CUNY Receives $10 Million from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Expand Pandemic and Racial Justice Initiatives

Thursday, August 13, 2020

CUNY Receives $10 Million from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Expand Pandemic and Racial Justice Initiatives

NEW YORK, August 13, 2020 — The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a $10 million gift to the City University of New York to drive change across 25 campuses and develop and expand a range of initiatives related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the intensified effort to advance social and racial justice, the Foundation and the University announced today.

The grant is the largest gift the Mellon Foundation has made to CUNY in its 45-year history of supporting the nation’s leading urban public university. The funds will advance CUNY’s programs in Black, race, and ethnic studies and the humanities; expand a program that provides a pathway to careers in the arts for students from underrepresented communities; and add $2.5 million to the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund, established in the spring to help CUNY students facing financial hardship during the pandemic.

“The magnitude of this grant underscores the Mellon Foundation’s fierce commitment to funding vibrant institutions intent on fostering racial equity and social justice,” said Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander. “In addition to CUNY’s other remarkable endeavors, we are honored to support its dedication to strengthening its programs in Black, race and ethnic studies, to expanding its vigorous Cultural Corps and humanities coursework, and to offering financial relief to those students whose educational journeys have been imperiled by the dire challenges of the pandemic. We recognize the extraordinary role CUNY plays in the city that our institutions call home, and we are proud to stand with the University at this unprecedented time.”

“CUNY is deeply grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its historic and very timely support,” said Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “This extraordinarily generous gift will help drive change across our 25 campuses in ways that could not be more relevant at this most challenging moment in time. The Foundation’s donation to the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Grant Program directly addresses the economic crisis set off by Covid-19. Other parts of the grant will help greater numbers of our students and faculty shape the conversations about race relations and racial inequity demanded by ongoing national demands. It will also allow CUNY to support New York City’s cultural institutions at a time of incredible fiscal stress by providing paid student interns to support their staffing needs. Mellon’s vital assistance will help CUNY continue to fulfill its core mission of promoting educational equity and serving as the country’s unparalleled engine for upward social mobility.”

The $10 million Mellon Foundation gift will be allocated among a variety of innovative CUNY programs and initiatives:

  • $3 million over three years will support CUNY’s plan to reimagine and further develop its programs in Black, race and ethnic studies, a key aspect of the University’s commitment to inclusion and to scholarship of the vast multiplicity of cultures represented by CUNY students and New York City as a whole. The Mellon Foundation grant will provide funding for a planning period driven by a commission of internal and external experts who will assess current program offerings and recommend innovations that build on them. The goal is to better leverage CUNY’s excellent faculty, programs, centers, and institutes in these areas with the prospect of expanding academic offerings in Black, race and ethnic studies across the University, supporting future hiring in these disciplines and creating opportunities for increased faculty research.
  • The $2.5 million earmarked for the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund is the largest single gift to the fund since its inception in April. A large number of CUNY students have experienced job losses and other financial setbacks during the pandemic, putting the completion of their degrees in jeopardy. With donations from a growing list of foundations, corporations and individuals, the University has thus far awarded $500 grants to 6,000 students. The Mellon Foundation donation brings the fund’s total to more than $8 million and will enable CUNY to award retention and completion grants of varying amounts to undergraduates who otherwise would not be able to continue their studies. Students who are ineligible for other forms of federal emergency assistance, including undocumented and international students, will especially benefit from this gift.
  • $2 million over four years will help expand the CUNY Cultural Corps, a program that provides students with paid internships at New York City arts and cultural organizations. The Cultural Corps was created in 2016 as a pipeline to careers in New York City arts and arts administration for students from underrepresented communities. With the support of the Mellon Foundation, CUNY will be able to place hundreds of additional students in internships and give them access to the training and exposure to pursue fulfilling careers in the arts. The expansion will also serve to further diversify the city’s cultural and nonprofit sectors.
  • $2 million over three years will enable CUNY to establish and implement a program called Transformative Learning in the Humanities (TLH), which will train humanities faculty in ways to make their classes more participatory and capitalize on the rich diversity and vast talent of CUNY students, with the ultimate goal of preparing students for a world that requires collaboration, communication, analytical reading and cross-cultural thinking. The TLH program will be an inaugural component of the larger-scale CUNY Innovative Teaching Academy.
  • $500,000 will help CUNY bolster the number of humanities course offerings for the fall semester. The humanities have long been a cornerstone of the CUNY educational experience and the grant will support the University’s efforts to continue providing high-quality humanities courses at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is straining higher education budgets nationwide. With $500,000 in matching funds from CUNY, the combined $1 million in funding will allow the University to expand its course offerings in the humanities, while seeking to maximize the number of previously non-reappointed faculty who can be brought back to CUNY campuses.

CUNY’s Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost José Luis Cruz will serve as principal investigator and lead and oversee the administration of Mellon’s gifts with the support of the University’s Office of Academic Affairs.


About The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive.


About CUNY

The City University of New York is the nation’s largest urban public university, a transformative engine of social mobility that is a critical component of the lifeblood of New York City. Founded in 1847 as the nation’s first free public institution of higher education, CUNY today has seven community colleges, 11 senior colleges and seven graduate or professional institutions spread across New York City’s five boroughs, serving 500,000 students of all ages and awarding 55,000 degrees each year. CUNY’s mix of quality and affordability propels almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all the Ivy League colleges combined. More than 80 percent of the University’s graduates stay in New York, contributing to all aspects of the city’s economic, civic and cultural life and diversifying the city’s workforce in every sector. CUNY’s graduates and faculty have received many prestigious honors, including 13 Nobel Prizes and 26 MacArthur “Genius” Grants. The University’s historic mission continues to this day: provide a first-rate public education to all students, regardless of means or background.