By Alex Robinson
Queens College welcomed a number of new faces last week as students flowed into campus for the upcoming school year.
Among them was Félix V. Matos Rodríguez, the Flushing school’s new president, who had his first day last Thursday.
“I wanted my first official day to coincide with the first day for the new students,” he said. “There was a common bond of a new beginning there.”
Matos Rodríguez was selected by the CUNY board of trustees in June for the position after former President James Muyskens stepped down at the end of last year.
He was president of Hostos Community College in the Bronx for five years before getting the nod to lead Queens College.
“There’s always a special bond when you come in with the new class of students and faculty. There’s a sense we’re all freshman,” he said. “In a way, I’m a transfer student coming from another school.”
Matos Rodríguez got his Ph.D. in history at Columbia University before going on to teach at a number of schools, including Yale, Northeastern University and Boston College.
He started his CUNY career in 2000 at Hunter College as director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies.
The new Queens College president also served as cabinet secretary of the Department of Family Services in his native Puerto Rico for two years between stints at CUNY.
Matos Rodríguez said he was excited to have the opportunity to come to Queens College, which was recently named second on Washington Monthly’s list of “Best Bang for the Buck,” ranking schools nationwide on affordability and quality of education.
“The great blessing for me is that I’m coming to an institution that has a national reputation, stellar faculty and the best students in the CUNY system,” he said. “So I think my challenge is to work with the faculty, staff, students to take that to the next level.”
Matos Rodríguez said under his leadership, Hostos Community College was able to start a number of programs which helped provide students with a variety of services and make their experience on campus smoother. The new president refused to take credit for any of the programs as they all sprouted out of students’ ideas.
“Listening to the students and finding ways to make their experiences better makes their chances for graduation and success higher,” he said.
Matos Rodríguez said his first job at Queens College will be to apply those listening skills.
“It’s important to me to spend time listening to the faculty, the staff, alumni stakeholders and community leaders to get a sense from them as to what is working, what I should continue and expand, as well as the things we need to improve,” he said.
Matos Rodríguez, whose background is in Latin American and Caribbean history, said he hopes the school will give him the opportunity to teach again, but does not expect to before the spring semester.
The new president currently lives in Westchester County and does not have any plans to move to Queens in the near future, as he does not want to disrupt his children’s education. He also said any future decision on where the family lives would be out of his hands.
“I might be the president of Queens College, but in my household I defer to a higher authority, who is my wife,” he said.
He spent his first day welcoming new students, becoming acquainted with campus and attending an event for new faculty. He said he knows a number of the faculty in Queens just from being in the CUNY community, but is excited to learn more about the school and borough.
“It’s a school the community feels ownership of and we want to continue building upon that so people see the connection that if things are good at Queens College, it’s good for the borough.”
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.