Previously published by The Campus
President Vincent Boudreau looks back, around, and forward
As his first full academic year as president concludes, Vincent Boudreau sits in his now completely decorated office, reflecting on the past to plan for the next days, months, and years at the helm. Despite a seemingly constant battle with budget, he has sustained, if not furthered, his hopes for the institution he’s called home for decades. At this juncture, Boudreau noted, “It feels like you spin your wheels and you spin your wheels and you build your infrastructure and all this stuff, and suddenly the vehicle starts to inch forward and that is where it feels like we’re at right now.”
This gradual movement comes as a win for an administration wrestling with budget difficulties across the board. During Boudreau’s tenure as 13th president, he has inherited a nearly $15 million budget deficit, faced accreditation challenges, and battled federal legislation that impacts students on campus. In response, Boudreau has decided to employ a management style he fervently swears by: OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results.
In action, this system looks like intentional goal setting and nuanced follow up. At the start of each cycle, Boudreau and his administration set college-wide aspirations which different arms of the university, in turn, respond to with their own gameplans. The art of the program, however, exists in the strategy of its participants to not fully accomplish every mark. He explained, “If you set three OKRs and you hit all of them 100%, you haven’t been ambitious enough. You’re supposed to set goals that are so ambitious that you’ll get most of them.” Then, the question rises, where is the sweet spot? Boudreau advises that his staff hit 70% of their OKRs. “If you hit 100%, then you gotta have a conversation about the goals you’re setting for yourself,” he said.
With a course of action in his pocket and an uphill battle with the State ahead of him, Boudreau reminisced on the year. Boiled down, he concluded that this academic year can be summed up in three words: tumultuous, infrastructure, and purchase.
Tumultuous in the sense that we came into the year scrambling to get a Middle States presentation together with a projected budget deficit of a huge number,” Boudreau started.
The first obstacle centers around City College’s accreditation status. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education is responsible for accrediting colleges and universities. In June of 2018, the organization informed CCNY that their accreditation may be in jeopardy, due to a lack of confidence in the college’s planning, resources, and institutional movement. In a previous interview with The Campus, Boudreau promised, “I will write in blood, ‘we will not let this year end without rectifying our accreditation situation.’” Although lacking the alluded bloodshed, rectify the situation he, and his staff, did.
Referencing a meeting which occurred a few weeks ago, Boudreau told, “Middle States basically said to us, ‘You’re off probation.’ They said the thing we were not in compliant with, now we’re in compliance with. Now that has to go up through their committee structure, but they’re not going to reverse that.” He continued, giving credit, “We were so smart – I don’t mean me, I mean the people that met with them – the board’s plan was so good that other CUNY presidents are asking to see it.”
With the first challenge met, CCNY’s funding still proved to be a perpetual fight with many, many rounds.
In addition to cuts within Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget, in the Fall of 2018, Administration Building. First, Boudreau narrated, “In 2009, when the market tanked, there was a $5 million budget alteration that should have been recorded, but never was, so we have millions of dollars less than we thought.” Next, the administration discovered an accounting error, where monies in one column were placed in another, causing another $4 million loss. Lastly, during stock market fluctuations between November and February, they lost 7%, altering even more money.
In layman’s terms, after starting the year off with millions of dollars over the required buffer of $10 million, a few months landed the office with only $4 million total. All in all, Boudreau articulated that they “went from having 8 million dollars that I thought I could invest, to having to build [millions] up until I get the first dollar I can invest.”
Infrastructure in the sense that I knew when I came in as interim, we didn’t have the apparatus we needed to build the college, we didn’t have the development office we needed to raise the money we needed, [and] we had no management program,” Boudreau disclosed.
Going further into this list, Boudreau also noted that CCNY was without a strategic plan, a merged foundation, a permanent provost, a permanent vice president of student affairs, a permanent dean of the Spitzer School, amongst other things. Yet, he said, “I also knew that this was the year I was going to build that stuff.”
As Spring of 2019 closes, CCNY has an OKR plan, a merged philanthropic foundation, a permanent provost, and a previously unannounced candidate for dean of Spitzer.
Although Boudreau found that “there is probably no place on earth that is more resistant to being managed than an academic institution,” he fought for buy-in to OKRs from every level of CCNY. The key aspect, he told, is to “focus people – and for a campus like this where everybody kinda does their own thing, it means we’ll focus on the same thing.” Everyone from financial aid employees to the provost will, in theory, sign onto City College’s overarching goals of growth and remodeling.
This system, as elucidated by Boudreau, “actively evokes the creativity in people and says ‘first of all, know what the big game is and figure out how to plug yourself into it.’ But then also figure out what you want to do in your immediate environment.”
“Purchase in the sense that literally for the last two and a half years, everyday has felt like ‘I don’t know if we’re going to get through the end of the day,’ and all the sudden it feels like it’s working,” he expressed.
Although CCNY’s budget debacles are still many and close between, Boudreau’s administration reacted to the three tumultuous moments by working to mark the college as an institution worth investing in. Boudreau shared, “We’re starting to do the things we need to do to advertise the college and change its public profile.” These moves include things like the Day of Science and the Year of Film events that happened on campus.
Through supporting a narrative of City College as a campus with great expertise, as well as an engine for social mobility, the administration has raised $4 million in accessible funds. He related, “We raised $4 million in discretionary resources, and that doesn’t have to be $4 million over the 10, that $4 million is available for us to use, to help.” They were not, he said, supposed to meet this milestone until next year.
Anecdotally, when Roger Clark from NY1 reported on City College’s famous “gargoyle graveyard,” viewers took notice of The City University of New York’s flagship institution. Two days later, Boudreau shared, “Somebody who has no relationship with the college calls and says: ‘I want to fund a professorship because I saw that and I really love City College.’”
Little by little, these funds start to compensate for lapses in budget – like the TAP gap, which CCNY disproportionately suffers from. This gap, in short, represents the difference between full in-state tuition and the amount the State gives to CUNY colleges through the Tuition Assistance Program. In other words, a single student’s tuition bill is covered through TAP by CCNY, but the State does not reimburse the institution the full amount. The leftover monies leave CCNY millions in debt per academic year.
In this way, having people purchase into the idea of City College is central to Boudreau’s past, present, and future on this campus. With the tumult in mind, infrastructure solidifying, if slowly, and the workings of a monetary shift, Boudreau believes the school is embarking on a page-turning moment. “I’ve always said that I think we’ll probably be two years past the turning point by the time everybody kinda realizes that we’re well on the way to recovery. But I think the turning point is now behind us,” he concluded.
What’s ahead? City College has several balls in the air moving into summer. One of their newest pushes is combating climate change in New York and other places around the world. “We’ve been having meetings across the different schools on climate change; and a big conversation with the University of the West Indies about establishing a climate policy change institute that takes on, as a sort of front line endeavor, the existential threat climate change poses to the Caribbean, but then also loops in all the climate change work we’re doing into that,” Boudreau explained.
At the same time, CCNY is furthering a program that addresses opioid addiction here in Harlem and across communities. These initiatives, as well as several others, will continue to take roots in the foundation of the college’s mission and future. “Next year, I’ll be able to show you the places to look to show progress; and for some you can see a whole tree that’s grown out of the ground and some places it’ll be bean sprouts, but it’ll all be growing,” he assured.
Boudreau’s message to the class of 2019 is simple: “I think when our students graduate from this place, they should graduate with a sense that they didn’t just go to an ok place, they went to a place that is utterly unique and irreplaceable.”
As graduates know well, City College comes with its hiccups and challenges. Boudreau noted these, saying, “I know they climbed the escalator because it didn’t work and I know half of them want the Raccoon instead of the Beaver, all the crap of City College, I lived it too.” But, he continued, “I think you put up with static that the institution throws you because the institution is in pursuit of an irreplaceable mission, that half the country doesn’t want to succeed. That should motivate us all.”
Looking into the next year and wishing this cycles’s graduates success in their futures, Boudreau closed, “[This motivation] should make the people that graduated from this place feel like, ‘I’m marked indelibly with the mission of City College.’”
Design by Loretta Violante