BY MARCIA MOXAM COMRIE
With headlines about rogue dormitory plans, non-existant research center funding, and derogatory quotes in reference to the student body still swirling in the Fall air on campus, Russell K. Hotzler has taken over the president’s office at Queens College and told the Tribune that his tenure will be about restoring calm and increasing enrollment.
Tales Of The Past
Queens College’s last president, Allen Lee Sessoms, officially ended his controversial term of office by retiring, effective Aug. 31, 2000. The talk of controversy began when Sessoms moved forward to draft a plan for Queens College dormitories, although the neighborhood stood loudly against it and City University of New York Chancellor Herman Badillo has stated that it was not on his agenda.
The headlines continued as the debate went on over remediation at the City college level – a practice that allowed students who did not meet the academic standards for college work get the training to bring them to that level at the college while they took college level courses. In a report done by the Association of the Bar of New York, Sessoms was quoted as having referred to the remediation process as leaving the college with “sh*t in, sh*t out.”
The final controversy to make headlines before Sessoms resigned was his failure to find funding for the Bernard & Gloria Salick Center for Molecular & Cellular Biology building, a project that had broken ground years before.
The President Of The Hour
Enter Hotzler, whose 31-year City University of New York (CUNY) career began at Queensborough Community College as an adjunct professor and moved up and on to associate dean and in 1984 he became the dean for academic affairs.
In 1995, he was tapped to become CUNY Dean for Academic Affairs for the entire CUNY system.
According to Hotzlman, his position at CUNY headquarters gave him a bird’s eye view of all the colleges, so he was familiar with Queens College and its needs and that is exactly what the CUNY Chancellor wanted.
According to Jay Hershenson, vice chancellor for the CUNY system, selecting Hotzler to serve as interim president pending a nationwide search for the new permanent president was a simple choice.
“Dr. Hotzler is a seasoned educator with a distinguished academic and administrative life,” Hershenson said. “He has a superb education and a long-standing familiarity with working with all of the colleges . . . He is a first rate educator for a first class college.”
Hotlzer added, “I was technically appointed by the Trustees, but with his recommendation. But quite honestly he wanted to bring someone here who had broad experience in the university so that many of the activities and issues underway. We could continue to make progress and address issues that had to be addressed for the short term. We have a few things in flux, such as the construction of the new [elementary] school and so on,” he said.
The “new school” is the long-awaited construction of a building to house the college’s ambitious experimental elementary through junior high, a borough-wide school to which admission is be based on a lottery.
According to Hotlzer, all the necessary approvals have been given for the project to move forward, including the $31 million for the project, while the School Construction Authority is now deciding on the appropriate site.
As for the Salick Center envisioned as researching cures for AIDS and cancer, Hotlzer said the research already in progress will continue, but the work will be done without constructing the expensive new building that had been planned.
“The Salick Center exists and will continue to exist,” he said. “The building that they had envisioned . . . that project was brought to a halt last fall because the funds needed to support the construction had not been raised,” he said simply.
The project, however, is being billed with a slightly different focus than Sessoms had proposed.
“Our proposal at the moment is to continue the Salick Center not as an AIDS research facility but as a research institute focused on molecular and cellular biology,” he said. “But one more closely attached to the college and faculty and the research that goes on here at the campus and not strictly an infectious disease type medical facility for which the funding was not raised.”
Hotlzer and CUNY are planning to keep the research center in what was once only a temporary housing place – the laboratories of the existing science building Remsen Hall. The structure will be rehabilitated and expanded for which funding must be raised.
“That research center will be focused on our students and our faculty and our academic programs,” he said. “We’re getting the support for it. Dr. [Luc] Montagnier, one of our professors, was not able to raise the money to support his research and the college is not in a position to continue to fund his research. But he’ll be welcome to be involved as with any other faculty to the extent that they are able to fund their research,” Hotzler told the Tribune. The chair for Montagnier – one of the scientists who discovered the AIDS virus – was part of the Salick grant to the college.
First Things First
Long known as one of CUNY’s most stable, prestigious branches, Queens College teaches students from around the world who speak some 67 different languages, but enrollment is decreasing. Hotlzer said his first priority is to reverse that trend.
Next on the agenda is preparing for an exodus of professors, as many approach retirement age.
Then there is the major renovation of Powdermaker Hall, a main classroom structure being rebuilt to remove asbestos and modernize the structure. This project has sent students and their class schedules scrambling.
To manage the various renovations and constructions he is now in the throes of developing a “facilities master plan” for the campus. “It is a plan that will show all of the constructions and changes which will take place on the campus over the next decade,” he explained.
The Master Plan
“The College has not had an approved master plan for many years. In fact the last one approved by the trustees goes back to 1978,” he said. “And in doing this planning, it will allow us to address the immediate needs of the campus including parking, which is a concern for us.”
• Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Metallurgical Engineering
• Ph.D. in Physical Metallurgy from Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn
• Conducted research on high tempurature alloy development for the National Aeronautics, and Space Administration and for the Bio-Engineering Department of the Hospital for Special Surgery.
• Joined the Queensborough Community College Mechanical Engineering Technology and Design faculty in 1971
• Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs at Queensborough Community College, 1984-1996
• CUNY University Dean for Academic Affairs from 1996 to 2000
• Took office as interim president at Queens College Sept. 1, 2000
According to Hotlzer, this “master plan” was proposed a year and a half ago
but it was his initiative to restart and complete it in order for the college to receive capital funding for physical development of the campus, there must be a master plan.
“What’s really behind it,” he said, “is
the academic profile. As we plan for facilities, we want to be sure that we will be building the computer lab and the other facilities that will be needed to support those programs that are going to be important five or ten years. So to the extent – that we can project those programs that are going to be important the facilities master plan will help us provide for that growth.”
The plan will include an assessment of which buildings will need replacing and which ones will need refurbishing. “We want to make sure we are providing the opportunity for those who want to come to Queens College.
As for remedial programs, Hotlzer told the Tribune that although the remedial program as it was has been phased out, there is still support on campus for students who need it.
“For students who apply and who are showing some deficiencies we have programs to bring them up to appropriate skills level,” he explained. “They are effective programs and they have a whole year in which to satisfy the requirements.”
Hotlzer is also reaching out to the community colleges such as LaGuardia and Queensborough, in an effort to “build a bridge for a seamless transition” to Queens College. He is intent on continuing to expand the teachers’ program, which he reports has more applicants than space.
The college’s journalism program will also be expanded with a Master’s of Journalism on his agenda, alongside a number of Environmental Science programs.
Being A Good Neighbor
“As best as we can, we are trying to address the concerns of the community, which are valid,” Hotzler told the Tribune.
“For instance the [elementary school] we’ve asked that the size of the school be slightly smaller structure wise and wherever we put it the school busses and drop off and pick-ups be off the street. We’ve asked the School Construction Authority to take all this into consideration,” he said.
Hotlzer concluded that he expects his tenure to last at least two years, but he won’t let the length of his time at the president’s desk alter his determination to reach new goals for the college and better community relations with its neighbors.