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May 06, 2020

A Message from Lehman College President Daniel Lemons

As we prepare for the final meeting of the Senate of this academic year – and the first-ever virtual senate meeting – I know I don't have to reiterate what the months leading up to this moment have been like. Unprecedented is hardly a strong enough word for what we have all been through.

Before I say much more about that, it is important to acknowledge that a number of us have lost family members, friends and colleagues to COVID-19. The deep mourning and grief that comes along with that carries its own potential for devastation and I send my condolences to everyone who is mourning a loved one or anyone else in your life who has died as a result of COVID-19. As a community, we want to continue to support each other, and particularly those who have suffered losses.

While my many emails to the campus, beginning February 28, have documented our course from growing awareness of the COVID-19 threat to the terrible reality we are now experiencing, there are other activities to report.

Since early March, I have been in regular communication with CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez and the CUNY COVID-19 Taskforce. I met regularly via Zoom with the Chancellor and my fellow college presidents to discuss the many necessary decisions about maintaining academic and business continuity and ensuring the safety of our campuses, in order to successfully complete this radically altered spring semester.

Reviewing my notes from twelve meetings, beginning March 10, the decisions under discussion followed a progression that was determined by the progress of the virus' spread in New York and abroad. They included: What to do about our students studying abroad, whether to cancel public events, how to carry out the instructional recess that began on March 12 and begin all distance learning starting March 19, whether day care centers should remain open, the status of the state budget, identifying possible treatment centers in our gyms, telecommuting options, keeping food pantries open, possible Pass/Fail options, moving 50 percent of the workforce off campus then moving 75 percent of workforce off-campus, discontinuing on-campus resources for students, cancelling summer study-abroad, the logistics of laptop and tablet distribution, locating sufficient Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for essential personnel on campus, whether to have student course evaluations, the funding from the CARES Act, the adopted state budget, summer term online, how to plan for fall term 2020, the new State revenue forecasts and the hiring freeze.

All of these discussions have been mirrored on the Lehman campus and then via the internet by the administration, faculty and staff as we grappled with these topics and many others. It has been a truly remarkable odyssey for everyone. Most of the time, there have been no good choices, and only good decisions possible.

To help support as many of our students as we can, Institutional Advancement launched the Lehman Cares Campaign on campus in April, which has done everything from help students with emergency relief for food and housing to supporting other needs as they arise in coordination with Dean of Students and Executive In Charge for Student Affairs Stanley Bazile. There has been at least one major gift in support of students to date, and I am hopeful for more in the months ahead. The Campaign for Lehman aims to raise a million dollars from outside the campus to support students through the food pantry, emergency grants and scholarships.

I hope the support will complement the $6 million in CARES Act funds which will be distributed directly to Lehman students. That was one of the main topics of my conversations with lawmakers and in a number of conversations throughout March and April.

I spoke to Citigroup's Ray McGuire early in March. Before the statewide pause, Sandy Cheiten and I also attended the SOMOS conference in Albany. There, I attended a luncheon hosted by CUNY Trustee William Thompson, Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez and Assemblywoman Maritza Davila, Chairwoman of the NYS Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force at the SOMOS CUNY/SUNY Model NYS Senate Session Project.

Assemblywoman Karines Reyes and I spoke by phone. Assemblywoman Reyes has returned to the health worker frontlines and has been working at Montefiore. I was humbled that she also made time to discuss the status of Lehman's campus community and ways to keep us strengthened in the months and years ahead. I thanked her for her work as a nurse.

As I did with other elected officials, I discussed with her the CARES ACT funding for individuals that will be determined by CUNY. DACA and undocumented students are in particular need of support, as they are not allowed to receive CARES ACT funds. I asked her for support for our food bank and she offered to share a list of food banks in her district with us.

Senator Gustavo Rivera and I also spoke by phone. Senator Rivera expressed his concern about the economic and racial inequalities that have been exposed in New York in the wake of the pandemic. He is our neighbor – he can literally see campus from his apartment – and a supportive one; he voted against the New York State budget because of the lack of support for funding higher education.

I also met via Zoon with Assemblywoman Natalia Fernandez and City Council members Fernando Cabrera, Raphael Salamanca, Jr., and Vanessa Gibson. Despite the city's budget reductions, I am pressing for support in the Council for our capital requests.

Elsewhere in the Bronx, Assemblyman Michael Blake has joined with several other lawmakers, small businessowners, nonprofits and community organizations to support The Bronx Community Relief Effort – an effort to quickly share funds for community relief in the Bronx. Derek Lewis is the organizer, and the initiative hopes to unite many not-for profit organizations in the Bronx as they provide relief in the current crisis, and continue to work on long-standing issues in the borough. I will serve on the Bronx Education Leadership Council that is one of the seven pillars.

The Cabinet and our CUNY sister schools are now deeply engaged in planning for the fall term, as well as for our unfolding budget situation, which the state's budget director has called unprecedented in modern history. We will be exceedingly busy in May doing both of those things.

Celebrating Excellence

There was some good news to go along with the chaotic uncertainty of March. We learned that a number of students were awarded Fulbright awards again this year. Jasmine Euyoque will teach English in Uruguay if all things go as planned this fall. In April, Maria Hernandez was offered a Fulbright to go to Mexico and Carolina Peralta was offered a Fulbright to Spain. Michelle Augustine informed us that we had six semi-finalists; a remarkable achievement any under circumstances but even more so this year. We will once again be designated a Top Producing Fulbright institution.

Professor Sarah Ohmer has also accepted a Fulbright Fellowship. Professor Ohmer is the second faculty member in the School of Arts and Humanities to win a fellowship this academic year.

We learned in March that Donna McGregor was granted a more than $404,000 multi-year grant from the National Science Foundation. Professor McGregor is the principal investigator for "REU Site: Integrated Design of Materials in New York City," and Gustavo Lopez is her Co-Principal Investigator. Congratulations to them both!

We learned recently that in addition to being named a Top Producing Fulbright Institution, we've also been named a Gilman top producing institution for the 2018-2019 academic year.

Shared Governance

  • May 6th - Council of Presidents
  • May 6th - Lehman College Senate
  • May 7th - Cabinet Meeting
  • May 7th - Celebration of Faculty Achievement, Research, Scholarship and Creative Works
  • May 12th - Faculty, Personnel and Budget Meeting
  • May 26th - Honors Convocation
  • May 27th - President’s Advisory Board
  • May 28th - Recognition Ceremony for Graduates

Finally, this month will kick-off the search for a permanent President. Three faculty have been recommended to the Chancellor's office for the search committee, which also consists of students, alumni and board members. Individuals from these groups will also be recommended to the Chancellor. More will be announced as we know it.

In the meantime, congratulations on making it through a historic time – the challenges we have faced will not end with the academic year, but we know based on what we have been going through together that we are resilient enough to keep going.


Daniel Lemons

Previous messages from President Lemons can be found here.