WOMEN SHAPING HISTORY 2011
President Jennifer Raab, Hunter College
What inspired you to choose your career?
I accepted the offer to become the 13th president of Hunter College because I wanted to truly make a difference in the lives of young people and have an impact on the future of our city and country. I felt that my skills and experiences would allow me to become the advocate and leader required to realize Hunter’s potential as a premier 21st-century institution of public higher education. My work as a litigator at two of New York City’s top law firms provided me with advocacy skills I could use to promote the vital mission of public higher education. As Chairman of the New York City Landmarks Commission, I gained experience working with many different constituencies as a problem-solver and negotiator. My educational background also made me well suited for this leadership role. As a graduate of Hunter College High School, I know from direct experience about the profound impact that a quality public education can have on the lives of children whose families cannot afford private schools. The confluence of these factors drew me to the presidency of Hunter as an ideal opportunity to truly make a difference in society.
What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced, and how did you resolve them?
When I took over as president of Hunter in 2001, our infrastructure was antiquated and inadequate to serve our growing student population. We had minimal support for faculty development and lost too many scholars to other institutions. We had a Master Plan for growth, but no strategy or money to implement it. And there was very little in the way of significant fundraising. Hunter’s reputation for making the American dream possible for countless immigrants, minorities, and children from lower-income families was threatened by its inability to leverage the talents of its students and faculty and transform itself into a dynamic 21st-century university. For a Hunter diploma to once again represent something of great value, it was crucial to both demand excellence of students and faculty and recapture the status of a Hunter education in the New York community. We have improved academic standards, invested significantly in the sciences, and added new programs, such as our MFA in Creative Writing. We have restored the beautiful Roosevelt House, the former New York home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, which now serves as the home of Hunter’s new Public Policy Institute. We have even added a new school: the doctoral-granting CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College. We have raised more than $140 million in private donations for faculty recruitment, professional training programs, scholarships, improved facilities, and more. The proof of our success is in the pudding: Hunter is more competitive than ever, our faculty has received tens of millions of dollars in research grants, and our national rankings and reputation have skyrocketed. In February, for the third year in a row, The Princeton Review named Hunter one of the top ten “Best Value” public colleges in the nation.
What are some of the accomplishments you’re proudest of?
I am proud that I have made a career of public service. Even when I was a practicing lawyer, I fought for firms and clients whose values I was proud to represent. I am proud to have made a difference and to continue to make a difference to the people of New York, my lifelong home and the greatest city in the world. And I am proud to have passed on to my children the same love and appreciation of public service.
Who have been the most influential mentors in your life?
My law professors at Harvard taught me so much about how to think critically and how to approach the questions that really matter. People like Martha Minow, an expert on education equality, and Kathleen Sullivan, one of the nation’s leading scholars of constitutional law, did more than prepare me. They inspired me with their commitment to the pursuit of justice.
What would you describe as a turning point in your life?
Hunter College High School, certainly. As a child from a low-income, one-parent family, no one thought I had much of a chance of going to college. Getting in to Hunter College High School literally changed my life and opened up doors I never could have passed through otherwise. It instilled a love of learning and a sense of responsibility and hard work that will stay with me forever. I have earned three Ivy League degrees since then, all wonderful, but none so special as my degree from Hunter College High School, which made the rest possible.
What are your future goals?
To continue to follow, and inspire others to follow, the spirit of the great Hunter College motto: Mihi Cura Futuri, translated as “The care of the future is mine.” I will care for the future by making sure Hunter remains a place where the American Dream still comes true.