City University of New York
|The City University of New York|
|Chancellor||James B. Milliken|
|6,700 full-time teaching faculty members|
|Location||New York City, New York|
The City University of New York (CUNY; pron.: //) is the public university system of New York City. It is the largest urban university in the United States, consisting of 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies Program at the Graduate Center, the doctorate-granting Graduate School and University Center, the City University of New York School of Law, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Public Health and the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education. More than 270,000 degree-credit students and 273,000 continuing and professional education students are enrolled at campuses located in all five New York City boroughs. Its administrative offices are in mid-town Manhattan.
The university has one of the most diverse student bodies in the United States, with students hailing from 208 countries. The black, white and Hispanic undergraduate populations each comprise more than a quarter of the student body, and Asian undergraduates make up 18 percent. Fifty-eight percent are female, and 28 percent are 25 or older. CUNY graduates include 13 Nobel laureates, a U.S. Secretary of State, a Supreme Court Justice, several New York City mayors, members of Congress, state legislators, scientists and artists.
CUNY is the third-largest university system in the United States, in terms of enrollment, behind the State University of New York (SUNY), and the California State University system. CUNY and SUNY are separate and independent university systems, although both are public institutions that receive funding from New York State. CUNY, however, is additionally funded by the City of New York.
- 1 History
- 2 Structure
- 3 Colleges
- 4 Public safety
- 5 City University Television (CUNY TV)
- 6 City University Film Festival (CUFF)
- 7 Alumni
- 8 Notable faculty
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 External links
CUNY's history dates back to the formation of the Free Academy in 1847 by Townsend Harris. The school was fashioned as "a Free Academy for the purpose of extending the benefits of education gratuitously to persons who have been pupils in the common schools of the city and county of New York." The Free Academy later became the City College of New York, the oldest institution among the CUNY colleges. Hunter College – so-named in 1914, originally Female Normal and High School and later the Normal College – had existed since 1870, and later expanded into the Bronx in the early 20th century with what became Herbert Lehman College, but CCNY and Hunter resisted merging.
In 1926, in response to the growth in population of the city, the New York State legislature created the Board of Higher Education of the City of New York to integrate, coordinate and expand the institutions of higher education in the city. During the period the board existed, Brooklyn College (1930), Queens College (1937) and a number of other four-year colleges and two-year community colleges were created.
In 1961, Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed the bill that created the City University of New York to integrate these institutions, and a new graduate school, together into a coordinated system of higher education for the city, and by 1979, the Board of Higher Education had become the Board of Trustees of the CUNY. Eventually, the system grew to include seven senior colleges, four hybrid schools, seven community colleges, graduate schools, and professional programs.
CUNY has served a diverse student body, especially those excluded from or unable to afford private universities. Its four-year colleges offered a high quality, tuition-free education to the poor, the working class and the immigrants of New York City who met the grade requirements for matriculated status. Many Jewish academics and intellectuals studied and taught at CUNY in the post-World War I era when some Ivy League universities, such as Yale University, discriminated against Jews. The City College of New York has had a reputation of being "the Harvard of the proletariat." Over its history, CUNY colleges, particularly CCNY, have been involved in various political movements.
As the city's population—and public college enrollment—grew during the early 20th century and the city struggled for resources, the municipal colleges slowly began adopting selective tuition, also known as instructional fees, for a handful of courses and programs. During the Great Depression, with funding for the public colleges severely constrained, limits were imposed on the size of the colleges' free Day Session, and tuition was imposed upon students deemed "competent" but not academically qualified for the day program. Most of these "limited matriculation" students enrolled in the Evening Session, and paid tuition.
Over time, tuition fees for limited-matriculated students became an important source of system revenues. In fall 1957, for example, nearly 36,000 attended Hunter, Brooklyn, Queens and City Colleges for free, but another 24,000 paid tuition fees of up to $300 a year — the equivalent of $2,413 in 2011. Undergraduate tuition and other student fees in 1957 comprised 17 percent of the colleges' $46.8 million in revenues, about $7.74 million — a figure equivalent to $62.4 million in 2011 buying power.
Demand in the United States for higher education rapidly grew after World War II, and during the mid-1940s a movement began to create community colleges to provide accessible education and training. In New York City, however, the community-college movement was constrained by many factors including "financial problems, narrow perceptions of responsibility, organizational weaknesses, adverse political factors, and another competing priorities."
Community colleges would have drawn from the same city coffers that were funding the senior colleges, and city higher education officials were of the view that the state should finance them. It wasn’t until 1955, under a shared-funding arrangement with New York State, that New York City established its first community college, on Staten Island. Unlike the day college students attending the city’s public baccalaureate colleges for free, the community college students had to pay tuition fees under the state-city funding formula. Community college students paid tuition fees for approximately 10 years. In 1964, as the city’s Board of Higher Education moved to take full responsibility for the community colleges, city officials extended the senior colleges’ free tuition policy to them, a change that was included by Mayor Robert Wagner in his budget plans and took effect with the 1964-65 academic year.
In the decades following World War II, a surging demand for limited college slots had the effect in New York City of increasing the competitiveness of the higher education system. In 1969, a group of Black and Puerto Rican students occupied City College demanding the integration of CUNY, which at the time had an overwhelmingly white student body.
Three community colleges had been established by early 1961, when the city’s public colleges were codified by the state as an integrated university with a chancellor at the helm and an infusion of state funds. But the city’s slowness in creating the community colleges as demand for college seats was intensifying, had resulted in mounting frustration, particularly on the part of minorities, that college opportunities were not available to them.
Students at some campuses became increasingly frustrated with the university's and Board of Higher Education's handling of university administration. At Baruch College in 1967, over a thousand students protested the plan to make the college an upper-division school limited to junior, senior, and graduate students. At Brooklyn College in 1968, students attempted a sit-in to demand the admission of more black and Puerto-Rican students and additional black studies curriculum. Students at Hunter College also demanded a Black studies program. Members of the SEEK program, which provided academic support for underprepared and underprivileged students, staged a building takeover at Queens College in 1969 to protest the decisions of the program's director, who would later be replaced by a black professor. Puerto Rican students at Bronx Community College filed a report with the State Division of Human Rights in 1970, contending that the intellectual level of the college was inferior and discriminatory. Hunter College was crippled for several days by a protest of 2,000 students who had a list of demands focusing on more student representation in college administration. Across CUNY, students boycotted their campuses in 1970 to protest a rise in student fees and other issues, including the proposed (and later implemented) open admissions plan.
Like many college campuses in 1970, CUNY faced a number of protests and demonstrations after the Kent State shootings and Cambodian Campaign. The Administrative Council of the City University of New York sent U.S. President Richard Nixon a telegram in 1970 stating, "No nation can long endure the alienation of the best of its young people." Some colleges, including John Jay College of Criminal Justice, historically the "college for cops," held teach-ins in addition to student and faculty protests.
In 1970, the Board of Trustees implemented a new admissions policy. The doors to CUNY were opened wide to all those demanding entrance, assuring all high school graduates entrance to the university without having to fulfill traditional requirements such as exams or grades. This policy was known as open admissions and nearly doubled the number of students enrolling in the CUNY system to 35,000 (compared to 20,000 the year before). With greater numbers came more diversity: Black and Hispanic student enrollment increased threefold.  Remedial education, to supplement the training of under-prepared students, became a significant part of CUNY's offerings.
Financial crisis of 1976
In fall 1976, during New York City's fiscal crisis, the free tuition policy was discontinued under pressure from the federal government, the financial community that had a role in rescuing the city from bankruptcy, and New York State, which would take over the funding of CUNY's senior colleges. Tuition, which had been in place in the State University of New York system since 1963, was instituted at all CUNY colleges.
Meanwhile, CUNY students were added to the state's need-based Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), which had been created to help private colleges. Full-time students who met the income eligibility criteria were permitted to receive TAP, ensuring for the first time that financial hardship would deprive no CUNY student of a college education. Within a few years, the federal government would create its own need-based program, known as Pell Grants, providing the neediest students with a tuition-free college education. By 2011, nearly six of ten full- time undergraduates qualified for a tuition-free education at CUNY due in large measure to state, federal and CUNY financial aid programs. CUNY's enrollment dipped after tuition was re-established, and there were further enrollment declines through the 1980s and into the 1990s.
Financial crisis of 1995
In 1995, CUNY suffered another fiscal crisis when Governor George Pataki announced a $162 million cut in state financing. Faculty cancelled classes and students staged protests. By May, CUNY adopted deep cuts to college budgets and class offerings. By June, CUNY had adopted a stricter admissions policy for its senior colleges: students deemed unprepared for college would not be admitted, a departure from the 1970 Open Admissions program, in order to save money spent on remedial programs. The proposed $160 million in cuts was reduced to $102 million, which CUNY absorbed by increasing tuition by $750 and offering a retirement incentive plan for faculty.
In 1999, a task force appointed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani issued a report that described CUNY as “an institution adrift” and called for an improved, more cohesive university structure and management, as well as more consistent academic standards. Following the report, Matthew Goldstein, a mathematician and City College graduate who had led CUNY’s Baruch College and briefly, Adelphi University, was appointed chancellor of CUNY. After his appointment in 1999, CUNY ended its policy of open admissions to its four-year colleges. Admissions standards were raised at CUNY’s most selective four-year colleges (Baruch, Brooklyn, City, Hunter and Queens) and a new policy was established that required entering college students who needed remediation, to begin their studies at the University’s open-admissions community colleges.
Continued growth and improvement
Over the next decade, CUNY’s enrollment began to climb steeply, with the number of degree-credit students reaching 220,727 in 2005 and 262,321 in 2010 as the university broadened its academic offerings and attracted students seeking value during the nationwide economic recession. Over the next decade, as CUNY’s enrollment steadily increased, the university added more than 2,000 full-time faculty positions. During Goldstein’s tenure the university met the increasing demand by opening new schools and programs while expanding the university’s fundraising efforts to help pay for them. The results of these efforts rose from $35 million in 2000 to more than $200 million per year as of 2012.
In 2005, Goldstein proposed an innovative funding model for CUNY, called the CUNY Compact for Public Higher Education, which delineated the shared responsibilities of the government, philanthropists, University’s administration and students in funding the university’s programs. The Compact model has been seen by CUNY and New York State officials as a success at stabilizing the university’s finances during difficult and unpredictable economic times, and in providing for predictable tuition increases for which families can plan. In June 2011, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature signed into law authorization of elements of the Compact model, which has also been adopted by the State University of New York.
The highly selective Macaulay Honors College, a Goldstein initiative established in 2005, and other college honors programs later opened at CUNY, have attracted some of the city public schools' most academically accomplished graduates. Under Goldstein, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism (2006), CUNY School of Professional Studies (2006), CUNY School of Public Health (2008), and the New Community College at CUNY (2012) also were founded. The New Community College was renamed the Stella and Charles Guttman Community College in 2013 after a $25 million bequest to CUNY community college programs from the Stella and Charles Guttman Foundation.
In 2005, Goldstein launched CUNY’s “Decade of Science”, an initiative focused on expanding high-quality education, training and research, and to attract top researchers, in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). The Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC), a CUNY research hub located on the campus of City College, is scheduled to open in 2014 and will specialize in nanotechnology, structural biology, photonics, neuroscience and environmental sciences. The project is a key project of a $2.7 billion investment in a capital construction program to upgrade, build and maintain CUNY campus buildings throughout the city’s five boroughs.
Goldstein also directed CUNY administration to reform CUNY’s general education requirements and policies. Called Pathways to Degree Completion, the initiative, to take effect for all CUNY undergraduates in fall 2013, requires all students to take an administration-dictated common core of courses which have been claimed to meet specific “learning outcomes” or standards. Since the courses are accepted University wide, the administration claims the Pathways reform makes it easier for students to transfer course credits between CUNY colleges. It also reduces the number of core courses some CUNY colleges had required, to a level below national norms, particularly in the sciences. The program is the target of several lawsuits bystudents and faculty, and was the subject of a "no confidence" vote by the faculty, who rejected it by an overwhelming 92% margin.
Goldstein, CUNY’s longest-running chancellor, announced in April 2013 that he would step down on July 1, 2013, after nearly 14 years. News articles and editorials on the decision credited the 71-year-old Goldstein with transforming CUNY’s academic offerings and reputation, and the range of its student body, through his focus on high standards and effective management.
William P. Kelly, president of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, a scholar of literature and a longtime CUNY administrator, was appointed interim chancellor of the university effective July 1, pending a national search for a new chancellor.
On January 15, 2014 the university’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to appoint James Milliken, president of the University of Nebraska, and a graduate of University of Nebraska and New York University Law School, as CUNY’s seventh chancellor effective June 1, 2014.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (November 2012)|
The forerunner of today's City University of New York was governed by the Board of Education of New York City. Members of the Board of Education, chaired by the President of the board, served as ex officio trustees. For the next four decades, the board members continued to serve as ex officio trustees of the College of the City of New York and the city's other municipal college, the Normal College of the City of New York.
In 1900, the New York State Legislature created separate boards of trustees for the College of the City of New York and the Normal College, which became Hunter College in 1914. In 1926, the Legislature established the Board of Higher Education of the City of New York, which assumed supervision of both municipal colleges.
In 1961, the New York State Legislature established the City University of New York, uniting what had become seven municipal colleges at the time: the City College of New York, Hunter College, Brooklyn College, Queens College, Staten Island Community College, Bronx Community College and Queensborough Community College. In 1979, the CUNY Financing and Governance Act was adopted by the State and the Board of Higher Education became the City University of New York Board of Trustees.
Today, the City University is governed by the Board of Trustees composed of 17 members, ten of whom are appointed by the Governor of New York "with the advice and consent of the senate," and five by the Mayor of New York City "with the advice and consent of the senate." The final two trustees are ex officio members. One is the chair of the university's student senate, and the other is non-voting and is the chair of the university's faculty senate. Both the mayoral and gubernatorial appointments to the CUNY Board are required to include at least one resident of each of New York City's five boroughs. Trustees serve seven-year terms, which are renewable for another seven years. The Chancellor is elected by the Board of Trustees, and is the "chief educational and administrative officer" of the City University.
Chairs of the Board
- "Founded in 1847, the forerunner of today’s City University of New York was governed by the Board of Education of New York City. Members of the Board of Education, chaired by the President of the board, served as ex officio trustees. For the next four decades, the board members continued to serve as ex officio trustees of the College of the City of New York and the city’s other municipal college, the Normal College of the City of New York.
- In 1900, the New York State Legislature created separate boards of trustees for the College of the City of New York and the Normal College, which became Hunter College in 1914. In 1926, the Legislature established the Board of Higher Education of the City of New York, which assumed supervision of both municipal colleges."
- 1847 Townsend Harris
- 1848 Robert Kelly
- 1850 Erastus C. Benedict
- 1855 William H. Neilson
- 1856 Andrew H. Green
- 1858 William H. Neilson
- 1859 Richard Warren
- 1860 William E. Curtis
- 1864 James M. McLean
- 1868 Richard L. Larremore
- 1870 Bernard Smyth
- 1873 Josiah G. Holland
- 1874 William H. Neilson
- 1876 William Wood
- 1880 Stephen A. Walker
- 1886 J. Edward Simmons
- 1890 John L.N. Hunt
- 1893 Adolph Sanger
- 1894 Charles H. Knox
- 1895 Robert Maclay
- 1897 Charles Bulkley Hubbell
- 1899 J. Edward Swanstrom / Joseph J. Little
- 1901 Miles M. O'Brien
- 1902 Edward Lauterback / Charles C. Burlingham
- 1903 Henry A. Rogers
- 1904 Edward M. Shepard
- 1905 Henry N. Tifft
- 1906 Egerton L. Winthrop, Jr.
- 1911 Theodore F. Miller
- 1913 Frederick P. Bellamy / Thomas Winston Churchill
- 1914 Charles Edward Lydecker
- 1915 Paul Fuller
- 1916 George McAneny / Edward J. McGuire
- 1919 William G. Willcox
- 1921 Thomas Winston Churchill
- 1923 Edward Swann / Edward C. McParlan
- 1924 Harry P. Swift
- 1926 Moses J. Strook
- 1931 Charles H. Tuttle
- 1932 Mark Eisner
- 1938 Ordway Tead
- 1953 Joseph Cavallaro
- 1957 Gustave G. Rosenberg
- 1966 Porter R. Chandler
- 1971 Luis Quero-Chiesa
- 1974 Alfred A. Giardino
- 1976 Harold M. Jacobs
- 1980 James Murphy
- 1997 Ann Paolucci
- 1999 Herman Badillo
- 2001 Benno Schmidt
CUNY consists of three different types of institutions: senior colleges, which grant bachelor's degrees and occasionally master's, associate, and doctoral degrees; community colleges, which grant associate degrees; and graduate/professional schools. CUNY's Law School grants Juris Doctor (J.D.) degrees, and the CUNY Graduate Center awards only Ph.D. degrees.
The colleges are listed below, with establishment dates in parentheses.
- (1847) City College
- (1870) Hunter College
- (1919) Baruch College (as City College’s School of Business and Civic Administration, renamed in 1953 to honor Bernard M. Baruch)
- (1930) Brooklyn College (formed by the merger of Hunter and City Colleges' Brooklyn campuses)
- (1937) Queens College
- (1946) New York City College of Technology
- (1976) College of Staten Island
- (1964) John Jay College of Criminal Justice
- (1966) York College
- (1968) Lehman College (from (1931) Lehman was the Bronx branch of Hunter College, known as Hunter-in-the-Bronx)
- (1970) Medgar Evers College
- (1971) CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies
- (2005) William E. Macaulay Honors College (College and program that exists on eight of the CUNY campuses as well as its own building.)
- (1957) Bronx Community College
- (1958) Queensborough Community College
- (1963) Borough of Manhattan Community College
- (1963) Kingsborough Community College
- (1968) LaGuardia Community College
- (1970) Hostos Community College
- (2011) Guttman Community College
Graduate and professional schools
- (1961) CUNY Graduate Center
- (1973) Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education
- (1983) CUNY School of Law
- (2006) CUNY Graduate School of Journalism
- (2006) CUNY School of Professional Studies
- (2008) CUNY School of Public Health
CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies
The CUNY Baccalaureate for Unique and Interdisciplinary Studies, also commonly known as the CUNY Baccalaureate Program or simply CUNY BA was founded in 1971. It is an individualized, university-wide degree where highly motivated, academically superior students work one-on-one with faculty mentors to design their own fields of study. The program exists to give students an opportunity to pursue a course of study that may not exist within the current framework of CUNY. Part of the eligibility criteria includes demonstrating a desire and plan to pursue an area of concentration (like a major) that transcends the traditional college offerings. Students have created areas of concentration ranging from "20th Century American Literature" and "Adaptive Physical Education for Vulnerable Populations," to "World Politics and Social Change" and "Zoological Photography." Students must enroll in one of the CUNY colleges in order to participate; they then have access to courses and opportunities throughout the university. Additional admissions criteria include having completed at least 12 college credits with a 2.80 GPA or higher. The average GPA for admission is typically about 3.4, which means that a large portion of students enter with GPAs of 3.8 and higher. CUNY BA has a 70% graduation rate within an average of 2.2 years and 60% graduate with academic honors.
William E. Macaulay Honors College
William E. Macaulay Honors College was to be an independent institution within the university. However, support for existing honors programs at CUNY colleges and institutional opposition resulted in it being downgraded to a program. Now known as the Macaulay Honors College University Scholars Program, it graduated its first class in 2005, attracting students with a mean high school GPA of 3.5 and SAT scores of 1365 for the Class of 2009.
In July 2006, Dr. Ann Kirschner was appointed Dean of William E. Macaulay Honors College after a nationwide search. The standards of the Honors College continued to rise as well, with incoming freshmen having an average of 93.8 and SAT scores of 1381. Graduating high school students with Ivy League caliber academic records have given the Honors College a closer look as a result, and this has had a trickle-down effect in improving the image of CUNY as a whole, which prior to the inception of the HC had been criticized as 'an institution adrift' by the Giuliani administration.
As an incentive to students, University Scholars receive a free tuition, a laptop, a "cultural passport" that offers free or reduced-admission to various cultural institutions and venues in New York City, and a $7500 expense account that may be used for research and/or study abroad. Unlike honors programs at individual CUNY colleges, Macaulay Honors College students must be accepted into and begin the program as freshmen. They study at one of the participating senior CUNY colleges (Queens, Hunter, Staten Island, Lehman, Baruch, Brooklyn, John Jay, and City), as well as taking part in cross-campus activities and programs. Institutional barriers that would allow cross campus enrollment in academic programs have not yet been eliminated.
In September 2006thehe City University of New York received a $30 million gift from philanthropist and City College alumnus William E. Macaulay, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of First Reserve Corporation. It is the largest single donation in the history of CUNY and has been used to buy a landmark building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that is to become the permanent home of the Honors College, and will add support to its endowment. Macaulay is now an accredited degree-granting institution, complete with its own College Council, having graduated its first class in 2011.
CUNY has its own public safety force whose duties are to protect and serve all students and faculty members, and enforce all state and city laws at all of CUNY's universities. The force has more than 600 officers, making it one of the largest public safety forces in New York City.
The Public Safety Department came under heavy criticism, from student groups, after several students protesting tuition increases tried to occupy the lobby of the Baruch College. The occupiers were forcibly removed from the area and several were arrested on November 21, 2011.
City University Television (CUNY TV)
City University Film Festival (CUFF)
The City University of New York's alumni have professions that range from politics to medicine.
- Kenneth Arrow (1940), American economist and joint winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics
- Robert Aumann (1950), mathematician and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics
- Herman Badillo (1951), civil rights activist and the first Puerto Rican elected to the U.S. Congress
- Arlene Davila (1996), author and Anthropology and American Studies professor at New York University
- Jesse Douglas (1916), mathematician and winner of one of the first two Fields Medals
- Abraham Foxman, national director, Anti-Defamation League
- Felix Frankfurter (1902), U.S. Supreme Court Justice
- Andy Grove (1960), former Chairman and CEO, Intel Corporation
- Herbert A. Hauptman (1937), mathematician and winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
- Leonard Kleinrock (1957), computer scientist, Internet pioneer
- Guillermo Linares (1975), New York City Council member, first Dominican-American City Council member and Commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs
- Lisa Nakamura (1993) (1996), Director and Professor of the Asian American Studies Program at the Institute of Communication Research at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
- Barnett Newman (1927), abstract expressionist artist
- John O'Keefe - 2014 Nobel laureate in Medicine
- Colin Powell (1958), former Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State
- Faith Ringgold (1955), feminist, writer and artist
- A. M. Rosenthal (1949), former executive editor of The New York Times who championed the publication of the Pentagon Papers; Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist expelled from Poland in 1959 for his reporting on the nation’s government and society
- Jonas Salk (1934), developed the first polio vaccine
- Daniel Schorr (1939), Emmy award winning broadcast journalist for CBS-TV and National Public Radio
- Bernard Weinraub, American journalist and playwright.
- Egemen Bağış, Turkish politician, government minister
- Abraham Beame ('28) – Mayor of New York City
- Robin Byrd, host of public access program The Robin Byrd Show (dropped out)
- Fernando Ferrer – New York City mayoral candidate in 2001 and 2005
- Sidney Harman ('39) – founder and executive chairman of Harman Kardon
- Marcia A. Karrow – member of New Jersey General Assembly
- James Lam ('83) – author and first CRO (Chief Risk Officer)
- Ralph Lauren – Chairman and CEO of Polo Ralph Lauren (dropped out)
- Dolly Lenz – New York City real estate agent
- Dennis Levine – prominent player in the Wall Street insider trading scandals of the mid-1980s
- Jennifer Lopez – actress, singer, dancer (dropped out)
- Craig A. Stanley – member of New Jersey General Assembly since 1996.
- Tarkan – Turkish language singer
- Bella Abzug (1942), feminist; political activist; U.S. Representative, 1971–1977
- Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick (1963), First Hispanic woman named to the New York State Court of Appeals
- Robert R. Davila (1965), President of Gallaudet University and advocate for the rights of the hearing impaired
- Ruby Dee (1945), Emmy-nominated actress and civil rights activist
- Martin Garbus (1955), First amendment attorney
- Florence Howe (1950), founder of women's studies and founder/publisher of the Feminist Press/CUNY
- Audre Lorde (1959), African-American lesbian poet, essayist, educator and activist
- Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou (1991), former Foreign Minister of Mauritania and adjunct professor at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
- Soia Mentschikoff (1934), first woman partner of a major law firm; first woman elected president of the Association of American Law Schools
- Thomas J. Murphy, Jr. (1973) – three-term mayor of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1994–2006
- Pauli Murray (1933), first African-American woman named an Episcopal priest; human rights activist; lawyer and co-founder of N.O.W
John Jay College
- Edward Thomas Brady (MA), trial attorney and former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina
- Jennings Michael Burch, author of the 1984 best-selling memoir "They Cage the Animals at Night"
- Marcos Crespo (BA), New York State Assemblyman representing district 85
- Edward A. Flynn, Chief of the Milwaukee Police Department
- Petri Hawkins-Byrd (BS '89), Judge Judy bailiff
- Dr. Henry Lee (BS '72), forensic scientist and founder of the Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science
- Miguel Martinez (BS), former member of the New York City Council representing the 10th District in upper Manhattan's Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill areas until his resignation on 14 July 2009
- Eva Norvind (MA), actor and director
- Pauley Perrette, actor best known for her role as Abby Scuito on NCIS
- Ronald Rice, New Jersey State Senator
- Ariel Rios, undercover special agent for the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), killed in the line of duty
- Imette St. Guillen, a criminal justice graduate student murdered in February 2006. A scholarship was created in her name
- Scott Stringer, Comptroller of New York City, and former Borough President of Manhattan and former member of the New York State Assembly
- Dorothy Uhnak (BA), novelist and detective for the New York City Transit Police Department
- Bill Baird (1955), reproductive rights activist and co-director of the Pro Choice League
- Barbara Levy Boxer (1962), anti-war activist, environmentalist, U.S. Representative, 1982–1993, and U.S. Senator
- Shirley Chisholm (1946), first African- American U.S. Congresswoman, 1968–1982. Candidate for president, 1972
- Bruce Chizen (B.S. 1978), President & CEO, Adobe Systems
- Stanley Cohen (B.A. 1943), biochemist and Nobel laureate (Physiology or Medicine, 1986)
- Alan M. Dershowitz (B.A. 1959), Harvard Law School professor and author
- Jerry Della Femina (A.A. 1957), Chairman & CEO, Della Femina, Jeary and Partners
- Dan DiDio (B.A. 1983), American comic book editor and executive for DC Comics
- Benjamin Eisenstadt (B.A. 1954), creator of Sweet'N Low and the founder of Cumberland Packing Corporation
- Sandra Feldman (B.A 1960), President, American Federation of Teachers
- Gata Kamsky (B.A 1999), chess grandmaster and former US chess champion
- Don Lemon (B.A. 1996), reporter, CNN
- Leonard Lopate (B.A. 1967), host of the public radio talk show The Leonard Lopate Show, broadcast on WNYC
- Frank McCourt (M.A. 1967), Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Angela's Ashes and 'Tis
- Marty Markowitz (B.A. 1970), Former New York State Senator; Brooklyn Borough President (2001– present)
- Paul Mazursky (B.A. 1951), film director, writer, producer; actor
- Jerry Moss (B.A. 1957), co-founder of A&M Records
- Gloria Naylor (B.A. 1981), novelist; Winner National Book Award
- Harvey Pitt (B.A. 1965), former Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission
- Steve Riggio (B.A. 1974), CEO of Barnes & Noble, Inc.
- Steve Schirripa (B.A. 1980), American actor known for his role as Bobby Baccalieri on the HBO TV series The Sopranos
- Timothy Shortell (1992), anti-Christian activist
- Jimmy Smits (B.A. 1980), Emmy Award-winning actor; NYPD Blue and L.A. Law
- Benjamin Ward (B.A. 1960), first black New York City Police Commissioner, 1983–1989
- Iris Weinshall (B.A. 1975), vice chancellor at the City University of New York and a former commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation
- Jack Weinstein (B.A. 1943), Senior Judge, United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York
- Joy Behar – comedienne, television personality
- Jerry Colonna – Well-known venture capitalist and entrepreneur coach
- Joseph Crowley – member of the US House of Representatives
- Alan Hevesi – former New York State Comptroller, former New York State Assemblyman, former Queens College professor
- Ruth Madoff – wife of Bernard L. Madoff
- Helen Marshall – Queens Borough President
- Donna Orender – WNBA president
- Jerry Seinfeld – actor and comedian
- Charles Wang – founder of Computer Associates, owner of the New York Islanders
Medgar Evers College
- Carl Andrews - New York State Senator
- Yvette Clarke - Congresswoman, member of the United States House of Representatives from New York's 11th and 9th congressional districts
Notable faculty members include biophysicist William Bialek, composer John Corigliano, geographer David Harvey, anthropologist Talal Asad , physicist Michio Kaku, philosopher Saul Kripke, philosopher David M. Rosenthal, and mathematician Dennis Sullivan.
Economist Paul Krugman, Nobel-prize wining economist and columnist for the New York Times will join the faculty of the CUNY Graduate Center in August 2015. He is also a distinguished scholar at the Graduate Center's Luxembourg Income Study Center where he continues his work on income inequality.
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