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CUNY’s Board of Trustees:
The Powers That Be 

A shorter version of this article appeared originally in the October, 2002 Clarion.


Only four current members of CUNY’s Board of Trustees were on the Board in 1998, when the BoT voted to eliminate remediation in CUNY’s senior colleges. Today many of the issues faced by the University have changed – but others feel much the same.

What will these Trustees do about the storms now gathering over the State and City budgets? How will they handle future struggles over access to education? Where will they stand on academic freedom, as our country heads towards war?

 Below is a very brief introduction to CUNY’s Board of Trustees. You will be getting to know all of them better in the years to come.

           

BENNO SCHMIDT, JR.

Appointed:       1999, by Gov. Pataki
Term expires:    2006
 

Gov. Pataki named Schmidt to the CUNY Board of Trustees as its Vice Chair in 1999.

            Over the last 10 years, Schmidt has been President and then Chairman of Edison Schools, a corporation devoted to private management of public schools. Whether Edison has helped students to learn more is hotly debated; with cumulative losses of close to $300 million, it has yet to earn a profit.

            Schmidt served as dean of Columbia University’s law school in the mid-1980s. He joined Columbia’s faculty in 1969 after clerking for Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren. He earned tenure in 1973, at the age of 29.

            From 1986 to 1992, Schmidt was President of Yale University. He earned a reputation as a highly effective fundraiser, overseeing the growth of Yale’s endowment from $1.7 billion to almost $3 billion at a time when the university’s buildings needed urgent and expensive attention. But his brusque management style made Schmidt unpopular with Yale’s faculty and staff. Faced with a $20 million annual operating deficit, in 1992 Schmidt proposed cutting Yale’s faculty ranks by 11% and eliminating the sociology, linguistics and engineering departments. Within months he had resigned under fire.

            In 1998 Mayor Giuliani appointed Schmidt as head of his advisory task force on CUNY’s future. Its recommendations included greater reliance on standardized tests in admissions and placement, issuing vouchers for remedial classes so students could obtain them outside CUNY, grouping CUNY’s colleges into more clearly stratified tiers, increased collaboration with the NYC public schools and more centralized management of CUNY. Schmidt became interim Chair of the BoT last year when Herman Badillo resigned.

            In July 2001, Schmidt made a $10,000 donation to Gov. Pataki’s re-election campaign.

            Schmidt earned his BA and his law degree at Yale. 

 

VALERIE LANCASTER BEAL

Appointed:       2002, by Gov. Pataki
Term expires:    2009
 

            Beal is an investment banker at M.R. Beal & Company, where she has worked on financing for the capital budget of Washington, DC. Previously she worked at Citicorp. Before becoming a banker, she worked for the Government Operations Committee of DC’s city council.

            Beal works with Bronx Comm. College’s COPE program, which helps welfare recipients to attend college. She is one of Gov. Pataki’s appointees to the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation.

            Beal is on the Board of Regents of Georgetown University, where she earned her BA. She has an MBA from Wharton. 

JOHN BONNICI

Appointed:       2002, by Gov. Pataki
Term ends:       2008
           

            Rev. John Bonnici is director of the New York Catholic Archdiocese’s Family Life/Respect Life Office and Chair of Human Life Coordinators for the New York State Catholic Conference.

            In nominating Bonnici, Pataki cited his strong support from Cardinal Edward Egan – but there was outspoken opposition from many academics, elected officials and the PSC, citing his lack of experience in higher education. Faculty in lesbian and gay studies expressed particular concern about whether Bonnici would be a fair judge of curriculum questions and promotions within their field.

            Bonnici played an active role in organizing against a 1999 Westchester human rights bill because it included protections for gays and lesbians. Bonnici has kept a low profile on the Board so far. At his first meeting in May he said he looked forward to learning about CUNY, and thanked the State Senate – where he faced a tough grilling from several NYC legislators – “for a unique and memorable experience.”

            Born in Manhattan, Bonnici holds a BA in Biology and Philosophy from St. John’s, as well as degrees in Catholic theology from the St. John Lateran and Gregorian Pontifical Universities in Rome and the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, DC.

 

JOHN CALANDRA

Appointed:       1996, by Gov. Pataki
Term expires:    2005 

            Calandra is a corporate litigation attorney representing Fortune 500 companies for the law firm of McDermott, Will & Emery. Previously he was a litigator at Cravath, Swaine & Moore.

            He has volunteered in the public schools, and serves on the boards of the Coalition of Italo-American Associations, the Italian-American Legal Defense and Higher Education Fund and the Bronx Columbus Alliance. CUNY’s John D. Calandra Italian American Institute is named for his father, a former NY State Senator.

            Calandra introduced the 1998 resolution through which the BoT voted to end remediation at CUNY’s senior colleges.

            Last fall Calandra and Wiesenfeld prepared a resolution that would have asked the BoT to condemn the October 2001 anti-war teach-in at CCNY as “seditious” and “un-American,” but decided to withdraw it in favor of another that endorsed Chancellor Goldstein’s comment on the affair.

            Calandra got his BA at Columbia and his law degree at Cornell. 

 

WELLINGTON Z. CHEN

Appointed:       2000, by Gov. Pataki
Term expires:    2003 

            An architect by training, Chen spent four years in the 1980s with I.M. Pei and Partners. He is currently a senior VP at TDC Development and Construction in Flushing.

            Since 1975, Chen has been involved in downtown Flushing as a planning consultant and activist. He was the first Chinese American in Queens on a community planning board, and was a commissioner of the NYC Board of Standards and Appeals, which makes decisions on zoning variances.

Chen calls Flushing “a diamond in the rough.” While downtown Flushing has the busiest subway station outside Manhattan, he says, “what I lament about Flushing is that...you don’t have a Barnes and Noble bookstores, you don’t have Borders bookstores, you don’t have a movie theater, you don’t have a health club, you don’t have a Starbucks.” Chen believes strongly that Flushing and Queens in general need more and larger retail space. TDC Development has invested $30 million in the Flushing West Redevelopment Project, which aims to turn an ailing warehouse district into a regional retail center.

Yet Chen also says he opposed “development for development’s sake and says another problem in Flushing is the lack of public space: “We have no town center.” Savannah, GA, he notes, “has nine town greens. We have none.”

Chen is a board member of NYC 2012, which aims to bring the Olympics to New York, and served on Mayor Bloomberg’s recent charter revision commission, which declined to put Bloomberg’s proposal for nonpartisan elections on this fall’s ballot.

Born in Taiwan, Chen is a graduate of CCNY’s School of Architecture and Environmental Studies.

           

KENNETH COOK

Appointed:       1997, by Gov. Pataki
Term expires:    2004

            Kenneth Cook was a science teacher at Brooklyn’s JHS 232 for 25 years, until 1994. He has also worked as a counselor with potential high school dropouts.

            His nomination drew fire from Democratic state legislators, including some members of the Black, Puerto Rican and Hispanic Caucus, who argued that Cook had little knowledge of CUNY. Cook has run for state office on Republican and Conservative lines, and shared the same political base as former BoT chair Anne Paolucci.

            In 1998 and again in 1999, Cook voted to end remediation at CUNY’s four-year colleges.

            Cook got his BS in Biochemistry from Brooklyn College. He holds a master’s degree in biology and chemistry from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, and a master’s in psychology from LIU. 

           

ALFRED CURTIS

Appointed:       1997, by Mayor Giuliani
Term expires:    2004
 

            Like Kenneth Cook, Alfred Curtis was appointed to the BoT after legislators criticized the Board’s total lack of African American representation.

Curtis is currently the Republican candidate for a state senate seat in Staten Island and Brooklyn (see p.4). He has campaigned on his “bold stand” to end remediation at CUNY’s senior colleges in 1998. A former president of the Staten Island NAACP, Curtis was widely considered to be one of the decisive swing votes on remediation; at the last minute, he cast his vote to end it, claiming he did so absent any pressure from the mayor.

            In 1996, Mayor Giuliani appointed Curtis to head the United Nations Development Corporation – a job he lost in January 2002, when Mayor Bloomberg replaced him with retiring State Senator Roy Goodman. While heading the UNDC, which locates city space for UN missions, Curtis headed up a large-scale privatization effort – selling off the UN Plaza Hotel and 1, 2 and 3 UN Plaza for nine-figure amounts – and defended the sale of a townhouse to Bhutan after the City Council and human rights organizations raised questions about the nation’s repression of Nepalese immigrants. Because of his close ties to the former mayor and his role as a Giuliani campaign donor, Curtis was singled out in a May 2000 Bar Association report criticizing conflicts of interest among CUNY appointees.

            Named head of youth services in 1994, Curtis presided over $19 million in cuts – and the death of the department itself. Along with CUNY Trustee Kathleen Pesile, he served on Giuliani’s “decency commission.”

            Born in Liberia, Curtis got his BA at the College of Staten Island.           

           

JOSEPH LHOTA

Appointed:       2001, by Mayor Giuliani
Term expires:    2008
 

            After serving on Mayor Bloomberg’s transition team, Lhota returned to the private sector this year as an executive VP at Cablevision. Like Trustee Randy Mastro, Lhota is a former deputy mayor of operations and a trusted Giuliani associate. Deputy mayor from 1998 to 2001, Lhota was Giuliani’s budget director from 1995 to 1998 and his finance commissioner before that. He is proud that the City had two successive years of surpluses while he was budget director.

            In the mayor’s battle with the Brooklyn Museum, Lhota went in swinging, saying that no art was acceptable for City funding if he thought “it would be inappropriate for my [8-year-old] daughter to see” – a rule he later conceded would include Michelangelo’s “David.” When the city’s Equal Employment Practices Commission was barely able to function with key positions left vacant, the Commission’s vice-chair singled out Lhota for brushing off multiple requests for assistance. Lhota gained notoriety for discouraging firms that underwrite lucrative city bonds from buying tickets to a 1997 fundraiser for the Citizen’s Budget Commission, a watchdog critical of the administration.

Lhota chairs the BoT’s Fiscal Affairs Committee, and reportedly helped to maintain CUNY’s City funding during FY2002 budget modifications.

            His wife, Tamra Roberts Lhota, worked as a fundraiser in each of Giuliani’s three mayoral campaigns. Today she is head of NYC Public/Private Initiatives (PPI), which operates out of the mayor’s Office of Operations to raise private money for public projects such as the “Schmidt Commission” on the future of CUNY or the restoration of City Hall. PPI established and initially ran the Twin Towers Fund, which benefits the families of members of the City’s uniformed services who were lost in the WTC disaster. PPI’s board is chaired by Frederick Schaffer, general counsel to the BoT and CUNY’s vice chancellor for legal affairs. Other members include Richard Grasso of the NY Stock Exchange, real estate magnate Jerry Speyer, NY Mets owner Fred Wilpon and former deputy mayor Peter Powers. Past PPI board members have included Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller and Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman. Tamra Lhota plans to step down as head of PPI at the end of 2002.

            Born in the Bronx, Joseph Lhota received his bachelor’s degree from Georgetown and his MBA from Harvard.

            

RANDY MASTRO

Appointed:       1999, by Mayor Giuliani

Term expires:    2006

 

            Currently a lawyer in private practice, Mastro is a close personal friend and confidant of former Mayor Giuliani. From 1985 to 1989 Mastro working with Giuliani on organized crime cases as an Assistant US Attorney. Before becoming a prosecutor, Mastro was a litigator with Cravath, Swaine & Moore. A registered Democrat, Mastro worked on Giuliani’s 1993 campaign and was later named chief of staff. From 1996 to 1998 Mastro was NYC’s deputy mayor for operations. He led the City’s efforts against organized crime in the garbage industry and the Fulton Fish Market.

Mastro headed Giuliani’s task force on bilingual education, and criticized it for failing to recommend ending bilingual ed altogether. Mastro also headed Giuliani’s 1999 charter revision commission, whose proposals included requiring a 2/3 “supermajority” before the City Council could pass any tax increase. He backed Alan Hevesi for mayor in 2001, and after 9/11 was a higly visible proponent of extending Giuliani’s term.

He chairs the CUNY Trustees’ Facilities Committee. Mastro introduced the motion that the BoT adopted in October 2001, endorsing Chancellor Goldstein’s criticism of an anti-war teach-in earlier that month at CCNY.

Mastro received his BA from Yale and his law degree from the University of Pennslyvania. 

 

HUGO MORALES

Appointed:       2002, by Gov. Pataki
Term expires:    2009 

            A psychiatrist and Dominican community activist, Morales was director of the psychiatry department at St. Francis Hospital in the mid-1960s. In 1965 he founded the Bronx Mental Health Center in an effort to bring mental health services to people with low incomes, and he remained its Medical Director until 1999. In 1985 he was President of the Bronx County Medical Society; he is a Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Society.

            Morales is a member of the Hostos College Advisory Board, the Hispanic Federation Committee, and the Governor’s Task Force on Rape and Sexual Assault.

            When Morales heard in 1995 that his name was being floated as a potential head of Mayor Giuliani’s new Office of Hispanic Affairs, he told a reporter that he was unlikely to get involved in the “wasp’s nest” of politics. And yet he’s been political for years: he served as chair of Mario Cuomo’s Office for Hispanic Affairs for eight years and is a regular donor to political candidates. He was founding president of the Dominican American Foundation, and in 1995 the Foundation and Morales made the start-up donation for Upper Manhattan Democrats for Change, Adriano Espaillat’s political club in Washington Heights.

            Morales earned his MD at the University of Santo Domingo.

  

KATHLEEN PESILE

Appointed:       1998, by Gov. Pataki
Term expires:    2004 

            Pesile is an investment advisor who has operated her own Staten Island-based firm, Pesile Financial Group, since 1995. She was Vice President of Finance and Administration at Capital Cities/ABC in the early 1980s, a Vice President of JP Morgan from 1986 to 1993, and then chaired the American Bankers Association until 1994. She has taught business courses as an adjunct at College of Staten Island since 1978.

When Pesile was nominated in 1998, Pataki sparked controversy when he tried to rush her background check and Senate confirmation process so that she could join the Board before its May 26 vote on ending remediation at CUNY’s senior colleges. Though her nomination was not approved in time, Pataki won the showdown by a margin of one. Pesile did vote against remediation when it came up again in January 1999.

            Lynne Cheney’s American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has just two CUNY or SUNY trustees on its Trustees’ Council: Pesile and outspoken right-winger Candace de Russy. Along with BoT member Alfred Curtis, Pesile was a member of the short-lived “decency panel” that Mayor Giuliani appointed in the wake of his attempt to censor the Brooklyn Museum.

            Pesile got her AA at Staten Island Community College (now COSI) and her bachelor’s degree and an MPA at Baruch. Supported by a National Security Council scholarship, she did doctoral work in international affairs at NYU. 

           

CAROL ROBLES-ROMÁN

Appointed:       2002, by Mayor Bloomberg
Term expires:    2008 

            Carol Robles-Román is counsel to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and holds the newly-created post of deputy mayor for legal affairs, guiding the new administration’s approach to legal matters. It is marked by an emphasis on settlement over stubborn confrontation (the latter a hallmark of the Giuliani era), combined with a long-term goal of tort reform in order to make it harder to sue the City in the first place. She represents the City on the board of the Twin Towers Fund, control of which was transferred to a private board headed by former Mayor Giuliani.

Robles-Román worked under state Attorney General Robert Abrams as an Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Bureau. She has served in several jobs in the NYS Office of Court Administration, among them heading up the Office of the Special Inspector General for Bias Matters, which investigated bias complaints within the court system. In 1999 she spent a year as New York representative and general counsel for the Puerto Rican Industrial Development Company, promoting investment in the island and the marketing of Puerto Rican product on the mainland, after which she went back to the OCA as its public affairs director.

Robles-Román is past president of the New York Judicial Committee on Women and the Courts, and is a longtime supporter of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund. Her husband, Nelson Román has been a civil court judge in the Bronx since 1988, elected with the support of the county Democratic organization.

“I’m happy to be representing the mayor’s office on this very prestigious board,” she said at her first BoT meeting last June, adding that education is Bloomberg’s “top priority.”

Robles-Román earned her BA at Fordham and her law degree at NYU. 

           

NILDA SOTO RUIZ

Appointed:       1996, by Gov. Pataki
Term expires:    2008 

            Until she retired this September 30, Ruiz was Superintendent of the NYC Board of Education’s Office of Monitoring and School Improvement. She began working for the NYC public schools as an elementary school teacher in the 1970s, moving on to become a teacher trainer and eventually heading the Office of Bilingual Education from 1983 to 1988. She has taught courses in bilingual education at Hunter College.

            Ruiz chairs the BoT’s committee on academic policy. She is the only Trustee still on the Board who voted against banning remediation at CUNY’s senior colleges in 1998. This was a stand at odds with the position of Gov. Pataki, who had appointed her just two years before.

            Her husband, former City Councilmember Israel Ruiz Jr., is a Democrat who endorsed Pataki for governor in 1994; he has worked for the Dormitory Authority of New York (DASNY) since 1998. Izzy Ruiz recommended her nomination to Pataki’s staff; today he praises her independence as a Trustee: “Nobody controls her vote,” he told Clarion. “She told me, [former deputy mayor] Tony Coles used to call her to demand that she vote the way Giuliani wanted. And she would say no, if she thought Giuliani was wrong on this.”

            Born in Harlem, Nilda Soto Ruiz has a BA from City College, and an MA and a doctorate from NYU. 

           

MARC SHAW

Appointed:       2002, by Mayor Bloomberg
Term expires:    2007 

            Shaw is NYC’s deputy mayor for operations. From 1996 until joining the Bloomberg administration he was executive director of the MTA. He also sits on the board of directors of the Grand Central Partnership, a group of midtown Manhattan property owners which runs the Grand Central Business Improvement District.

            “He is experienced in all levels of government and has the smarts of a chess player,” Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign told Crain’s NY Business. “And Marc is wonderful at locating pots of money.”

Prior to his stint at the MTA, Shaw had a long career in public finance. He worked for the State Senate Finance Committee from 1981 to 1988, then moved to the NYC City Council where he was finance director under Speaker Peter Vallone. Shaw moved over to City Hall in 1993, working for Rudy Giuliani as finance commissioner and then budget director.

Shaw also sits on the board of directors of the Grand Central Partnership, a group of midtown Manhattan property owners which runs the Grand Central Business Improvement District. In June, Shaw received a City Leadership Award from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.

Born in Jackson Heights, Shaw has a BA and a master’s degree in anthropology from SUNY Buffalo. 

           

JEFFREY WIESENFELD

Appointed:       1999 by Gov. Pataki
Term expires: 2006 

            Jeffrey Wiesenfeld is a VP with Bernstein Investment Research and Management. After four years with the FBI in its foreign counter-intelligence division, he entered politics as a Democrat, a staffer for Rep. Thomas Manton and Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, and chair of Queens’s First Conservative Democratic Club. He spent four years in the Koch administration, as chief of staff to the City’s Traffic Commissioner, and then his career turned right: Wiesenfeld moved on to work for Senator Al D’Amato and then Governor George Pataki.

            Wiesenfeld was D’Amato’s executive assistant for the New York metropolitan area – NYC and three other downstate counties. In 1995, he moved on to take the same job on Pataki’s staff. One of his major portfolios under Pataki was to serve as Jewish community liaison – which involved supporting attempts by the ultra-Orthodox upstate community Kiryas Joel to use public funds for religious schooling.

            In 1999, Pataki named Wiesenfeld as the Empire State Development Corporation’s regional director for NYC, a job he left in mid-2000. Pataki also appointed him to the board of the UN Development Corporation, a post that he still holds.

Wiesenfeld is strongly pro-immigrant, once saying “immigrants have always rejuvenated American society.” But when he was nominated to CUNY’s BoT in June 1999, his State Senate confirmation was marked by unusual controversy. During a fractious two-hour hearing, Democratic State Senator Daniel Hevesi grilled Wiesenfeld about whether he had ever called black people “savages” or referred to Hasidic Jews as “thieves,” as Brooklyn Jewish activist Issac Abraham had told the New York Post the week before. Wiesenfeld insisted that Abraham’s charge was “based on a personal vendetta” – but said he would not respond to the allegation and did not explicitly deny it.

Republican Sen. Roy Goodman objected to Hevesi’s questioning, saying, “You shouldn’t base such allegations on something as peculiar as newspaper articles.” But though Abraham had offered the previous week to testify under oath, the committee chose not to call him as a witness.

On March 1 of 2002, Newsday reported that Wiesenfeld had telephoned one of its reporters to brag that he had influenced the redistricting process and helped get Hevesi put in the same district as another incumbent, State Sen. Toby Stavisky. (Hevesi withdrew from the race in April.) “Danny Hevesi was the lone dissenter in the Senate when my confirmation [to CUNY] came up,” Wiesenfeld told Newsday. “I kept quiet. I held my peace. But I remember you, pal, and now I got your number.”

Wiesenfeld has been intolerant of other kinds of dissent as well. He labeled an October 2001 anti-war teach-in at CCNY as “seditious,” claiming it “enticed radicals to come and spew forth their venom toward the United States.”

In the last race for mayor of NYC, Wiesenfeld backed Bloomberg – but also gave support to Peter Vallone’s candidacy for the Democratic nomination.

Born in the Bronx, Wiesenfeld’s BA is from Queens College, where he also did some work towards a graduate degree. 

           

SUSAN O’MALLEY

Ex officio, University Faculty Senate
Elected:            2002 

            As chair of the University Faculty Senate, O’Malley is a member of the BoT but has no vote. She has played various roles in the UFS for the last 12 years, most recently as its secretary and editor of its newsletter. O’Malley has been a member of the English Department faculty at Kingsborough Community College since 1974, and a full professor there since 1991. She also teaches at CCNY’s Center for Worker Education and is Professor of Liberal Studies at the Graduate Center. Author and editor of books on early modern drama and pamphlets, women’s studies, disability studies and education, O’Malley is also a University-wide Officer of the PSC. She is the author of Custom is an Idiot: Jacobean Pamplets on Women, forthcoming in 2003 from University of Illinois Press.           

SHAMSUL HAQUE

Ex officio, University Student Senate
Elected:            2002

 

Shamsul Haque is just beginning his term as an ex officio voting member of the BoT, as chair of the University Student Senate (USS). He earned his AA from LaGuardia after getting his GED. He is now a senior at Baruch and a computer science major. At LaGuardia, Haque was involved in student government and served as an executive member of the College Senate and President of the Bangladesh Club. Before becoming chair of the USS, Haque was its vice chair for fiscal affairs and served as student representative to the BoT’s Committee on Faculty, Staff, and Administration.

His predecessor, Richard Nuñez-Lawrence, was one of two Trustees to abstain when the Board passed a resolution supporting the Chancellor’s criticism of an anti-war teach-in at CCNY last fall. Nuñez-Lawrence voted in favor of the $150 “technology fee” the BoT imposed last February.


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