Founding Dean John Mogulescu Publishes Memoir

CUNY SPS Dean Emeritus John Mogulescu at his book launch event.

The CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) is proud to announce that John Mogulescu, the founding dean of the School, has published the memoir The Dean of New Things: Bringing Change to CUNY and New York City.

This moving memoir recaps Mogulescu’s illustrious 50-year career at the City University of New York, which includes several decades in the University’s Office of Academic Affairs and 18 years as founding dean of CUNY SPS.

Mogulescu, who also discussed his memoir on a recent segment of WYNC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, sat down with CUNY SPS to answer a few questions about the book and his future plans.

Book cover of the Dean of New Things, written by CUNY SPS Dean Emeritus John MogulescuQ: Congratulations on publishing your new book The Dean of New Things: Bringing Change to CUNY and New York City. What were your goals and intentions for this book? 

A: Although many people had encouraged me to write about my work at CUNY and the idea had been in my own mind, I’ve never thought of myself as a writer. Once I started, though, I realized that I did have a story to tell. I really wanted to show how a group made up largely of nontraditional educators became the innovative arm of the City University of New York. As a result of telling the story, I identified lessons learned about why change is so difficult and so often resisted, not just in CUNY, but in higher education overall. And I wanted to show how to achieve meaningful change, despite the difficulties.

Q: Your book details your many impressive accomplishments in higher ed, and a large section of the book is dedicated to your work at CUNY SPS. Please tell us a bit about your inspiration for starting the School, which became a pioneer in online education.

A: I can't really say it was my inspiration. Louise Mirrer, who was then Executive Vice Chancellor, had already been discussing with Chancellor Matthew Goldstein the possibility of creating a new school for adults that would be nimble and different. They came to me and said, “What do you think about building a new school of professional studies that will be focused on the needs of adult students? You can figure out how you want to develop it.” Since I said yes to almost every request—and this was so clearly a wonderful opportunity—we put a small team together to make it happen.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in founding CUNY SPS?

A: Regarding the challenges—there were many. Creating a college is a very complicated undertaking, and we had a very short time frame. We had no space, no programs. We had no students. We were not given a budget. Those were a lot of challenges, but there was also an opportunity to create a school that would be different from more traditional institutions of higher education.

The biggest challenge came in 2006 when then Executive Vice Chancellor Selma Botman approached us and said, “You know, it's time for CUNY to have some online degrees, and SPS should be the leader in that.” Online degrees were not really on our minds when we opened in 2003. At first, CUNY SPS had focused on credit certificates and non-credit certificates, not degree programs. We met a lot of resistance from within CUNY both to the development of online degrees and to SPS offering degrees. But in order to meet the needs of adult students, most of whom are working, online degrees made perfect sense. CUNY SPS quickly became an academic home for thousands of adults who had college credits but no degree.

Q: Other than CUNY SPS, what accomplishment within the CUNY system gives you the most pride? Why?

A: Obviously, CUNY SPS is at the top of the list. But I also headed the team that built perhaps the most effective community college student success program in the United States: ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs). Additionally, I led the development team for the first new CUNY community college in 40 years—Guttman Community College. My book details these and other programs that changed the way the University thought about student success. At the same time, a great deal of my team’s work at CUNY involved creating big programs with city agencies and other partners to address the critical needs of the city—in workforce, K-12, disabilities, and early childhood, to name just a few. We helped to broaden the University’s mission, to include applying the knowledge and expertise developed at CUNY to address the persistent urban problems of New York City. I'm proud of all of them.

Q: One of the themes emphasized in the book was that when a program failed to connect, you never blamed the students. Can you provide a specific example of when this principle was put to test?  

A: CUNY students face myriad obstacles, many of which are not in our power to change. We took the position that we must look at everything we could do to support students’ ambitions and lead to their success. Look at CUNY SPS: our undergraduate students had stopped out of college for 100 different reasons. Our job was to bring them back, and then give them an education that would get them to the finish line, which is another point I made in the book. There used to be the general sense that if students just had a little bit of college, that's great, too. But the data doesn't show that. It may enhance their lives personally, but it usually doesn't lead to better jobs, or higher salaries. It doesn't provide the credentials that they may need to get into a particular field. By being responsive to the student’s situations and needs and by making sure that our policies and procedures did not unwittingly create obstacles, CUNY SPS helped bring these students to their degree completion.

Q: What do your plans for future projects include?

A: What’s next? I'm not exactly sure. I don’t foresee writing more books, but I'd like people to read this book. Not only is it a significant higher ed story, but it also applies to K- 12 education, government organizations, and not-for-profits. I'm delighted that I'm already getting invited to speak about my story at a variety of places. I have also been working with the Hecksher Foundation to support some of their good efforts to strengthen K-12, higher education, and workforce. I hope to remain engaged in projects that highlight the value of college and that increase student success. That can truly change lives.

The Dean of New Things: Bringing Change to CUNY and New York City is available to order here.

To read an excerpt from The Dean of New Things: Bringing Change to CUNY and New York City, please see our award-winning blog. 

About the CUNY School of Professional Studies

As New York's leading online school since 2006, the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) offers the most online bachelor's and master's degree options at the City University of New York, and serves as the University's first undergraduate all-transfer college. With 26 degrees and numerous other non-degree and grant-funded workplace learning programs, CUNY SPS meets the needs of adults who wish to finish a bachelor's degree, progress from an associate's degree, earn a master's degree or certificate in a specialized field, and advance in the workplace or change careers. Consistently ranked highly by U.S. News & World Report for its online offerings, CUNY SPS has emerged as a nationwide leader in online education. The School's renowned and affordable online programs ensure that busy working adults may fulfill their educational goals on their own time and schedule.

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