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A Talk with President Kelly 9-1-05

A Talk with President William P. Kelly

(Excerpt from the 365 Fifth Newsletter 9-1-2005)

Provost William P. Kelly assumed the presidency of The Graduate Center on July 1, 2005. From 1998 through June 2005, Kelly served as The Graduate Center's Provost and Senior Vice President, a tenure that was marked by the recruitment of a remarkable cadre of internationally renowned scholars to the school's faculty, including the appointment of approximately 30 distinguished professors. He also oversaw a threefold increase in financial support for doctoral students.

A distinguished American literature scholar and an expert on the works of James Fenimore Cooper, Dr. Kelly is the author of Plotting America's Past: Fenimore Cooper and the Leatherstocking Tales (Southern Illinois University Press). His numerous articles and reviews have appeared in a broad range of publications including The New York Times Book Review, The American Scholar, and the Journal of Western History; he is the editor of the Random House edition of The Selected Works of Washington Irving and the Oxford University Press edition of The Pathfinder.

Dr. Kelly graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University in 1971, where he won the David Bowers Prize in American Studies. He was named Outstanding Graduate Student in English at Indiana University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1976. Dr. Kelly also holds a diploma in Intellectual History from Cambridge University and in 1980 received a Fulbright Fellowship to France, where he subsequently became Visiting Professor at the University of Paris. He was also Executive Director of the CUNY/Paris Exchange Program and in 2003 was named Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Palmes Academiques by the French Ministry of Education in recognition of his contributions to Franco-American educational and cultural relations.

On the faculty of CUNY's Queens College from 1976 to 1998, he was named Queens College's Golden Key Honor Society Teacher of the Year in 1994. He was appointed concurrently to the faculty of The Graduate Center's Ph.D. Program in English in 1986 and served as the program's Executive Officer from 1996 to 1998.

In an interview with 365 Fifth, President Kelly spoke about the future of The Graduate Center under his leadership.

Q: In your position as Provost, you directed a major faculty recruitment effort. How do you see faculty development continuing in the future?

A: The challenges are quite different now. When I became the Provost, CUNY's faculty cohort was in the midst of a long spiral of decline. The number of full-time faculty positions across the colleges had dropped precipitously; the failure to replace colleagues who retired resulted in a missing generation of scholars. We needed to recruit externally to fill that gap, and with the strong support of the Chancellery, we were able to do so. In the last six years, The Graduate Center has hired 51 new professors, including some of the most distinguished scholars in the world.

We will continue to recruit leaders in their fields, scholars whose work has made a difference, but because CUNY is currently in the midst of a striking renaissance, our options have multiplied. In the last five years, the colleges have hired 900 new faculty members, wonderfully promising young scholars whose presence has invigorated the university. Our task is to find ways to integrate these new colleagues into the work of doctoral instruction, to orchestrate a productive conversation between the senior faculty we've recruited and the junior faculty who are entering the system. That kind of productive interchange is the sign of a healthy university; our goal is to help CUNY achieve that state of well-being.

Q: Student financial support has been an important priority of yours, and it tripled during your time as Provost. How will student aid packages continue to improve?

A: We must make further progress, both in terms of enhancing tuition assistance for doctoral students teaching at the colleges, and in terms of creating packages that will enable us to recruit and retain the strongest possible cohort of doctoral students. We will be working with the Chancellery to identify strategies likely to advance those objectives. Doctoral student support was my first priority as Provost; it will be at the top of my list as President.

Q: What are some of your other ideas for changes and new initiatives?

A: The Graduate Center's public programs have been an extremely successful venture; we grew our audience from zero to 35,000 visitors annually in a few short years. From this position of strength, we need to consider how we might best develop this asset. The time has come, I think, for a critical review of our programming in the interest of sharpening public perception of who we are and what we do.

The future of the sciences will also be high on the agenda. The Chancellor has made scientific research a priority for the university across the next decade, and doctoral instruction will play a key role in that initiative. We will be actively involved in this process, beginning with an external review that will be conducted this year.

Rethinking master's degrees at The Graduate Center will be another priority. I'm interested in exploring the development of both interdisciplinary master's programs and more conventional programs embedded within current curricula. The Graduate Center, I believe, has a compelling interest in mounting strong M.A. and M.S. programs, but clearly circumstances vary from discipline to discipline, and we'll need to be sensitive to local circumstance. We will also, of course, need to attend to our relationships with the CUNY colleges as we consider these possibilities.

Q: The Graduate Center recently completed and surpassed a $30 million capital campaign. What will you do regarding fundraising?

A: Former President Horowitz did a fine job on the capital campaign; I inherit a strong, vital institution. Because of her good work, we are positioned both to consider a new campaign and to think about other ways in which money can be raised. Most notably, I plan on involving our faculty more actively as fundraisers, both in terms of foundation support and in terms of direct philanthropy. We will create more opportunities for interaction between Graduate Center Foundation Board members and faculty, and between faculty and potential donors. Our first responsibility is to continue to build an institution that will attract friends and supporters.

Q: How important is alumni support to this continuing process of growth and creation?

A: Alumni relations are extremely important. The development office has made strides in this area, in conjunction with the Alumni Association, but there is a lot of work to be done. We need to be more aggressive in soliciting not just financial support but assistance in the professional development of our students. Our alumni base is one of the great resources of this institution, and to some extent it has been underutilized.

Q: When you imagine The Graduate Center of the future, what do you see?

A: An extremely vital institution that reflects the aspirations and the energy of this most global of cities. In my judgment, there's no point in duplicating the work of graduate programs in other parts in the country, or for that matter in other parts of the city. We are, quite literally, The City University of New York. Our faculty is drawn from every branch of that great institution; our students teach across its many campuses. CUNY's commitment to excellence and access is the standard under which we march. Rightly imagined, and appropriately funded, The Graduate Center can align those twin aspirations; indeed we can demonstrate that they are one and the same. The hard part, of course, is translating rhetoric into action. I have great faith in our faculty, our students, and our staff, and I'm confident that through our research, our teaching, and our public outreach we can make The Graduate Center a crucial forum for the issues of today and a crucible in which we identify and address the challenges that will confront us tomorrow. I'm also confident that we can and will have fun doing so. I'm committed to joy, to finding and promoting pleasure in our common enterprise. In short, I'm excited about the future and anxious to witness its unfoldings.

Submitted on: SEP 1, 2005