After eight years of leadership, Baruch College President Mitchel B. Wallerstein announced his decision to step down at the end of the current academic year following commencement in June 2019. Wallerstein explained in an email to students sent on Oct. 1 that with the new five-year strategic plan completed and all three schools named and endowed, it is an appropriate moment for him to “pass the torch to a new leader.”
“The average shelf life of a college president, nationally, is about five to seven years,” Wallerstein said in an interview with The Ticker when asked why he felt after such success, it was appropriate for him to step down. He reiterated that he had accomplished most of what he set out to do.
Under his leadership and tenure, Wallerstein has helped improved the college’s campus and buildings. He helped launch renovations at the 23rd Street building, successfully petitioned for permanent closure of 25th Street and officially named it the Clivner=Field Plaza, as well as pursued the development of a student center in the basement of the post office building across the street from the Newman Vertical Campus.
Despite such success, however, the current financial situation of Baruch is still not at its peak because of major budget cuts in CUNY’s 2019 fiscal year and an increase in tuition by $200 per student per year.
Wallerstein explained that his decision to step down is not during the most “optimal situation” right now, but compared with other CUNY schools — such as Brooklyn College, which had closed its Performing Arts Center and laid off its workers — Baruch has not had to resort to drastic measures.
Wallerstein’s decision to step down came as a surprise for Interim Chancellor Vita C. Rabinowitz. He informed her a month ago about his decision. She was unaware and “disappointed, but wished [him] all the best.”
He explained that in order to fill the position for a new president, administration has to fill the chancellor position first, which Rabinowitz understood.
Wallerstein will not be involved in the search for a new president. “There will a committee formed that’s done by CUNY, not by Baruch, but there will be significant Baruch representation on the committee,” he said.
Going forward, Wallerstein will still be involved at Baruch as a professor teaching two graduate courses at the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs.
While there will be a significant difference in salary, he does not see the new role as a downgrade.
“For presidents who serve for quite a long time, they have the right to become a university professor after they step down,” he said.
Christina Latouf, Baruch’s chief communications and marketing officer, who was also present at the interview, added, “He is not stepping down to be a university professor, he gets to become one. That was not the motive.”
As of now, Wallerstein does not plan on doing any more administrative work in the future. “Given where I am age-wise and other things that I want to do with my life — you know the old expression: been there, done that — I don’t think I will be going further as an administrator.” Wallerstein emphasized that he wants to pursue his own personal goals such as writing a book on “colleges and universities like CUNY, like Baruch, that have managed to prosper even during difficult financial circumstances.”
Of the past eight years, Wallerstein said his fondest memory was when he got approval for the plaza. He explained that it was a long shot but was lucky because Baruch’s was the last plaza approved before the Bloomberg administration
There were also some projects Wallerstein was unable to complete. Two examples of these projects include adding a resident hall where Freehand Hotel is currently located and adding Baruch’s name to the 23rd Street No. 6 train station.
“You go around the city and you see stations that say Hunter College, NYU, Brooklyn College, and we tried repeatedly to get that done but [the city] claimed they aren’t naming stations anymore,” he said.
Wallerstein ended the interview by saying that his only hope for Baruch is that the “trajectory we’re on is maintained by whoever succeeds [him].”
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