An Interview with Dr. Karen L. Gould, President of Brooklyn College
Dr. Pola Rosen, Education Update (PR): You became the president in 2009. You came from California State University in Long Beach, which has 38,000 students. Now you’re here at Brooklyn College with approximately 17,000 students. Any differences or similarities in these two colleges?
Dr. Karen Gould, President of Brooklyn College (KG): There are quite a few similarities and quite a few differences. The similarities are that it was and is a very diverse campus in Long Beach and we also have a very diverse campus here. The diversities are a little bit different: more Pacific-rim diversity, many more Asian and Hispanic and Latino students. Here we have diversities that tend to be more Caribbean driven, as well as immigrant driven. One of the things that attracted me to Brooklyn College was in fact the diversity. I feel very fortunate and honored to be able to work on behalf of such a wonderfully diverse and dedicated group of students and I can say that the students here at Brooklyn College are every bit as motivated and dedicated as the students at Cal State Long Beach.
Some of the differences also are related to the disciplines and the variety of professional programs. We had, I believe, nine colleges reporting to me. Here there was only one school, of education, and everything else reported to the provost. We had over 30 departments with a wide variety of disciplines. So the provost and I began to discuss with the faculty, the need for creating more schools so that there could be some visible indications of our strengths institutionally. We have created, just in the last year, four new schools with four new deans.
PR: Are there any new initiatives?
KG: We have a very strong department of film but to this point we’ve only had undergraduate programs in film. We are now building seven different degree programs, graduate programs, in cinema. Some of them will be interdisciplinary with business and certainly working with theater on the set design side of things and even with music composition. The exciting thing is that this will be the only graduate cinema school in the United States to be situated on a working film lot at Steiner Studios. In addition to that uniqueness, we will also be one of the most affordable, if not the most affordable film school in the country, certainly much more affordable than NYU or Columbia, which are the two graduate film schools in New York City. USC has a very well-known cinema school but it also is very expensive and private. UCLA would be, I suppose, the West Coast equivalent.
PR: What are some of the challenges that you have faced since you’ve been here?
KG: I think for any new president coming from the outside, some of the most immediate challenges are always who are the members of my leadership team and what is missing, and what is strong about that leadership team. I very quickly observed that we needed to have a vice president for enrollment management. That was a weak link so we hired a new vice president. I can see the changes already just in the year-plus he has been here that have been very significant and helpful for the institution and helpful for students. It’s also been true the communications and marketing area made a significant hire there as well. I think those are the two areas where attention needed to be paid pretty quickly. Public higher education has to deal with state budgets and legislative support, or lack thereof, of public institutions. It’s not a challenge that I haven’t had in other locations. But you need to learn the territory fairly quickly and you need to learn what the issues are.
You try to do more fundraising and look for other revenue streams that can in fact contribute to the academic enterprise. Some of that is also out-of-state recruitment of students and international recruitment.
PR: How do you recruit them? Do you send somebody to Europe?
KG: You don’t have to. There are many organizations that work for you on the ground and in fact we are participating in several organizations that have contacts for a very nominal fee. But also, you change your marketing strategies and find out where you can market. I’ve joined a group of CUNY presidents and we are submitting a report to the chancellor in January on opportunities for international student recruitment for CUNY and also more opportunities to study abroad for our own CUNY students. If faculty take study abroad programs abroad, we want to foster more of that. What you want to do is develop a financial model that pays for the faculty to do that. We have not been as forward-looking in CUNY on this topic as others.
PR: Would you want, because of your own rich experiences that opened the door for you, to have students have this type of international experience?
KG: Absolutely, in fact that’s one of the things I did last year. I moved a line out of the president’s office and gave it to the provost so we could open a new office of international education global engagement. We are very keen on raising more funds for student scholarships so they can travel abroad. Most of our students cannot really afford the time away for a whole year. Many of them are working one or two jobs, and so a year abroad is a difficult challenge for our students and most CUNY students. In fact we have a trip to China twice a year for three weeks. You aren’t going to become fluent in Chinese in three weeks but your eyes are going to be opened to another part of the world.
PR: The program that you’ve had in place with the Downstate medical center where students are automatically accepted, can you elaborate on that?
KG: It has been in existence for quite a few decades. The B.A.-M.D. program — we accept approximately a dozen students every fall as freshmen and it’s a very competitive program. They need to be pre-med and maintain a high grade point average while they’re here and they’re promised entry into SUNY Downstate.
PR: Can you share who some of your personal mentors are?
KG: The first person who always comes to mind, besides my father, was the dean at Bowling Green State. One day he said to me, “you should be a dean.” I looked at him, I think in horror. I just remember saying, “why would I want to do that,” and he said because I was good at administrating. I did become an associate dean at Bowling Green State as a result of his encouragement. I also believe that F. King Alexander, who is president of Cal State Long Beach, was a very important mentor for me as well. He had a lot to teach me about issues of public funding for public higher education. I think everywhere along the way you can find helpful people who will give up their time and help you learn new things if you’re looking for it. I’ve always tried to be a mentor to others who are seeking the same thing. We’re learners and there are always new things to learn. #