

New 5-Year Strategic Plan

After acknowledging how busy you all are, let me invite you to get involved in yet another LaGuardia volunteer activity – the drafting of our next five-year strategic plan.  Yes, it’s that time again.  With Middle States behind us, and the ink of the Chancellor’s “Strategic Roadmap”, CUNY Lifting New York, barely dry, we need to come together in the spring semester and produce our own new roadmap, which will chart LaGuardia’s course from July 2024, through June, 2029.

Nava Lerer, Dean of Institutional Effectiveness, and her team have started to gather baseline data.  We recently sent a survey to students to get input on their concerns — to which our new plan must, of course, respond.

We have recommendations from Middle States, important findings from this year’s COACHE survey, and more.  In January and February, we will continue to collect background data and information, and prepare for college-wide input into the planning process, which will commence in March.

I know it’s not easy with everything we have going on, but I need you to dream big and get involved.

You’ve heard me say this before: LaGuardia is a good community college, but we should be better.

Our graduation rate of 29% is behind Kingsborough and Guttman, and below the national average.

We’re good; we’re not great.

I want LaGuardia to be great.

I want LaGuardia to be the best community college in CUNY.  Then, why not become the best community college in New York State?  (I know the competition.  I know we can do it.)

In the end, I want LaGuardia to be up there with the best community colleges in the country.

This is not about institutional ego, or bragging rights.  It’s because in order to go from good to great we will need to do new things – try new approaches, work in new ways – in order to deliver the full promise of LaGuardia to a much larger percentage of our students.  To dramatically move the needle on student success.

To become a great community college…

  • We will need to increase our graduation rate.
  • We will need to eliminate performance gaps for Black students.
    • Our graduation rate for black male students is only 16%. That’s simply unacceptable.
    • Remember: We are only as successful as our least successful students.
  • We will need to improve outcomes for part-time students.
    • Our 6-year graduation rate for part-time students is only 20%, and part-time students make up about half of our degree-seeking students. Also, unacceptable.
  • We will need to increase job and career success for all our graduates — in ACE programs and degree programs.
    • Since economic mobility is the core purpose of this institution, Career Success must be central to our mission.

Our new strategic plan will chart our course to improved student outcomes in these and other areas.  And as we take up the work of the plan and bring its goals to fruition, we will make LaGuardia one of the top community colleges in the country.  That’s the list we want to be on.

Okay – Time for the 2023 Highlight Reel!

Title Slide

There were a lot of Big Days at LaGuardia in 2023.  Let’s take a look…

January 1 – Everyone starts the New Year with the LaGuardia & Wagner Archives Calendar.  The 2023 edition was called Rights, Reform, Resistance – Women in Politics and Social Movements in New York, Past and Present. 

This beautiful wall calendar (in English and Spanish) features a comprehensive run-down of milestones of women’s movements in NYC from 1909 through 2022.  And it closes with special section celebrating the first-ever female majority of the NYC Council, led by Speaker Adrienne Adams of Queens.

On February 8 we announced a $500,000 grant for Mental Health Literacy and Crisis Intervention, awarded by US Department of Health and Human Services.  The grant will support the expansion of “safety net” programs for students with mental health needs.  Congratulations to Regina Varin-Miñano, Frank LaTerra-Bellino, and their colleagues for securing this important funding for the Wellness Center.

On February 10th LaGuardia welcomed friends from The Robin Hood Foundation to launch Credits for Success, a new office led by Marsha Oropeza, that awards academic credit for learning that takes place outside a traditional classroom — Think military service, work, classes taken in prison, workforce training in an ACE program, and so on.

In partnership with faculty partners, Marsha and her colleagues can award credit for prior learning and help people who started college but never finished get back on track.  This can be especially meaningful to older, working adults who would like to get their college degrees.

March 7 was the first day of the Spring semester.  We welcomed more than 700 new students to campus, along with more than 1,000 transfer students.

In case you’re wondering, in Spring 23 about 60% of our classes were held fully in-person, 26% were online, and the remaining 13% were hybrid.

Just three days later, on March 10, we learned that seven LaGuardia students were named as semifinalists for the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which provides up to $55,000 per year for students to complete their baccalaureate degrees.

I should note that these students came from a variety of programs — Accounting, Applied Mathematics, Biology, Business Administration, Electrical Engineering, Journalism, and Paralegal Studies.

Congratulations and heart-felt thank-yous to their dedicated professors and advisors.

On March 20 we welcomed Ben Rohdin as our new Vice President of Enrollment Management.  Now nine months into the job Ben is definitely getting to know LaGuardia and reconnecting with CUNY.

March 31 was the International Transgender Day of Visibility — a fitting day for LaGuardia and the CUNY LGBTQI+ Council to co-host the second annual CUNY LGBTQI+ Student Conference, here on campus.

Hundreds of participants from across CUNY were joined by Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez, City Council Member Tiffany Cabán, and student speakers for a day of workshops around the theme of “Community, Advocacy, Power, and Healing”.  We enjoyed an inspiring keynote address from trans advocate Cecilia Gentili.

I want to send a shout-out to Biology Professor Allie Brashears, whose leadership of the CUNY LGBTQI+ Council has resulted in the doubling of its membership, so that now all CUNY schools are members.

April 19 kicked off our eight-week season of special events on the 29th LaGuardia Community Greenway.  Each of these fun, popular Plaza Days, organized by chief of staff Nayelli Valencia Turrent, was based on a different theme.  All attracted large, enthusiastic crowds from the college and community, demonstrating to NYC DOT that if the city will just turn over 29th Street to us we will turn it into a welcoming, vibrant, green community space.

From May 17- 20 we were treated to performances by our award-winning Theater program of Big Love, directed by lecturer J.R. Caldwell.  Thirteen current and former students performed; they were supported by five student crew members. It was a terrific show.

On May 24, we hosted Baruch College President David Wu for a signing ceremony to launch the LaGuardia–Baruch Business Academy.  This new Academy will smooth transfer pathways for LaGuardia students to Baruch.   The partnership, led by Business and Technology Department Chair Mike Napolitano, will include peer and faculty mentoring opportunities, community-building events, and early access to Baruch’s Starr Career Development Center.

Academy students who complete their Associate degrees in Business Administration at LaGuardia, and meet other criteria, are guaranteed admission to Baruch College and the Zicklin School of Business.  And just a reminder – Business Administration is still our #1 major on graduation day.

May 30 was a big day for a special group of LaGuardia computer science students.  That’s the day 12 students completed their nine-month apprenticeships at Mastercard and were offered full-time positions there.  Here’s hoping Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Dionne Miller and ACE VP Sunil Gupta will create more apprenticeship programs like this one, organized in collaboration with NY Jobs CEO Council.

On June 1, we hosted a Years of Service Celebration for faculty and staff.  We honored 225 colleagues for service milestones that day, including Professor of Biology Joseph McPhee, who taught at LaGuardia for fifty years. Congratulations to everyone, and thank you again for your dedication to LaGuardia!

Sunday, June 4, was Queens Pride.  LaGuardia students, staff, and faculty joined the CUNY LGBTQI+ Consortium to march in the always energizing Queens Pride Parade in Jackson Heights.

Dr. Alexis McLean’s first day at LaGuardia was Monday, June 5th.  Dr McLean joined us as our new Vice President for Student Affairs following more than fourteen years of distinguished service at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.

June 21st was Graduation.  On the beautiful campus of Queens College in Flushing, Provost Billie Gastic Rosado and I were honored to award associate degrees to more than 2,000 members of LaGuardia’s Class of 2023.

On that same sunny day, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it was awarding LaGuardia a $4.5 million multi-year grant for the development of “The Animal Science Discovery Program,” a project led by Dr. Preethi Radhakrishnan, Professor of Biology, that will provide exciting new opportunities for students in her Sustainable Urban Agriculture program.

During the pre-dawn hours of July 7th LaGuardia’s revamped and greatly improved website was migrated over to our new content management system.  Much of this long and complex project happened behind the scenes.  But I have to tell you: it was a big deal — a lot of hard work over many months.  Think about it: Our Communications and IT teams had to review over 1,000 individual webpages.

VP of Communications and External Affairs, Manny Romero, led this project with colleagues in IT, which now led by Jason Bryan.  Phase II of the website overhaul is now underway – it will add more features, including updated faculty profiles, and revised departmental home pages.

Speaking of Jason and our terrific IT team, I hope you appreciate how efficiently they increased our cybersecurity protection by implementing Multifactor Authentication this summer — while they completed our transition to cloud-based Microsoft 365, including Outlook and other applications.

On August 3rd and 4th, we hosted the Queens Public Library’s Hip Hop 50TH Anniversary Summit.  The two-day event explored the origins of Hip Hop and its transformation into an enduring global genre.  The summit was emceed by none other than Hip Hop Legend and LaGuardia graduate Ralph McDaniels, the Queens Public Library’s Hip Hop Coordinator, and founder of Video Music Box.

At its meeting in early August, the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education voted to grant Status of Accreditation for ten years to LaGuardia’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program.

Congratulations to Dr. Regina Lehman, program director, and the OTA faculty and staff on this achievement.  Not only were all 115 standards of accreditation met, but the highest level of accreditation was granted to the LaGuardia OTA program!

The Fall 2023 semester kicked off on September 8, with more than 10,700 students signed up for classes—including over 2,100 new students, and 1,200 transfers.

For the first time in nine years LaGuardia had an increase in enrollment.  Notably, we had a significant return of international students, with strong year-over-year growth.  Our modality mix for the fall moved just slightly, with 61.6% of classes held fully in-person, 26% online and 12.5% hybrid.

Congratulations to VP Ben Rohdin and everyone in the Division of Enrollment Management.  Now we just have to keep up the momentum.

For start of the fall semester we tried something new, thanks to support from the LaGuardia Foundation.  Concerned about the impact of Bursar Holds, which disproportionately impact low-income Black students, VP Rohdin and Jay Golan, Executive Director of the Foundation, designed a program in which they used foundation funds to “buy down” Bursar Holds blocking students from the upcoming semester.

They modified our student account policies to clear the path for 839 students with outstanding balances to be able to register for the fall term who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to so.  514 students received an average of $763 from the Foundation to help them resolve their account balances and register for their classes.

Speaking of the Foundation — Over the past two years, the LaGuardia Foundation has allocated more than $11 million to student aid; that’s an average of $5.5 million per year, which is unprecedented for LaGuardia, and well more than most community colleges.  Since the average Foundation grant to students is about $1,000, were talking about approximately 11,000 awards.  That’s incredible.

About 1/3 of all LaGuardia degree students and 10% of ACE students have received Foundation awards – that’s a very high percentage of all students.  Somebody please send a box of chocolates to Jay Golan and his team at the Foundation.

On September 21, The U.S. Department of Education announced awards for more than two dozen HSI community colleges across the country.  Thanks to the terrific work of Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, Dr. Eric Hofmann, LaGuardia received a five-year grant of $2.8 for the development of “Project CAMINO: Fortifying a Guided Pathway for College and Career Success.”

The goal of Project CAMINO is to support 40,000 high-need LaGuardia students as they follow their educational pathways through LaGuardia and beyond.

On the evening of September 28th more than 200 President’s Society Alumni attended a joyful tenth anniversary celebration over at Boyce Technologies, a few blocks from here.  Thank you, Foundation Board Chair, Charles Boyce, for hosting this terrific event.

Over the last ten years, more than 600 students have participated in this innovative leadership program, which was created in 2013 by the incredible Karen Dubinsky, who still leads it today.

October 4th marked the launch of LaGuardia’s new Transfer Council.  With representation from faculty and staff across disciplines and programs, the Transfer Council is coordinating all transfer initiatives at the college.

The group is completing an inventory of all college transfer-related events, activities, and planning efforts.  They’re conducting an assessment of transfer services, resources, data and information-sharing tools, and professional development needs.  Their assessment will lead to new transfer-focused events, as well as transfer resource guides for staff, faculty, and students.

Two important things happened during the week of October 11th to help us improve education and training opportunities for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students.

A grant from the Ichigo Foundation enabled us to launch the LaGuardia Correctional Education Partnership and hire Matt Wilson, LaGuardia Class of 2019 and Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholar, to run the program.

A few days later, the U.S. Department of Justice awarded a three-year, $900,000 grant to LaGuardia to provide educational, training, and wraparound services for residents of Queensboro Correctional Facility, our neighbor across 47th Avenue. Big shout-out to Professor of Criminal Justice, Dr. John Chaney, who secured the grant and will lead the Accelerated College Transition (ACT) program.

On Saturday, October 14, nearly 200 runners and walkers came out for the 2nd Annual LaGuardia Community 5K Run.  Participants ran down to the Long Island City waterfront and back.  The rain held out for most of the activities, which included raffles, music, and exhibits by community organizations and local businesses. Nearly $4,000 was raised from the 5K Run to support LaGuardia CARES.

The top overall finishers were both repeat winners from last year—congratulations to Professor Robin Kietlinski from Social Sciences and Tomasz Wawrzyniak, a great runner from Brooklyn who has nothing to do with LaGuardia.

On that same Saturday, October 14, The English Language Center (or TELC), started its last classes of 2023.  Since you already know that LaGuardia is the biggest provider of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in NYC, you will not be surprised when I tell you that this year TELC had 3,441 enrollments – an 11% increase over last year.

Congratulations to VP Sunil Gupta, John Hunt, Liz Iannotti, Heather Barikmo, and their amazing colleagues at TELC!

Also, in October – VP for Student Affairs Alexis McLean launched a Working Group on Student Conduct and Academic Integrity.  The group is co-chaired by Social Sciences Department Chair Bojana Blagoyevic and VP McLean.

Members are examining current practices, and developing new processes to address behavior that violates the college’s community standards.  In the New Year, the Working Group will roll out workshops and forums that focus on education, safety, and awareness.

On October 18th the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation awarded us a grant of $210,000 to launch LaGuardia English Express – our education and training program for Asylum Seekers that I mentioned to you in my Fall Report back in September.

This is one of a record number of grants secured this year by Laura Bartovics and her amazing team in our Office of Grants and Sponsored Programs.  Out of 26 CUNY colleges and graduate schools, LaGuardia is basically tied for 7th place with Lehman and the Grad Center in the ranking of grant expenditures by the Research Foundation.  When it comes to raising money for LaGuardia Laura and her team never quit.

On October 26th, the chancellor hosted a celebration at the CUNY Graduate Center for the Black, Race, and Ethnic Studies Initiative known as BRESI.  Dozens of grantees, including BRESI faculty from across CUNY, were joined by college and CUNY leaders.  Fifteen LaGuardia faculty have been awarded BRESI grants, including Ryan Mann-Hamilton and Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez, the founding co-directors of Casa de las Américas.

Speaking of Casa de las Americas, in its push for inclusivity, La Casa organized its first Indigenous People’s Day, and broadened the scope of its Dia de los Muertos celebration, pictured here, to showcase intricately crafted altars representing the cultural nuances of Brazil, Haiti, Guatemala, Ecuador, and El Salvador.  This multifaceted approach strengthens ties within the community and fosters a vibrant and inclusive environment for all.

On November 1, Civic Hall at Union Square opened its doors with a ribbon-cutting ceremony we were pleased to participate in.  This cutting-edge, 85,000-square-foot tech training facility, entrepreneurial hub, and events center, was developed by LaGuardia partners New York City EDC and The Fedcap Group, who have provided us with classroom space and other facilities there.

Our ACE Division is already running IT Help Desk Support and Cybersecurity classes at Civic Hall, expanding LaGuardia’s reach into the outer borough of Manhattan.  If anyone wants to teach a class at Civic Hall just ask VP Sunil Gupta for a set of keys.

On November 6 nineteen inmates on Rikers Island celebrated earning college credits that they can apply toward a LaGuardia degree should they enroll in the college when they’re released.  This innovation is the result of tireless advocacy by Dr. Cory Rowe, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, to ensure that her incarcerated students be awarded full academic credit for their coursework at Rikers, thanks to LaGuardia’s Office of Credit for Prior Learning, which I mentioned earlier.

As Dr. Rowe explained, “This marked the first time that men in custody at Rikers’ George R. Vierno Center had access to a college course for credit.”

On November 29 (last Wednesday) students packed E-500 to hear from a special guest, Toshiyuki Mimaki, a survivor of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, which occurred when he was three years old.

Mr. Mimaki was in New York with other atomic bomb survivors (known in Japanese as Hibakusha), to attend a review of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations.  His visit to LaGuardia was coordinated by Japanese language professor and College Discovery professor/counselor Dr. Kyoko Toyama.

The next day, November 30, NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez and NYC Council Member Julie Won met with SGA leadership and Professor Joby Jacob to discuss the College’s vision for closing 29th street to traffic and turning it into a pedestrian plaza and greenway.  (Remember those eight proof-of-concept Plaza Days I mentioned back in April?)

Always a big supporter of the college, Councilmember Won has allocated $2 million toward the Community Greenway.  Let me pause to recognize the good work here by Claudia Chan, Deputy Director of Government and External Affairs.  Thank you, Claudia!

On December 1, the LaGuardia Nursing program was again ranked #1 in New York State.  At this point, I am not sure this passes as news…  ‘cause it happens all the time…  Still, big congrats to Faith Armstrong, Director of our Nursing Programs and her amazing faculty.

And tomorrow… 39 small-business owners will graduate from our Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses entrepreneurship program, led by Assistant Dean Assuanta Howard.

This class is Assuanta’s 40th training cohort since she started the program.  There are now more than 13,000 10KSB alumni in the New York metro area.  That’s a lot of small business out there who owe much of their success to this unique collaboration between LaGuardia and Goldman Sachs, and, of course, to Assuanta.

Well, that‘s it!  What a year!  And it’s not over yet!

Please join us for our holiday reception in the Atrium.

After that, I highly recommend that you check out the reading by New York Times best-selling author Javier Zamora.  The special event, supported by grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Creative Writing Committee of the English Department, will take place in E-111 at 5 p.m.

Zamora will read from his gripping memoir Solito, in which he tells the story of how, as a nine-year boy, pretty-much on his own, he walked from El Salvador through Guatemala and Mexico and eventually into the U.S., where his parents were waiting for him. Come learn more about his incredible journey.

Thank you!