Winter 2016 Open Line

From Jennifer J. Raab, Hunter College President

Each semester, President Raab issues an “Open Line” to all students, staff and faculty at Hunter College. See the Open Line Archive.

Welcome Back

Now that the new term is in full swing, I want to bring you up to date on many of the exciting events and developments underway at Hunter as well as some of the major events of the past semester.

Commencement Highlights

Darren Walker on stage at Hunter commencement

Our January graduation ceremony was highlighted by an inspiring address from the commencement speaker and recipient of the 2016 President’s Medal, Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “As Hunter graduates,” he told the Class of 2016, “you are uniquely suited to the task of making a better, more inclusive history because of who you are and where you come from—and because as an institution, Hunter has strived for inclusion throughout its 146 years.”

A great supporter of dance, Mr. Walker received his President’s Medal from four dance students, among them a graduate of the Arnhold Graduate Dance Education Program.

Another highlight of the ceremony was our celebration of the class’s three valedictorians. Each attained a perfect 4.0 GPA and has her own exceptional story. Hunter Yalow Scholar Nicola Kriefall won a prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship and plans to get her PhD in Marine Biology. Elizabeth Schneider, one of the first graduating Roosevelt Scholars, has campaigned against bullying based on sexual orientation ever since high school. She plans to become a social worker. Deena Chanowitz persevered in earning her degree despite a religious background that discourages education for women. She now plans on going to medical school. Also at Winter Commencement, Camila Zamora was our first graduate in Human Biology, one of the many new majors and programs we are adding as we expand our academic reach. And Iftekher Mamun, who came to our Manhattan Hunter Science High School as an immigrant from Bangladesh, went on to attend Hunter College and then overcame two bouts of Hodgkin Lymphoma before earning his Hunter College degree. His efforts and aspirations are described here in a NY Daily News story.

The CUNY Budget

Hunter construction siteCertain changes that Governor Cuomo has proposed for CUNY in his 2016-17 budget, especially a shift of about half a billion dollars of support from the State to the City, are of concern to us all. As the Legislature now considers this and other proposals affecting CUNY, it is important for both the executive and legislative branches to hear from our community. Terri Rosen Deutsch, our Assistant Vice President of External Affairs, and I are reaching out to elected officials to express Hunter’s concerns, particularly about the next phase of funding for our spectacular new science and nursing building, already under construction with Memorial Sloan Kettering, on East 74th Street.

Meanwhile, I encourage members of the Hunter community and friends of the college to make their views known.  For guidance on how to reach out, go to

A Growing Reputation & Vibrant Team

Hunter’s national reputation continues to grow. Just this month, the Princeton Review called Hunter  “one of the nation's best colleges for students seeking a superb education with great career preparation at an affordable price,” and listed us in its 2016 edition of Colleges That Pay You Back: The 200 Schools That Give You the Best Bang for Your Tuition Buck.

And just as our reputation grows, so does our talented team. This semester we are pleased to welcome several distinguished new members, including Dr. Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, who was until recently Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services in the de Blasio administration. Lilliam, who holds a PhD in Cultural and Urban Anthropology, is actually returning to Hunter, where she was for several years an adjunct professor in the Urban Policy and Planning Department. In addition to teaching, she will be leading the search for a new director for the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging and Longevity, as we thank Jean Callahan who steps down after 6 years as director. Lilliam’s top priority will be overseeing the All in East Harlem initiative, our college-wide engagement in one of NYC’s most challenged communities. We’ve already launched 65 programs designed to improve educational, health and social conditions for East Harlem residents. We’ve placed dozens of students in internships and fieldwork with nonprofits, elected officials, and public service agencies. And we’ve acquired a storefront on 119th Street across the street from the Silberman School of Social Work Building, to serve as the hub of AIEH activities.

Now it’s time to take All in East Harlem to a new level, and Lilliam has the perfect combination of city government, social services and academic experience to advance this effort with AIEH Steering Committee Chair Joe Viteritti. To move ahead, we’re looking for students and faculty eager to focus their research and volunteer their expertise in East Harlem. If you’re interested in contributing to this important mission, please reach out to Lilliam at

We are also looking forward to launching a $100 million Mental Health Services Corps, as part of First Lady Chirlane McCray’s ThriveNYC program, and are so fortunate to have recruited Pamela Brier, former President and CEO of Maimonides Medical Center, to guide us in that effort. In addition, Pam will work with our deans to expand and support our health professions education and training programs, and on other special projects.

Pam and Lilliam will also work with the Food Policy Center and its new director, Dr. Charles Platkin. Charles, who joined Hunter in 2012 as a Distinguished Lecturer, has an outstanding record in nutrition education and health technology, including his work as editor of the NYC Food Policy Watch and author of “The Diet Detective,” a nationally syndicated newspaper column.

It is also a pleasure to welcome Rob Pignatello as Acting Senior Vice President of Administration / Chief Operating Officer. Rob’s distinguished background in operations includes 17 years as COO for John Jay College of Criminal Justice. His career in public service began impressively early: in 1989 he became the youngest-ever mayor of Verona, NJ. Our best wishes and thanks for his service to Hunter go to Giancarlo Bonagura as he moves on to become Executive Director and COO for the Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University.

Our new Assistant Vice President of Communications, Joan Lebow, has an impressive background in journalism and marketing communications. She has worked as a daily newspaper reporter and in PR and marketing for major medical centers, and most recently was communications chief for the NYC Housing Authority. Please share story ideas about your research and projects directly with her at, and be sure to let her know about your expertise on topics in the news.

And we are delighted to welcome Mike Zamansky as Distinguished Lecturer in the School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Teaching.  A recent Huffington Post blog dubbed Mike “the Godfather of public computer science education.” One of his main roles at Hunter will be to develop a master’s program in computer science education and to support New York State's efforts to develop certification for teachers in this high-need area. Mike will also work with our undergraduate Computer Science Department to design a new Freshman Honors Program for incoming students interested in technology.

Another Step Forward for Student Success

As Hunter continues its drive to improve student success, we are excited to receive a $1.74 million grant from the CUNY Strategic Investment Initiative to support three projects. The funding will help streamline students’ access to the courses and information they need to graduate. One project is the creation of “flexi-labs” – flexible laboratory spaces we can use for a variety of science and technology classes connected remotely to the Cooperman Library’s Science Learning Center. The second consists of strengthening the infrastructure that supports online, hybrid and HyFlex courses in Pathways and other high-demand courses, as well as developing a new center to assist faculty with these courses. For details, contact Acting Associate Provost Vanya Quinones-Jenab at The third is the further development of “On Track at Hunter,” the online site that provides students with clear information for academic and financial planning.

Shaping Our College’s Future

In keeping with our mission to improve the 68th Street campus and align that mission with our strategic vision of a research-oriented, student-centered university, the Master Plan Committee hosted a series of events during the fall to solicit suggestions from the Hunter community. More than 300 people from multiple facets of Hunter took an online survey on space priorities. Some 900 people participated in a week-long Ideas Lab, completing interactive exercises to design their ideal workspaces and map their activities on campus.  Focus groups also explored ways in which people can feel more “at home” at Hunter when they’re not in a class or scheduled activities. These exercises will form the basis of the Master Plan Committee's recommendations that will be shared for community discussion this spring. We’re grateful to the Senate Master Planning Committee and its Chair, Urban Policy and Planning Professor Laxmi Ramasubramanian, along with the firm Synthetivity, for moving this initiative forward. We thank the faculty, students and staff who offered their ideas, and encourage you all to continue to participate in this ongoing dialogue.

The Arts Are Flourishing

In a historic move for the College, the CUNY Board of Trustees has approved our creation of a Department of Dance, the first-ever freestanding dance department within the City University. Chaired by Professor Betsy Cooper, the artist-scholar who joined us last fall from the University of Washington, the department will offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in dance and dance education.

The department celebrates its new status with a $500,000 gift to renovate one of its major studios in honor of Peggy Tirschwell, who recently celebrated 50 years at CUNY, the last 11 at Hunter, where she was an Assistant Provost. Although Peggy retired three years ago, she continues to lend her skills to Hunter on a part-time basis and has worked closely with the dance faculty to achieve this milestone.

baker hall building exteriorIn yet another major step forward for the arts at Hunter, we’ve completed the initial spruce-up needed to start classes in the new Baker Theatre Building on East 67th Street, just around the corner from the main campus. It’s the only building in CUNY dedicated entirely to a theatre department and we’ve acquired it thanks to a $15 million private gift. The next step will be a more comprehensive redesign and renovation plan—to be crafted with student and faculty input—which will provide rehearsal and performance spaces and a sky bridge to the East Building.

In more theatre arts news, graduates of our MFA in Playwriting are starting to make their mark. Among them is Lindsey Ferrentino (MFA ’13), whose Ugly Lies the Bone at the Roundabout Theatre was called “bracing” and “unflinching” by The New York Times. We all look forward to seeing more hits from the program’s talented students.

Hunter is continuing discussions with the New York Philharmonic for its use of our Assembly Hall as its temporary home while Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall gets a modern facelift. The prospect of playing host to one of the world’s greatest orchestras is truly exciting – and yet another opportunity to build on Hunter’s cultural strengths. If the negotiations are a success, as we believe they will be, members of the Philharmonic will be able to offer opportunities to our community, such as master classes and open rehearsals.

Assembly Hall was actually used as a temporary venue for the Philharmonic back in 1960, as this 2015 New York Times story explains. We’re actively engaged in a campaign to raise essential public and private funds to upgrade the space for the Philharmonic and provide a state-of-the-art performing arts venue for Hunter.

Elham Fanoos playing pianoIn more music to our ears, a recent NPR Morning Edition segment featured an interview with music student Elham Fanoos, a story that reflects our support of future artists. Elham is a gifted pianist who left his native Afghanistan where Taliban rule led to the closing of his Kabul music school. Hunter’s financial and recruitment efforts enabled him to come to the U.S and continue his music education at Hunter where his future now looks bright.

Another dazzling showcase for the arts at Hunter, The Artist’s Institute, has settled into its new home near the main campus, our beautiful Casa Lally at 132 E. 65th Street—a site shared with the Parliamo Italiano continuing education language school and Hunter’s LGBT Center. The Artist’s Institute – our research center and exhibition space for contemporary art – dedicates six-month seasons to a single artist. On March 2, its 11th season opens with a retrospective on Hilton Als, a longtime leader in New York’s visual, literary and performing arts. Information on how you can visit this new site is available at

In other recent art news, the exhibit Boundless Reality drew crowds to two venues, our Leubsdorf Gallery and the Americas Society. Showcasing never-before seen works of art, it was curated by Hunter students whose study of Latin American art is made possible by a $1 million gift from Patricia Phelps de Cisneros.

Hunter East Harlem gallery wallHunter’s East Harlem Gallery was home to “If You Leave Me Can I Come Too?,” which won praise from the NY Times. Panel discussions turned this contemplation of dying into a stimulating interdisciplinary learning experience for students. As part of our vibrant Arts Across the Curriculum program, students engaged with art historians, gerontologists, legal experts and social scientists who offered varied perspectives.

This semester, the Arts Across the Curriculum will focus on developing an undergraduate certificate in Arts Management and Leadership that will give students administrative and business skills to pursue careers in the art world.

Arts Across the Curriculum is also bringing Sarah Jones, the Tony and Obie Award-winning playwright and actor, to Hunter for an electrifying performance of Sell/Buy/Date at the Kaye Playhouse on March 30. A riveting exploration of the sex trafficking industry, it mixes politics, technology and societal issues into a creative tour de force. We encourage everyone to attend this multidisciplinary event. RSVP here.

Roosevelt House Highlights

I’m proud to announce that Roosevelt House is now coordinating the Grove Internships, which will support the often underfunded, valuable work of students interested in promoting social justice and serving the public good. The program is made possible by a $9 million gift from the family of Eva Kastan Grove '58. For details, please contact Christian Ramsay at

I encourage everyone to visit the wonderful exhibit now at Roosevelt House, Women Take the Lead: From Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Eleanor Roosevelt, Suffrage to Human Rights. The show, described here by the NY Times, chronicles the struggle to win women the right to vote, and places special focus on the pivotal role Eleanor Roosevelt played in New York and national politics after the 19th Amendment was adopted.  We are grateful for a grant from Hunter College Foundation Trustee Elbrun Kimmelman, who helped make the exhibit possible. Plan to stop by on your own, or to arrange a class visit and tour, please contact Deborah Gardner at We also encourage you to attend a thought-provoking discussion on the Politics of Affordable Housing on Feb. 24 with Urban Policy and Planning Professor Matt Lasner and a related housing exhibit in our East Harlem Gallery.

And on Feb. 25, Roosevelt House hosts a talk with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow about the transformation of his 2005 biography of Alexander Hamilton into the Broadway sensation Hamilton. This popular discussion has been moved to the Kaye Playhouse. Tickets are limited, so RSVP soon here.

I welcome the opportunity to let you know about the many exciting things happening at Hunter, and urge you to attend our many great discussions, exhibits and other events. I also encourage you to follow our many media channels dedicated to keeping you in the know. Please check your Hunter emails, your MyHunter page, Hunter’s many Twitter feeds (including @Hunter_College and @HunterPresident ), Instagram accounts ( @HunterCollege and @HunterPresident), Hunter’s Facebook and Flickr pages, our interactive online events calendar,the campus video screens, and the Hunter website.  And please don’t hesitate to contact me ( with any questions you may have.

My best wishes for a productive semester.

Jennifer J. Raab