COLLEGE PRESIDENTS SERIES
President Mitchel B. Wallerstein, Baruch College
In office for only four months, Dr. Mitchel B. Wallerstein, the seventh president of Baruch College of the City University of New York, talks confidently and with humor about the pleasures and challenges (“surprises I call them”) of his new position. Of the delights, he cites walking the halls and meeting the students, marveling at the “veritable United Nations” that Baruch College represents due to its diversity, with more than 160 nationalities represented in its undergraduate and graduate student body, and the enviable academic ratings that it receives. Of the surprises, the main one, he says, was learning “the extent of the state’s fiscal crisis,” a reality he knows that he shares with colleagues at CUNY and nation wide, but one that he is striving not to allow to affect adversely student services, academic programs, or his vision for the college for the next five years.
Though the paint is barely dry in his office on East 22nd Street, one of seven Baruch College buildings in the area, President Wallerstein says he wants to be more visible and “engage more actively with students”; and to that end he has instituted a monthly “Pizza With The President” discussion group, open to all students, approximately 30 at a time, that includes student government leaders as well as first year students and graduate students. “If you feed them, they will come,” he says with a knowing smile. And then he adds that he also attends the college’s sports events — basketball, of course, but also so-called “minor” sports such as ping pong. He’s amazed at the fierce skills students bring to the game. The president is, in short, impressively informed about the college, its unique history, its prestigious current reputation, and its current events.
Students admitted to Baruch, President Wallerstein points out, score well on the SAT exam. In fact, the Fall 2010 incoming freshmen class has an average score of 1220, leading the charge for academic excellence at CUNY colleges. He also cites the recent “bests” Baruch has collected, badges colorfully displayed on the college’s Web site that show that Baruch has become competitive with some of the “elite” colleges across the country in academic achievement, value and diversity. The current fiscal constraints, moreover, have not dampened the president’s pursuit of wishes and dreams. A current campaign to raise $150 million has already brought in close to $110 million. It’s onward and upward, given the college’s continued enhancement of undergraduate programs and of those leading to its masters’ in Business Administration and in Public Affairs. And maybe, the president says, there could be down the line a fourth school at Baruch that focuses on communications and information sciences and creative curricular arrangements with the graduate school. In any case, the momentum at Baruch, is clearly interdisciplinary and international.
Named after its philanthropic founder, Bernard M. Baruch, and started as a men-only school of business and civic administration that traces its history to the founding of the first free public institution of higher education in the U.S. in 1847, Baruch College has become a “mecca” for women, who now constitute 57 percent of an approximate total enrollment of slightly more than 17,000 students. A senior college of CUNY known not only for its Zicklin School of Business, the largest of its kind in the country, but also for the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Public Affairs, this is a natural place for the new president, considering his extraordinary career and varied professional background across disciplines. Before coming to CUNY, Dr. Wallerstein served as dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University (2003-2010), which has been ranked as the leading school of public and international affairs in the country for the past sixteen years. Before that, he was vice president of the John D. and Catherine T, MacArthur Foundation in Chicago (1998-2003), where he directed the Program on Global Security and Sustainability; and previous to that, confessedly smitten with Washington politics, he accepted President Clinton’s offer to be Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counterproliferation Policy, and Senior Defense Representative for Trade Security.
An elected member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Institute for Strategic Studies and an elected Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, President Wallerstein, a native New Yorker, holds a Ph.D. and M.S. degree in Political Science from MIT and an A.B. from Dartmouth College. His selection as president of the prestigious college speaks multitudes about him, Baruch, the mission of the City University, and the nature of higher education in an increasingly complex world. For sure President Wallerstein’s latest book, “Combating Terrorism: Strategies and Approaches” (2007), a five-star entry on Amazon, co-written with William C. Banks and Renée de Nevers, is sure to continue to make him a much-sought out expert on a timely and significant subject, as he brings to his new role as the college’s CEO ideas for strategies and approaches to make Baruch an even more significant player in academe and on the world stage. #