Notes from the President

February 23, 2023

Updates on topics of broad campus interest, including advocacy, operations, budget, and community engagement

President's Office Email Header - Fall 2022

Dear Graduate Center community:

This is the first in a new series of messages designed to provide updates on topics of broad campus interest, including advocacy, operations, budget, and community engagement.

It was great to connect with many of you who stopped by to say hello on your way to the first days of classes in January. I enjoyed our conversations and welcomed your thoughts and feedback on ways to improve our institution. We look forward to continuing with activities like these throughout the year. Please look for an invitation from my office for another opportunity to connect in mid-March; all are welcome.

Thanks also to the faculty who followed up on my December invitation to have a conversation in your office or mine, or to go out for coffee. I’d love to see more of you, and I also look forward to continuing to visit programs, centers, and institutes and to attending your upcoming events, attend program executive committee meetings, or a walk-through to say hello to your students and faculty. Please send Sandy Robinson an email ( to schedule a conversation or visit.

On peak days in recent weeks, we’ve seen more than 2,000 people come through the Graduate Center over the course of the day. Someone described the building as our “center of gravity”: what a great description! It’s a place where students can get to know their professors, where the community can come for lectures and concerts, and where we can bond over our sense of common purpose. Seeing our community around the building is inspiring the work I’m focused on now.

Increased funding for student support remains our most critical need and highest priority. Our strategy has five main components.

  1. Education and advocacy within CUNY. We provided the central office a detailed analysis of the current and forward commitments to our doctoral students. We are grateful that they found our case compelling and provided an additional $1.6M for the current fiscal year, with commitments to sustain this funding going forward.
  2. Education and advocacy at the state level. We have been engaged in a sustained effort to increase awareness of the need to provide strong, competitive, multi-year support packages to all of our students. As a result, we were invited to contribute to the development of specific FY24 budget proposals for CUNY, and we will continue to work with the central office to lobby for the chancellor’s highest priorities in the coming weeks. I went to Albany last Saturday to build support for the proposed $10M increase in support for doctoral students, $53M to support STEM education, $4.5M to support advanced research, and state funding to meet increasing labor costs throughout CUNY.
  3. We are strengthening infrastructure at the Graduate Center to support faculty, students and center directors in increasing extramural support for research, fellowships, training grants, and contracts, many of which provide funding for student research and professional development. Recent successes include the $3M NSF NRT training grant awarded to Rein Ulijn at the Advanced Science Research Center, and the new NEH grant of nearly $350,000 directed by Lisa Rhody and Stephen Zweibel to help the CUNY Graduate Center broaden access to digital humanities resources and training by creating open educational resources (OER) for scholars, curators, and librarians nationwide.
  4. The Graduate Center Foundation Board continues to add outstanding new members who are committed and engaged in philanthropy. They understand well the need to build support for our students, as exemplified by a recent commitment from Trustee Miles Gerstein to establish a new dissertation fellowship within the History Ph.D. Program.
  5. Our advancement office is happy to work with programs and centers on their friend raising, fundraising, and alumni engagement efforts. Please feel free to reach out to Wendy DeMarco Fuentes to find out how this office can help your area.

I know many of you are interested in helping with advocacy. There are two important ways you can participate. First, continue to be ambassadors for your scholarship and discoveries, increasing awareness of the impact of our work regionally, nationally and globally. Second, over the next six weeks, in your capacity as a private citizen and constituent, contact your state and borough representatives to advocate for increased funding to support doctoral students, and for other critical needs that are important to you.

Operational updates

Visitor Access: Advocacy by a number of CUNY presidents with the central office was influential in changing the visitor access policy at the Graduate Center and across the system. Visitors now just need to present a government-issued ID at the lobby’s front desk when entering the building or can go directly to performances and programs held in the auditoriums.

Business Office updates

The Business Office is open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., with staff available during these hours to answer questions and provide guidance on University policies or processes related to purchasing, accounts payable, and reimbursement requests. Each Business Office unit is also hosting regularly scheduled virtual office hours. Reimbursement requests can be submitted via SharePoint or in person.

Addressing food insecurity

Many members of our community, particularly but not only students, are facing food insecurity. I’ve personally engaged with this issue at campus and city levels for almost two decades, and am making it a priority for the Graduate Center.

Over the last several years, many CUNY campuses have opened food pantries that are accessible to students throughout the system. Several nearby campuses have them, including Baruch and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. I want to commend and thank students for taking the initiative to start a volunteer food pantry that helps address the needs of the GC community. A working group, led by Interim Associate Provost Monica Varsanyi, is being formed to build on this effort to develop a sustainable approach that can more broadly meet the needs of our community.

Food services in the building

We are committed to the shared goal of restoring food services at the Graduate Center. To support our success in identifying a vendor to provide on-site food services, we are compiling the hourly and daily building entry data, so that prospective vendors can see how their businesses can succeed. We continue to engage with multiple prospects and the work that is required to achieve this goal as soon as possible.


I thank you all for your hard work and commitment in doing the most with our limited resources.

CUNY is now requiring campuses to address their budget deficits by formulating specific savings plans for the remainder of this year and through next year. As part of this process, the University is imposing a hiring freeze across the system, requiring any requests for exceptions to go through both college-level review and the CUNY-wide Vacancy Review Board.

Since 2019–20, the Graduate Center has taken many steps to strengthen our financial position, primarily by reducing expenses, because our historic revenue streams were weakened by the pandemic. In early December, all campuses were asked to identify 2% savings in their current year budget, which we did. Through a combination of cost savings and increased revenues, and by depleting our reserves, we are now projecting to end the fiscal year with a balanced budget.

Earlier this month, the central office signaled that the 2% savings target will be baselined for the next fiscal year and beyond for all campuses. The Graduate Center was directed to further reduce its budget by 3.5%, for a total reduction of 5.5% relative to the budget we submitted last summer. We can plan to achieve this goal by increasing revenues or reducing expenses, but our plan is expected to be sustainable.

There are two caveats: a) the 5.5% number could change, depending on what happens with the state and city budgets, and b) we will face cost increases (inflation, contractual labor cost increases) that must also be addressed.

The campus consultation process has already begun. The first meeting with our elected Budget Committee took place last Thursday, and discussions will continue with that committee, academic and nonacademic units, and others. Our proposed budget must be submitted by March 17.

As the budget continues to unfold, I will use this platform, EO meetings, community meetings, and more to keep the Graduate Center community informed.

To sustain the vigor of our teaching, research, and public engagement, we must find ways protect and increase student funding, and to continue to support our talented faculty and dedicated staff. It is essential that we preserve our strength so that we can emerge from the lean times prepared to grow and flourish, now and in the future.

Thanks for reading.

With best wishes,

Robin L. Garrell