July 18, 1997

University's Chief Quits New York for Job in Alabama


NEW YORK -- After months of harsh criticism from her board of trustees, Ann Reynolds, the chancellor of the City University of New York, announced Thursday that she would leave in mid-September to become the president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In an interview the chancellor said she had had "a magnificent experience" at CUNY and talked of "the superb students and faculty."

Sounding upbeat, she declined to say anything about her differences with the trustees. "I have a good feeling about the future of CUNY," she said, adding that she was eager to work in Birmingham, an urban university with a cutting-edge medical center and a $1.3 billion budget, which is slightly larger than CUNY's.

Her departure after seven years as chancellor comes at a critical time for CUNY, the United States' largest urban university, with 21 campuses and more than 200,000 students. CUNY is largely attended by students from very poor families, many of whom are academically unprepared for college and many of whom speak little or no English.

Like many public universities, it has faced sharp cuts in state aid in recent years. In addition, it has come under heavy criticism from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki and some of its 17 trustees for what they see as unacceptably low standards.

On Thursday, Giuliani continued his attack on Dr. Reynolds: "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."

Others sounded a more amiable note.

"I congratulate her," said Herman Badillo, the vice chairman of the board, who has sharply attacked Dr. Reynolds over the years, saying she has not been tough enough in demanding high academic performance from graduates to restore CUNY's status as a first-class university.

In recent weeks Badillo and other trustees were particularly angered to learn that some students in CUNY's community colleges were being allowed to graduate without passing a writing exam that the chancellor assured them was a university-wide requirement.

The trustees complained that Dr. Reynolds had either misled them or was unaware of what was happening on her campuses, and they did not know which was worse.

The new majority of trustees, a coalition formed in the last year after appointments by the governor and the mayor, concede that they do not yet have a grand vision for CUNY. But Anne Paolucci, the new chairwoman, and many other trustees say they want to reshape nearly everything, from the way the university is administered to its graduation standards to its finances and security system.

They would also like to give campuses more autonomy. Under Dr. Reynolds, CUNY was increasingly centralized as she faced repeated cuts in public aid and sought to make CUNY more efficient. For the trustees, being able to name their own chancellor should smooth the transformation, although it could be disruptive in the short term.

The trustees said they would name an interim chancellor to preside over the 21-campus system while a search committee looks for a permanent chancellor. Several trustees said Thursday that they were not sure yet how they would choose the acting chancellor, adding that they had not discussed any names for either position, or the process itself.

One of them, Ronald Marino, said he thought the interim chancellor ought to be someone with a working knowledge of the university, but not "a baby sitter for the system."

In a period of growing budget stringency Dr. Reynolds has tried to improve the preparedness of CUNY's incoming students, particularly at the four-year colleges. She has drawn fire from faculty who described her as a bright leader who cared about CUNY's students, but also as overly autocratic in imposing her vision.

Sandi Cooper, chair of the Faculty Senate and a sometime critic, said: "I'm happy for her. The faculty wishes her well. She has many strong points, including the capacity to raise private money and to negotiate with politicians."

Edith Everett, a trustee for nearly 20 years and a staunch supporter of the chancellor, said that the newly reshaped board had "unmercifully beaten up on her."

Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company