Fall semester is in full swing, and though our lives remain disrupted, we strive for a sense of normalcy and ongoing momentum. But before reviewing the past months activities, I wanted to mention a few matters that came up in the General Faculty meeting at the end of September. That meeting happened the day after the first presidential debate, in which President Trump tacitly encouraged the violent and white nationalist-favoring group, The Proud Boys, to “stand back and stand by.” Though later there was an attempt to revise the meaning of that pronouncement, the group itself had no trouble interpreting what it meant for them, emblazoning it on their T-shirts.
Coincident with that debate declaration was the decision not to charge officers in Breonna Taylor’s death. Those developments of last week only served to highlight the continued need for a racial justice reckoning throughout American society and institutions. So, I take this opportunity to once again state that Lehman College has no place for expressions of hatred, racism or intolerance and we reject violence as a solution for any of the challenges we face. We continue to affirm our role as a center of honest intellectual discourse, where diverse points of view can be expressed, and where there can be disagreement, always accompanied by mutual respect and civility.
I am proud to be leading Lehman College at this moment in time, when members of the community from every level have continued to go above and beyond, allowing us to rise above the challenges of the pandemic and financial meltdown.
The debate underscored how pivotal the upcoming election on November 3rd is, and I have a couple more asks of you in the months ahead. Given the stakes and some ongoing challenges with absentee ballots, I strongly encourage you to register to vote, and even if you’re pretty sure that you’re already registered, to double or triple-check. Once that is settled, be sure you make a plan for how you’re going to cast your vote, and if at all possible, to vote early when early voting begins in New York on October 24th. If you decide that you want to request a mail-in ballot, the window is rapidly closing for voters to request one, so do that as soon as you can. It may be tempting to think that New York’s electoral votes will go Democratic and therefore voting isn’t as important here, but that is not the case. Given the way doubt has been cast on the upcoming election, it is important that voter turnout is high so there can be no doubt about the will of the people, whatever that is.
I had the pleasure of joining a conversation coordinated by the Office of Campus Life and moderated by Suzette Ramsundar and David Charcape that included the dynamic and exemplary leaders New York Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, YWCA USA CEO Alejandra Y. Castillo and Lehman Alumna Katina Rojas Nazario-Joy. They discussed the impact of the upcoming critical election from their perspectives as influential Latina leaders. Like Melissa Castillo-Planas' talk, hosted by the Leonard Lief Library staff mid-month, it was an illuminating and impactful conversation to be having, particularly to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month, which continues into this month.
Though there continue to be complicating factors related to Census 2020, it remains very important that members of the Lehman College community and all of their family members and acquaintances are counted. The overall response rate in New York City at the end of September was 60 percent; the Bronx County response rate was a little higher at 66 percent according to the Census Hard To Count website. That’s a good start, but it’s important that we keep pressing to get that number as high as we can until a final deadline arrives.
I also want to thank the faculty, staff and students who have regularly attended the President’s Live Briefing since I began offering information through that forum in May. The frequency of those briefings will change for now, given that the pace of new information that we have to share has slowed for the moment. But in between briefings, please continue to share questions you have with me at President.Lemons@lehman.cuny.edu.
We are among eight CUNY schools ranked highly by the Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education 2021 rankings among northeastern public colleges providing a high quality, affordable education; Lehman College is ranked 25th out of 83 schools and Lehman placed second in the nation for affordable four-year colleges based on average net tuition. That we offer affordable, high quality education is one of many markers of pride we have at Lehman, especially now as so many struggle with high rates of unemployment, underemployment and the economic costs of the pandemic.
That’s one of the reasons I’m proud to report that The Campaign for Lehman College, which has raised more than $1 million since the onset of the pandemic, is in good company with the relief efforts that have also been ongoing at other campuses and throughout CUNY. At the end of September, CUNY reported that our campuses have raised $8.6 million for students and the Chancellor’s Relief Fund has raised $8.3 million – nearly $17 million total in emergency funding for students combined. We are deeply grateful to the many individual and philanthropic donors who have contributed with such generosity to meet the growing needs of our community.
Congratulations to J. Bret Maney and Cristina Pérez Jiménez, and to Melissa Castillo Planas, on their recognition in the 2020 International Latino Book Awards. Professors Maney and Jimenez were awarded Best Fiction Book Translation Spanish to English and Professor Castillo Planas’ book, “A Mexican State of Mind: New York City and the New Borderlands of Culture” received Honorable Mention in the Best Political/Current Affairs Book – English category.
I also want to congratulate longtime professor of 53 years Joseph Rachlin for being named a Sigma Xi fellow. Sigma Xi is a prestigious scientific research honor society and Professor Rachlin was inducted as a graduate student at New York University before he founded a Lehman College chapter of the society in 1974.
Early in September, I met virtually with Senator Jose Serrano to update him on the fall semester at Lehman College, the need to expand broadband access in the Bronx and food insecurity issues – along with income loss due to pandemic unemployment for Lehman students. We also discussed a developing arts initiative to create a major center for arts in the Bronx at Lehman along with an upcoming Environmental Justice summit we plan to hold in the spring of 2021. I also highlighted the ways we have continued to prioritize faculty and staff diversity, particularly on the faculty side, as reflected in new hiring we did for the fall semester.
I also met with Senator Robert Jackson mid-month, to discuss economic inequality and access to education as it relates to the limited broadband issue. Along with discussing the growing need for emergency loans/grants for students, we also discussed the TAP Gap and other challenges facing students, who, despite their many challenges, have continued to help us meet our enrollment targets for fall 2020.
Amanda Septimo, who will most likely be an Assemblymember in January, also met with me in September to discuss the importance of local government and economic development in the Bronx. I highlighted the great work of CUNY on the Concourse, which has been helpful in enhancing the Bronx’s tech sector. She looks forward to visiting campus when it fully reopens and being engaged with Lehman College.
October 6th Cabinet
October 7th Lehman College Senate
October 13th Faculty, Personnel and Budget
October 15th Cabinet
October 21st Cabinet
October 28th President’s Advisory Board
I will continue to engage with students regularly via Instagram Live from our @lehmancuny account, so keep an eye out for that, and for invitations to the informative briefings as your schedules permit. In the meantime, I wish you continued success as we move further into the fall semester.