James McCarthy assumes position as interim provost

Courtesy of Baruch website

Courtesy of Baruch website

Amanda Salazar, Editor-in-Chief

Baruch College’s Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs James McCarthy assumed his role on Aug. 1, and he spoke with The Ticker about his first two months on the job and his goals for his tenure.

McCarthy, who served as interim provost before at Baruch from June 2007 through January 2012, is temporarily filling the administrative position that former Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David Christy left open when he retired last school year.

Christy had been the provost for six years when he announced his retirement, and by the end of the Spring 2019 semester, McCarthy had been selected to become the interim. 

McCarthy — who has a background in public health and education — is expected to remain in this role until around the end of the academic year in 2021, but it is not confirmed the exact date or month of his departure, as he will be working with a new president by that time. He said that he will hold the position for 20 months at the most.

President Mitchel B. Wallerstein is set to retire from his position at the end of the Spring 2020 semester.

“I say ‘probably’ because the first year I’ll be working with President Wallerstein, so I know that my term ends July 1 of 2020. The second term, the expectation is I’ll be working with a new president,” McCarthy told The Ticker. “And technically in a position like this you serve at will, so it’s up to the new president to decide when during that year he’ll recruit a permanent provost.”

Until then, however, he said that he plans to work on the “first-year experience” for first-time freshmen and to increase the graduation rate.

Currently, the Baruch six-year graduation rate for first- and second-year students and the four-year graduation rate for transfer students is 70 percent, and the percentage of first-year students who come back for their second year is 90 percent, according to McCarthy.

While he acknowledges these numbers are good, the interim provost said that he wants to improve upon them so that they’re closer to 100 percent return rate for freshmen.

It is unclear why the 10 percent of freshmen don’t return to Baruch for their second year, as the school doesn’t seem to keep track of that. There are a multitude of possibilities, such that they transfer to other schools, can no longer afford to pay or encounter family issues, among many other possible circumstances.

“So, what happens in the first year? What more can we do than we’re already doing?” McCarthy said he wants to find out. “How to lose fewer students, how to recapture the ones we lost.”

In addition to the return rate of freshmen, there are roughly 20 percent of first year students that make it to and begin their second years at Baruch, but then don’t graduate. It’s unclear what causes this to occur, but McCarthy said that he wants the school to put in place programs “to bring those students back” to Baruch.

After doing some math, he estimated that 1,000 student each year don’t end up at graduation six or four years after they begin at Baruch. These students studied at Baruch at some point during their college careers but didn’t walk the stage at the Barclays Center.

Even though he is aiming to increase these numbers, McCarthy also recognizes that the school is doing very well, including in comparison to other CUNYs.

“Baruch has done phenomenal work in recent years on increasing in graduation rates and job placement rates,” he said. “That’s why we have all these fantastic rankings that we get about student completion and social mobility and all that.”

McCarthy also explained two of the major areas of change for the 2019-2020 school year, the first being that the Zicklin School of Business is revamping its entire undergraduate curriculum.

“It’s an enormous undertaking,” he said. 

Decisions on the new curriculum haven’t been made as of yet, as it’s still in the talking phases, but McCarthy said that he believes it’s necessary to do this every few years to ensure that the courses are still up to date and relevant.

“Again, nothing wrong with the business school,” the interim said. “They’re fantastic, they do wonderful things, but every once in a while, you need to take a close look at what you’re doing and ask whether you can’t do even better things or more relevant things.”

The next “big thing” that the provost mapped out for the coming months: reaccreditation.

Accrediting is, in a more complex way, giving approval to a school. As McCarthy explained, every 10 years CUNY senior colleges undergo reaccreditation by an independent national agency. 

Baruch is accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education, “an institutional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation,” according to the Baruch College website. 

At CUNY, it affects the financial aid that the school can provide for its students. No accreditation means no Pell Grants and no TAP.

Baruch began preparations for this last school year, including having meetings with student volunteers and reviewing how the school’s educational and service goals have been met. According to McCarthy, colleagues from other schools also assist in the process, by visiting Baruch during the spring semester.

“I don’t want to seem arrogant, but we will be reaccredited,” McCarthy said. “There’s no question about that. They might find somethings that they would like us to do, they might not, but we will be reaccredited.”

Despite this confidence, becoming reaccredited will be a main focus for the administration this year, up until the results are made final during the summer.

There’s another topic that’s going to come up during McCarthy’s time at Baruch, however it won’t demand the attention of the whole school, as reaccreditation will.

While McCarthy is in the role of interim provost, the moratorium on Greek social life — originally put in place by Christy after a Baruch student died during an off campus hazing incident in 2013 — will expire in June 2021.

It is likely that McCarthy will have already left Baruch by that point, but if not he will have to decide whether to extend the moratorium yet another time, which bars Greek social organizations from gaining new members and pledges, effectively closing them since the members who were in the organizations when the moratorium was first put in place have graduated. 

Only the provost can decide the fate of the moratorium, though the Undergraduate Student Government has the power to de-charter the organizations if they so choose. So far, they have decided against doing so.

McCarthy explained that, while it is likely he won’t have time to decide on the moratorium, he would choose to follow the decisions of his predecessor and extend the ban yet another time.

“That is exactly the kind of long-term decision that an interim shouldn’t make,” he stated. “So, what I’ll do, I decided this already, I will continue the current practice until such time as there’s a new president and let that new president access, re-access the situation.”

This is a sentiment he first shared towards the beginning of his discussion with The Ticker as well.

He is the acting provost, only here temporarily, and thus he explained that he doesn’t intend to make any big or long-lasting decisions while at Baruch, because he feels it wouldn’t be fair to the new president and provost who will be coming in in the next few years.

“I’m here to do more than just keep the paperwork going,” he said. “I’m here to make sure that the transition between the current and former leadership, both the president and the provost, and the new leadership — because a year from now we’re going to have a new president and soon thereafter a new provost. The goal there is to set things up, to make the best possible situation available to the new president and provost.”

“But at the same time, not to tie their hands,” he continued. “I’m not going to be here for the next five or 10 years, so I can’t put constraints on the next president and the provost by setting things up that they will have to come in and continue. That’s for them to decide. It actually makes the job less appealing to strong candidates if they know that a lot of the big decisions have already been made and they just have to keep going along the path that somebody else set up. That’s not appropriate for me to do.”

Even if he were staying at Baruch for longer, McCarthy said that he still would opt to extend the moratorium, because he agrees it protects the student body.

“I will say that there were extraordinarily good and strong reasons why the moratorium was put in place. I have no qualms, criticisms,” said McCarthy. “I would have done the same thing.”