New President’s Primary Focus: Work Closely with the Brooklyn College Community

After an eight month long national search, the Board of Trustees of The City University of New York appointed Michelle Anderson, the current Dean of CUNY Law School, as the tenth president of Brooklyn College.

Anderson was recommended by Chancellor James Milliken and unanimously agreed upon by the Board of Trustees. Her page-long resume of accomplishments both within and outside the academic world, impressive work as the Dean of CUNY law and passion for public education made Anderson a stand out candidate.

Anderson will be taking over for Dr. Karen L. Gould, the first woman president of Brooklyn College, who is retiring after seven years as president and many years in higher education. Anderson’s role as president will be official on August 1.

“I am a true believer in the CUNY mission. I am deeply committed to high education, particularly, public higher education that serves a wide and diverse community,” said Anderson. “With those commitments who wouldn’t be attracted to the opportunity at Brooklyn College. It’s a fantastic campus with an extraordinary student body and a preeminent faculty.”

Dean Anderson graduated with honors from the University of California in 1989. She then went on to earn her Doctor of Law degree from Yale in 1994.  Despite receiving her higher degrees from a private education system, Anderson says her passion lies in public education.

“As soon as I started to understand the political importance of public education and how vital public education is to society, I was bitten by that bug,” said Anderson. “It strengthened and solidified my love.”

She explained she had gone to a public undergraduate school because a private undergraduate education wasn’t financially feasible for her and her family.

“That access to excellent higher education meant a lot to me growing up and as a leader, it matters to me considerably now,” she said.

Anderson had made it her goal to better society and work for social justice. After graduation, Anderson clerked on the United States Court of Appeal and worked at the Georgetown University Law Center in the Appellate Litigation Program and at the Institute for Public Representation. With her social justice focus in mind, Anderson represented clients for many civil rights claims and criminal appeals. At the same time she worked on her Master of Law in Advocacy.

Throughout her education, Anderson focused on rape law and is now a leading scholar in the field and is published in several academic journals.

1995 is when Anderson finally pursued a more silent passion when she began teaching at Georgetown University. Anderson said she had been teaching since she could talk and had always found a way to fit tutoring others into her life.

In 2006, Anderson was appointed as the dean of CUNY Law. Her time as dean was marked with accomplishment and change. During her 10 year tenure, Anderson has not only helped diversify the school’s population but enhanced and expanded.

In her farewell letter to staff and faculty in which she announced she was stepping down, she listed some accomplishment she felt stood out from her time as dean, “Over the last five years, CUNY Law graduates reached a high of 84 percent and an average of 77 percent on the bar. We enhanced our mission with terrific new courses, clinics and centers, but I want to highlight our Pipeline to Justice Program, inaugurated in the fall of 2006, which continues to enhance the diversity of our student body today,” Anderson wrote. “All the while, we have maintained our outstanding, top-10 U.S. News & World Report annual rankings for ‘Best Clinical Training’… we have also been ranked as the best public interest law school in the nation, the second most diverse law school student body, and among the top 10 in the nation for best law professors, most diverse faculty, and highest percentage of public service and public interest employment.”

Dean Anderson also oversaw a highly demanded building upgrade. Anderson led the school’s move from a converted junior high school building in Flushing, Queens to a new facility in Long Island City. She also oversaw the initiative of several new programs to help promote diversity including the Community & Economic Development Clinic, the Center for Urban Environmental Reform and the Center on Latino and Latina Rights & Equality and the Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice.

Anderson says this work, administrative work that betters the school, is what she loves.

“I find it very rewarding to help lead an institution to help serve students better. I am honored to serve here at CUNY. I think leadership is challenging. Good leadership lets teachers and professors do the work they do the best and gives students with the capacity to find themselves and to grow, and I hope to serve an institution with aspirations to do those things in the world,” said Anderson. “I very much hope that my leadership serves the institution and serves the people of that institution to help them do incredibly important and transformative work of teaching and learning, the transformative work of higher education.”

Anderson said her focus as a leader has always been the voice of the people she serves. She based much of her policy off of what CUNY Law faculty and students asked for. Open conversation has been a priority for her. Anderson says at CUNY Law, a much smaller campus than Brooklyn College, she knew every faculty member by name, and a handful of students from the class she taught.   

Anderson acknowledged that with a larger campus like Brooklyn College, that kind of accessibility and approachability won’t come as easy.

“I’m not going to be able to have that luxury at Brooklyn College,” said Anderson. “So I want to be a president who is accessible and real to people. So I am going to have to structure opportunities for people to engage with me personally. For me, that’s a high priority.”

She explained that, like in the beginning of her time at CUNY Law, she is going to initiate what she calls a listening tour. During this tour she will be talking to students, faculty and staff to see what they want for college. She say this will be the base for her goals.

“I want to really hear from the community of students, faculty, staff alums and the broader community about what its hopes and dreams are for the future of Brooklyn College,” said Anderson. “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to meet every faculty member or every student or every alum, but I hope to work with a representative sample so that I have a real sense from the ground, the community itself, how it sees the future and what it hopes for.”

The size of Brooklyn College may be a challenge for Anderson, but something she isn’t shying away from is the diversity of opinion. Anderson said she always tries to surround herself with all sides of an idea.

“I am interested in hearing from people who are different than I am, and I tend to move pretty quickly once I have sense that I have heard from all sides,” said Anderson. “It is very important for someone who likes to move quickly to surround herself with people who are different and that come from different perspectives and have different priorities.”

Anderson explained that leaving the door open for discussion and surrounding herself with varying opinion not only allows her to make a well-rounded decision, but allows a better relationship with those she is making the decision for.

“Two things, notice and opportunity, are key elements in legitimizing decision making,” said Anderson. “You can’t always make decisions that make people happy but if you provide people with notice of an impending decision and an opportunity to be heard people feel more comfortable with a decision if it’s one they don’t agree with.”

After ten years at CUNY Law, Anderson will stepping down in June. She said, “I think Brooklyn College has extraordinary potential to continue to flourish and grow,” said Anderson. “I look forward to working very closely with the faculty and students and alum and others to help it to grow.”

A statement from the school was not published before deadline.

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