Majoring in Science

It wasn’t so long ago that critics were predicting the death of the City University of New York. The mayor at the time, Rudolph Giuliani, was insisting on high standards for admission to the system’s senior colleges, outraging some faculty and advocates of higher education’s equivalent of social promotion.

City University did not collapse. Instead, it has prospered in the years since the Giuliani-era reforms. And now the university is preparing to expand its mission with a sharp, visionary focus on science. That’s good for students, and great for New York.

Earlier this week, CUNY broke ground on a new school of public health in East Harlem, a small part of a billion-dollar investment citywide in the sciences. Dozens of new faculty members have been hired and senior colleges throughout the five boroughs are building or renovating research facilities. The initiative comes from CUNY’s chancellor, Matthew Goldstein, who believes that CUNY could reclaim its former reputation for research and cutting-edge scholarship with a new emphasis on and investment in the hard sciences, including mathematics, engineering, biology and other disciplines.

CUNY’s initiative comes at a time when public investment dollars are increasingly scarce, and at a time when the state university system reflects the fiscal perils of Albany. CUNY’s capital investment means economic activity in neighborhoods like East Harlem and many other communities in desperate need of new opportunities.

What’s more, the CUNY investment surely will serve as an inspiration for the city’s bright, ambitious young people who might have been inclined to look elsewhere for success and support. CUNY’s reputation suffered during the lean years when it churned out graduates who lacked the skills employers needed. Those deficiencies incurred Mr. Giuliani’s wrath, and so prompted vast changes under Mr. Goldstein’s watch.

As this welcome initiative continues to unfold across the city, CUNY will become a magnet for young, 21st-century scholars from around the world. Their skills, their ambitions and their research surely will provide us with some of the answers to today’s urgent issues. CUNY is to be congratulated for its vision, its ambition and its commitment to genuine higher education.