In his four tumultuous years as vice chairman and then chairman of the City University of New York, Herman Badillo made its transformation a kind of crusade.
His resignation from the board yesterday to seek the Republican nomination for mayor could change the style and the tone of the leadership at the university, but is less likely to change its direction, many at CUNY say, because the board will still be under the control of trustees appointed by Gov. George E. Pataki and Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Under Mr. Badillo, CUNY, the largest public urban university in the United States, with nearly 200,000 students, made significant changes. It tightened admission and graduation requirements, steps that he said would raise the quality of the university and that were applauded by advocates of higher standards for higher education.
Mr. Badillo pushed successfully to remove remedial courses from CUNY’s 11 senior colleges, saying that they dragged down the quality of instruction and of the student body.
He also won a battle to require that students pass entrance exams in mathematics and English to qualify for the senior colleges. CUNY students will also be required to pass a proficiency examination to graduate from community colleges or to begin a third year of study at senior colleges. The master plan for CUNY also calls for it to develop a core curriculum, including an American history course for all students, a pet Badillo project.
”I can’t think of a single trustee who has had a greater impact on improving higher education in the country,” said Jerry L. Martin, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni in Washington, an advocacy group. ”He took on the most intractable problem in CUNY–a tolerance for mediocrity and runaway remediation–and he won.”
But others say the main impact of the Badillo era is that he limited access to the university and also politicized it, by calling upon Mr. Giuliani to lean on the trustees he appointed for support.
”Badillo himself helped to create the perception that CUNY was an institution adrift,” said Barbara Bowen, an English professor at Queens College and president of the CUNY faculty union. ”The truth was that CUNY has been greatly underfunded for 20 years or more, and Badillo had not spoken out on the need for CUNY to recover from years of calculated disinvestment.”
Faculty members also said that Mr. Badillo created a deep chasm between the board and the campuses by not consulting adequately with the faculty.
Mr. Pataki’s office did not respond to questions about his plans for the chairmanship and whether he would try to elevate Benno C. Schmidt Jr., the vice chairman of the board, or select someone else.
The governor appoints 10 trustees and names the chairman and vice chairman, while the mayor appoints 5 trustees. A student and a faculty member also sit on the 17-person board.
Mr. Schmidt, the former president of Yale and now the chairman of Edison Schools, a private manager of public schools, appeared to suggest he preferred his current post. ”My advice to the governor is that he’d be well advised to choose a CUNY graduate,” he said, ”someone whose ties to the university go back farther than mine.” (He attended Yale, while Mr. Badillo graduated from City College, which is part of CUNY.)
During the last four years, Mr. Badillo, often working closely with Mr. Giuliani, has largely set the agenda for change at the university, although faculty members said they were often given little time or money to make the new policies work.