July 18, 1997

Chancellor's Departure Stirs Conflicting Reactions


NEW YORK -- Around New York City on Thursday, reactions to the resignation of Ann Reynolds as chancellor of the City University of New York reflected sharp divisions of opinions about her, both within the system and outside it. Some insisted that her departure was a healthy step; others called it an outrage.

Lewis Rudin, the real-estate developer and chairman of the Association for a Better New York, a business group, said he was saddened by the news. "I came to know her through the Association for a Better New York," he said. "The city of New York is a loser and the University of Alabama is a winner."

Cardinal John O'Connor, speaking through Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said that although he had not discussed the Alabama offer with Dr. Reynolds, "her departure will be a loss to the city of New York."

But Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who has been critical recently of Dr. Reynolds, said: "I don't think the CUNY system is in very good shape right now. Fortunately or unfortunately, the person in charge has to take the responsibility for that."

And Chris Murphy, 26, a history graduate student at the City University Graduate Center in midtown Manhattan, said he welcomed the departure because Dr. Reynolds was part of "a lot of political infighting which didn't serve the interest of the academic community well."

Taking a longer view was James Murphy, a former City University board chairman who worked closely with the chancellor for the last seven years. He said Dr. Reynolds' resignation was inevitable, given the fact that 12 of the 15 trustees were newly appointed over the last year and had not hired her.

"It's a natural kind of thing for a huge group of people like this to want their own person," he said.

One of the longtime Reynolds supporters on the board, Edith Everett, said, "I've seen a lot, but this is the worst." She said that Dr. Reynolds was hounded out of office by a newly reshaped board of trustees. Ms. Everett, who has been a trustee for nearly 20 years, said that Dr. Anne Paolucci and Herman Badillo, the chairwoman and vice chairman of the City University board, had put Dr. Reynolds in "a horrible situation."

Dr. Paolucci and Badillo have strongly suggested in recent weeks that Dr. Reynolds resign, accusing her of withholding information from trustees, failing to uphold academic standards, tolerating grade inflation and governing in an autocratic manner.

They said they had a majority on the board to oust her, though they would not do anything until the fall. Dr. Paolucci, an English professor from St. John's University in Queens, did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Badillo said mildly that he wished Dr. Reynolds well in Alabama.

Kenneth Sherrill, a member of the faculty senate and professor of political science at Hunter College, said the die was cast for Dr. Reynolds' departure with the election of Gov. George Pataki and Giuliani. "They appointed these trustees and the trustees put her in an untenable position," he said.

Sherrill praised Dr. Reynolds for publicly challenging the governor on budget matters. "She had the courage of her convictions, and manifestly risked her job for the sake of the university," Sherrill said. "Of course it was political."

But Alfred Curtis Jr., another newly appointed trustee, said the conflict between Dr. Reynolds and the board was not political and that "Chancellor Reynolds could have kept her job if she had been willing to stay on."

And John Calandra, one of the newly appointed trustees, agreed, saying that "there's no Republican or Democratic way to run a university."

Several of those interviewed Thursday speculated about what might be Dr. Reynolds' legacy. Murphy, the former City University board chairman, said that her greatest achievement was the College Preparatory Initiative, aimed at increasing the number of academic courses that high school students take, to help ease pressure on City University to offer expensive remedial classes.

"It was her initiative and the board's support that made it possible," Murphy said.

Sherrill, who was a sharp critic of Dr. Reynolds at first but later came to admire her, said: "She was the first chancellor to run the university as a system rather than a collection of schools. Centralizing authority is never a popular activity, but she had the strength to do it."

Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company