CUNY Pays Tribute to Innovative and Caring Leader in Education

Dean John Mogulescu smiling at his desk at CUNY SPS

In a moving tribute, family, friends, colleagues, and former staff at the City University of New York (CUNY) met online this August to celebrate the long and prolific tenure of John Mogulescu as Senior University Dean for Academic Affairs (SUD). Mogulescu had stepped down from the SUD office last March to devote his time exclusively to his other role as dean of the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS), but his original send-off was postponed due to COVID-19. 

During the event, SUD documentarian Shannon Taggart screened a video tribute to Mogulescu’s life and work, offering highlights of his 33 years of service in the CUNY Office of Academic Affairs. This often funny and joyful portrait of Mogulescu featured personal and heartfelt reminiscences from many of his friends and colleagues.

Throughout the speeches and video tribute, one common theme emerged: that Mogulescu’s tenure at CUNY—and indeed, his overarching life’s work—has been characterized by a fierce and single-minded devotion to improve the lives of the underserved. 

CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez praised Mogulescu for building CUNY programs and initiatives that provide new opportunities for students, regardless of their background and circumstance.  “[He is] a great champion for the students that wanted to take high school equivalency exams, for adult students, for workforce development… [and while] some of the categories that at times have not been sexy for the university, have not been on the radar screen, John has always kept them front and center.”

Other colleagues similarly complimented Mogulescu’s vision. “He’s really the person who moves mountains to make education possible to New Yorkers who otherwise would not have access to education,” said Jeremy Travis, President Emeritus of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “It’s no surprise the list of CUNY initiatives that have John Mogulescu as their founding father—we see some of the best things that CUNY has ever done.”

During Mogulescu’s tenure, he helped develop and oversaw some of the University’s most important and successful initiatives. Notable programs include ASAP, CUNY Start, the CUNY Language Immersion Program, CUNY’s Service and Cultural Corps, CUNY Edge, College Now, CUNY Prep, the Early College High Schools, the Adult Literacy & High School Equivalency program, the NYC Early Childhood Professional Development Institute, and an array of workforce development programs, among others. 

Alongside these, Mogulescu led the development of two new CUNY institutions, Guttman Community College and CUNY SPS, as well as three new specialized high schools (the High School for American Studies at Lehman College, the High School for Math, Science, and Engineering at City College, and Queens High School for the Sciences at York College).  

In particular, Mogulescu’s mission to help one important subset of nontraditional learners—working adults—led to the founding of CUNY SPS in 2003. Under his leadership, the School has become renowned for its online degree programs and ability to meet the educational needs of working adults and employers. CUNY SPS has been nationally recognized for its quality, with U.S. News & World Report ranking it in the top 5 percent of the 2020 Best Online Bachelor’s Degree Program, marking the sixth year in a row that the School has been highly positioned by the publication. The School continues to grow at an impressive rate, with over 4,200 degree students enrolled for the Fall 2020 Semester. In addition, CUNY SPS expects to serve more than 30,000 workers in a number of non-credit programs over the course of the 2020-21 academic year.

In acknowledging Mogulescu’s impressive achievements at CUNY SPS and SUD, several of his colleagues reflected upon the tremendous legacy he will be leaving the University, both on a personal and a grand scale.  

Rachel Stephenson, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Strategy and Operations/Chief of Staff, described how Mogulescu’s passion for social justice had inspired her. “He’s an incredible example of what’s possible when you are so invested in the world you live in [and] the city we live in.” 

Vita Rabinowitz, who has served in the most senior leadership roles at CUNY, including Interim Chancellor, University Provost, Provost, and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Hunter College, noted how Mogulescu’s work has greatly advanced the University’s core mission. “John has changed the conversation at CUNY from one of the lack of preparedness of our students and their academic shortcomings to one of what can we do to improve their chances,” said Rabinowitz. “I have come to think of John Mogulescu—and I know I’m not alone—as one of the most consequential leaders of the City University of New York.” 

For Mogulescu, it is not about accolades, but about acting upon your beliefs to make the world a better place. As he observed in his retirement announcement to the community:

“Over the course of these past 33 years, I have been guided by the belief that a great public urban university must pay attention to what is going on in the city in which it resides, must work to improve the living conditions and education of our most vulnerable residents, and must confront issues of racial equity and economic inequality. I feel fortunate that this belief is shared by all of the staff working in SUD, and that our hard work has undeniably increased opportunity for countless New Yorkers, and helped to improve their lives. Our commitment to social justice is unwavering, and I am certain that we will continue to generate a wealth of ideas that will, in turn, give rise to innovative and successful new programs.”

Mogulescu’s tribute video can be viewed on Vimeo.