Op-Ed | Faculty Drive CUNY’s Innovation and Impact

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Sarit Golub, Terry Huang, Masha Gessen and Jason Eckardt (L-R)

One of my great points of pride as CUNY’s chancellor is the extraordinary quality, accomplishment and devotion of our faculty — the thousands of brilliant scholars and researchers, lecturers and teachers who are the engine of an institution that strives to be the nation’s foremost student-centered public university. 

From my own experience as a member of CUNY’s faculty, I know the great depth of talent we have on our campuses. One of the ways we recognize and elevate our most exceptional scholars is by designating them as distinguished professors. 

This spring, the CUNY Board of Trustees approved the appointment of 12 new distinguished professors, bringing the total number to 146. This week, we launched a new section on CUNY’s website to recognize their contributions and excellence. The 12 recent appointees, like those whose ranks they join, have built international reputations for their scholarship, research and leadership in a broad array of fields — which this year include public health and art history, chemistry, psychology, music and journalism. 

All are world-class scholars who demonstrate the depth and breadth of CUNY’s faculty expertise. They are leading lights in the sciences and social sciences, journalism and humanities. Some are recognized for their cultural influence in the creative and performing arts. 

Prized Public Impact

Many of CUNY’s distinguished faculty members produce work that advances CUNY’s commitment to strong public-impact research, a key component of the mission that was outlined in the University’s recently unveiled “CUNY Lifting New York,” a strategic plan to transform our University and strengthen the already great impact it makes as an indispensable New York institution. 

Among the newly appointed CUNY distinguished professors is Terry Huang, the chair of health policy and management in CUNY’s Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. Dr. Huang, a former senior leader at the National Institutes of Health, is known globally for finding innovative approaches to chronic disease prevention and the improvement of community health. As the director of CUNY’s Center for Systems and Community Design, Dr. Huang has been collaborating with NYC Parks to evaluate the impact of the Community Parks Initiative, a $318 million park equity investment that has led to the redesign and renovation of more than 60 neighborhood parks throughout the city. He recently received another large grant from the NIH for a related project that leverages the park improvements in the development of strategies to enhance neighborhood vibrancy and mental wellbeing. That’s a great example of the kind of CUNY research that has an appreciable impact on New York and New Yorkers.

Another newly named CUNY distinguished professor is Sarit Golub, an acclaimed social psychologist at Hunter College whose years of study of sexual behavior and stigma have transformed how health care is delivered to people affected by HIV-AIDS. Dr. Golub’s groundbreaking work demonstrated how to get people to use HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, known as “PrEP.” The strategy has been widely adopted as the HIV-prevention standard – by the city’s Health Department, federal health authorities and nations including China and India. Dr. Golub has earned 13 federal grants totaling more than $20 million and published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles.

Masha Gessen, a renowned Russian American journalist, joined the full-time faculty at CUNY’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in March, and last month was named the school’s first distinguished professor. A staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of 11 books, Professor Gessen has been honored by numerous national and international media and public policy organizations for producing insightful and impactful journalism and commentary in areas including international affairs, human rights, LGBTQI+ culture and politics and Russian affairs. Gessen, who was born in Moscow and came to this country as a refugee, adds one of the world’s most influential journalists and thinkers to the ranks of CUNY’s faculty.

Among our new distinguished professors in the arts is Jason Eckardt, a professor in Brooklyn College’s Conservatory of Music whose compositions have been commissioned and celebrated by the likes of Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood, the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Eckardt was a guitarist in jazz and metal bands before his discovery of the Austrian composer Anton Webern led him to focus on composition. His music has been performed and recorded around the world and he’s a leading promoter of new music.

The 12 new distinguished professors join a group of extraordinary scholars and teachers who exemplify the very accomplished quality of CUNY’s faculty, the innovation they bring to their work and the positive contributions our University makes to New York City. 

Matos Rodríguez is the chancellor of The City University of New York (CUNY), the largest urban public university system in the United States.