Faculty Spotlight

February Faculty Spotlight with Distinguished Lecturer and Higher Education Administration Faculty Director, James McCarthy


We welcome back Distinguished Lecturer and newly appointed faculty director of the HEA program, Jim McCarthy with a spotlight about his love of higher education, plans for the higher education administration program, and returning to the Marxe School. McCarthy is Former Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs of Baruch College and Former President of Suffolk University.

What first piqued your interest in higher education?
This may seem like a strange answer from someone who has spent about 45 years working in higher education, but I never planned on a career in higher education. I went to graduate school so I could acquire the skills needed to work in international public policy. When I finished my PhD, I had an offer for a dream job, as a policy researcher for the Economic Commission for Europe in Geneva. There were a couple of glitches: I didn't have a European passport and I wasn't an economist. As the ECE bureaucracy was working through those glitches, I had an inquiry and then an offer from the School of Public Health at Hopkins. I realized that professional schools could offer me the opportunities to do both basic and applied research, and to collaborate with national and international policy and service-delivery organizations - the kind of work that I assumed was only available in non-academic settings. So what really first piqued my interest in higher education as a career was that job offer.

What has it been like transitioning from adjunct to full-time faculty member to Faculty Director of the HEA Program?
Although any transition comes with its share of surprises, my transition back to full-time at Baruch has been the easiest of any I've made in my career, mainly because I'm coming back to the Marxe School where I've already worked full-time for five years, from 2007 to 2012, and as an adjunct for the last three years. Knowing the place, the people and the program well has had the biggest effect. But little things – like knowing exactly which car to take on the 6 train for the quickest exit to 22nd Street, and where to grab good coffee and lunch – have also helped.

Can you tell us about one of your most rewarding and memorable experiences in your career thus far?
I mentioned that I've been working in higher education for 45 years, and - fortunately - I've had a lot of rewarding and memorable experiences over that long time. Highest on the list are working with faculty and institutional leaders to start and sustain academic programs. Sustaining the Hopkins Population Center through some tough times; launching a new Program in Forced Migration and Health at Columbia; and leading Baruch through an important Middle States reaccreditation effort were among the best times. And - truly the best - involved working with countless students and faculty to help them launch, develop and sustain their careers. Staying connected with students and colleagues from the very beginning of my career is without a doubt the most rewarding part of this work.

What do you feel are the Marxe HEA’s most attractive features? What will be sustained and what will be built upon under your guidance?
To me, the strongest attributes of the Marxe School, of the Higher Education Administration Program - and of Baruch and all of CUNY for that matter - are fundamentally the mission, the students, and that faculty and staff. I teach the "History of Higher Education" and one of the early assignments I give students is to reflect on the "founding narrative" of their undergraduate college. Many are CUNY grads, so I've had the great pleasure of reading their accounts of the absolute consistency of the CUNY mission – from 1843 when Townsend Harris founded the Free Academy, and Horace Webster was its first President.

Harris's and Webster's first "mission statements" are as relevant now as they were more than 175 years ago.
Harris wrote: "Open the doors to all… Let the children of the rich and the poor take their seats together and know of no distinction save that of industry, good conduct and intellect."
Webster wrote: "The experiment is to be tried, whether the children of the people, the children of the whole people, can be educated; and whether an institution of the highest grade, can be successfully controlled by the popular will, not by the privileged few."

For CUNY, Baruch, and the Higher Education Administration Program, these fundamental strengths will - I hope - never change.

Another, very attractive feature of Baruch, the Marxe School, and the Higher Education Administration program that I hope will remain is our strong focus on combining the theories of higher education with the practical skills needed to lead institutions of higher education. The HEA faculty have both the theoretical and practical knowledge and experience to continue this focus. What will change, inevitably, is that the Program must adapt to the substantial changes taking place in higher education today. The rise in online learning; serious concerns with cost escalation in higher education, and the serious shortages in public support for higher education are all topics that must be integral parts of our program. We already address these topics, and as situations continue to change, our program must also continue to change.