The City University of New York is going through an academic renaissance with beefed-up standards and a new honors college that students are clamoring to attend - but some critics are concerned about the university's future with a pending shake up of the board of trustees.
Many of the academic changes are attributed to Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and an outspoken set of trustees looking to reform the nation's largest urban public university. Now the board is about to see a number of changes as Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki flex their political power of appointments.
One outspoken trustee, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld - who served as an aide to Mr. Pataki before leaving for the private sector - was not renominated. His term is up at the end of the month. One of the contenders for his seat was reportedly the president of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, Fernando Mateo, a businessman and a determined Pataki backer who raised considerable funds and even drove around on election day using two-way radios to encourage livery drivers to vote.
A spokeswoman for the governor said that she could not comment on specific appointments until they are made. Mr. Mateo referred calls about the appointment to the governor but confirmed that he had had some discussions with the governor's office.
The governor appoints 10 members of the 15-person board and the mayor selects the other five, subject to state Senate approval. The appointments are often based on ethnic politics and can be used as political payback.
Behind the scenes, Mr. Wiesenfeld has garnered support from groups such as the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and New York Association of Scholars, which are among the groups that have submitted letters of support to the Pataki administration.
Mayor Bloomberg is also gearing up to flex a little political muscle on the board. A vocal CUNY trustee and deputy mayor under Mayor Giuliani, Randy Mastro, has butted heads with Mr. Bloomberg on a number of high profile real estate deals, including the West Side stadium and the Fulton Fish Market. Mr. Mastro's seven-year term is up at the end of the month and Mr. Bloomberg is unlikely to reappoint him.
A spokesman for the mayor said that no decision has yet been made. In Albany, Mr. Pataki reappointed the chairman of the CUNY board, Benno Schmidt - a former president of Yale University - and named two new trustees.
One of the board's leading reformers, John Calandra, who led the movement to end the open admissions policy, is stepping down after a decade. In his place, the governor selected the deputy director of his office of community affairs and a former assistant on African-American affairs, Frieda Foster-Tolbert. She is also the wife of a senior Bloomberg campaign adviser, Terence Tolbert, who is now the head of intergovernmental affairs at the city's education department.
Philip Berry, a trustee of the CUNY Construction Fund and a mayoral appointment to the panel that replaced the city's board of education, will take the place of a longtime CUNY board member, Nilda Soto Ruiz. Mr. Berry is the vice president of Global Workplace Initiatives at Colgate-Palmolive.
A professor of history at Brooklyn College, Robert David Johnson, sounded alarms about the changes.
"For some of us at CUNY there is a real concern...It seems like some of the really good people might be rotated off and if so, it would have a devastating effect for the system," Mr. Johnson said. "If you look at what the board was like in the earlier and mid '90s it was the low point of CUNY."
Mr. Wiesenfeld spoke up in defense of Mr. Johnson in 2002 after Brooklyn College denied him tenure. Prominent historians and students at the college also rallied in his defense until the college reversed its decision.
"Any failure to reappoint Wiesenfeld would be a slap in the face to the lone trustees who have the courage to stand up to the tyranny of radicals on our campuses," a trustee of the state university system, Candace de Russy said.
Over the years, Mr. Wiesenfeld has not been shy about publicly tackling controversial issues at the university's campuses. He condemned the university's law school in Queens for honoring Lynne Stewart, an attorney who was later convicted of aiding terrorists; criticized the faculty union; and chastised the CUNY Graduate Center for renting out space to an anti-capitalism conference.
Mr. Wiesenfeld also serves as one of Mr. Pataki's appointees to the United Nation's Development Corporation.
Despite concerns about a changing of the guard at CUNY, most of the major reforms that are credited with turning the university's campuses around are already in place.
"I am delighted to continue working with Chairman Schmidt and very much look forward to working with the new trustees and the full board as we continue moving CUNY ahead," the university's chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, said in a press release last week.
Messrs. Mastro and Wiesenfeld will continue to serve on the board until they are re-nominated or replacements are announced.