As Felix Matos Rodriguez strolls the campus at Lehman College, he can’t help but admire it and reflect on his own academic journey.
Since 2019, he has been the chancellor of the City University of New York, the largest urban university system in the country.
What You Need To Know
- Felix Matos Rodriguez was named the chancellor of the City University of New York in 2019
- Matos Rodriguez is the first Latino to lead CUNY, the largest urban university system in the country
- Under his leadership, CUNY has made diversity and accessibility a priority
He is the first Latino to lead the 25 campuses. Before achieving academic success and breaking barriers, he was a young boy growing up in San Juan, Puerto Rico in a family that loved teaching.
“My mom was studying to become a Spanish teacher. That didn’t happen because I was born," he said. "I always said that my dad is an engineer, a frustrated math teacher. He was always happy to help me with my math and science homework. My grandmother spent over 30 years as a teacher in the public schools of Puerto Rico."
He attended Yale University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in Latin American studies, graduating cum laude. Then he earned a doctorate in history at Columbia University. The historian and Puerto Rican scholar worked as a professor and president of two CUNY colleges, as well as a cabinet secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Family Affairs.
He says one of his main missions is to ensure that the CUNY faculty represents the students, many of whom are of Latino descent.
“I think that sends a very important symbol of inclusion, of respect for these communities," said Matos Rodriguez. "In this case, the number of Latino students in CUNY has grown in the last 10 years. The number of graduates, also."
Matos Rodriguez says, CUNY has led the way in providing academic opportunities for New Yorkers of color — citing the creation of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies and the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute. The CUNY Comeback Program, eliminated the tuition fees debt of over 52,000 students, totaling $95 million.
“We have worked very hard to make sure that those that have been impacted the most, in many cases the Latino, the African Americans," he said. "We need New Yorkers to have all the degrees, all the credentials so we can get over the economic crisis that was caused by the pandemic.”
Matos Rodriguez says 40% of CUNY students were not born in the United States. He hopes his story serves as inspiration.
“The hope is that inclusivity continues so that we can have other Latino chancellors down in history," he said. "You are always proud to be the first but you want to make sure that you are not the last."